Are there any positives whatsoever to take from Arsenal’s calamitous 2-1 AET defeat to Olympiakos to crash out of the last 32 round of the Europa League? Hmm. Not many, if any at all. The devastating loss – well, 2-2 on aggregate but a loss because of the away goal rule — at the Emirates Stadium last night means Mikel Arteta’s side will more than likely fail in their bid to secure Champions League football next season; the triumphant team that wins the Europa League will doubtly be rewarded with a spot in the elite competition in Europe. That door is now firmly closed. And It seems hugely unlikely that the Gunners will make the top four — top five if Manchester City are axed from the completion for alleged financial irregularities.
So, back to potential positives. Well, what the reverse does do is it increases the importance of the Gunners’ quest to lift the FA Cup, the one competition in which they still remain. And standing in their way in the fifth round are League One high-fliers Portsmouth. The two teams go head to head at Fratton Park on Monday night and the significance of trying to gain a win won’t be lost on Spanish coach Arteta in the wake of the horrible defeat against the Greeks.
Pompey, managed by Kenny Jackett, are currently vying for promotion to the Championship and have amassed 56 points from 32 games and are five points adrift of league leaders Rotherham United, but do have the luxury of a game in hand. The south coast side, known for their amazing support which gives them huge encouragement and very much acts as the 12th man, have the matter of a League One fixture before they host the Gunners. They entertain Rochdale tonight at Fratton Park — and although it is clear that three points is the target surely the players, and fans, will have one eye on the visit on Monday of the Premier League giants?
One thing is for sure, the importance of the FA Cup clash for Arsenal has been ramped up by last night’s defeat. Progression past Jackett’s men would keep the season alive. In the Premier League, the goal is to secure as high a finish as possible and hope that teams in and around the Gunners suffer dips in form. Next up in terms of a top-flight fixture is a game against struggling West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on March 7. By then the picture of the remainder of Arsenal’s campaign will be a lot clearer.
Before the visit of the Hammers, though, Arteta may well make changes for the trip to Pompey. Those changes could make or break Arsenal’s season and in turn shape Arteta’s reign at the club. Time will tell.