Europa League Goals Reload - Episode 10Mar 18
Exclusive: Martin Keown - "Don't write off the Europa League... winning momentum will be key in Premier League title race"
Arsenal travel to Portugal to take on Sporting in the first leg of their Europa League last 16 clash.
Arsenal are back in European action this week as they look to take a huge step towards the quarter-finals of the Europa League.
After a four-month break, Arsenal's quest for European glory continues with a trip to Lisbon to face Portuguese powerhouses Sporting CP on Thursday evening.
All the focus has been on the Premier League title race, but attention now turns to another realistic route to silverware for the Gunners.
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Many feared Arsenal lacked the personnel to sustain a title challenge after injuries to Gabriel Jesus and Thomas Partey.
But the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson have stepped up to the plate, while January signings Leandro Trossard have made immediate impacts.
With a tricky league game at Fulham the following Sunday, former Arsenal defender Martin Keown believes the Europa League provides the perfect stage for squad players to prove their value as the title race hots up.
"There were question marks over how strong this Arsenal squad is but they've put those concerns to bed in recent weeks," Keown told BT Sport.
"Jorginho and Trossard have come in and made a huge difference, while Emile Smith-Rowe and Reiss Nelson have both come off the bench to good effect.
"Now there's an opportunity for those guys on the fringes to show what they can do in what is still an important competition for Arsenal."
Gunners fans will be excited to see some of their promising young players in action in Portugal and it may well be that the Europa League gives Arteta an idea of which players prove valuable members of the squad for the title run-in, says Keown.
"The Europa League has always been a breeding ground for young Arsenal talent in recent years," he said.
"[Gabriel] Martinelli, Smith-Rowe and [Bukayo] Saka have all been blooded in the competition and gone on to become huge players for the club.
"When you've got such competition for places, which you have now, the manager's in the fantastic position of being able to put a team out which is strong enough to compete in the Europa League.
"And Arteta knows he is going to need a strong squad to take the title race to the wire."
Arsenal are currently five points clear at the top of the Premier League table with 12 games left to play as they eye a first title for 19 years.
With tricky games still to come, there have been suggestions that Arsenal should sacrifice their European campaign and focus their efforts on the league.
But Keown believes staying in the Europa League could prove crucial with champions Man City hot on their heels.
"I don't think you can prioritise one competition over the other," he said.
"I think it's really important for the unity of the squad that they progress in the Europa League because it's giving everyone a stage to perform and contribute.
"The task for Arteta is to find a balance where he can compete in the Europa League without jeopardising their title chances.
"Winning momentum is not a tap you can just turn on and off. Arteta's attitude will be to win every game they play in."
Defeat to Man City a month ago looked like it might derail Arsenal's season but Arteta's side have shown remarkable resilience since then.
The Gunners scored twice in stoppage-time to secure all three points at Aston Villa back in February, before Nelson netted a 98th-minute winner over Bournemouth to send the Emirates into rapture last weekend.
With spirits high, all signs point to a team with the fortitude and mentality to go the distance on two fronts, says Keown.
"This is a completely fresh pool of players," said Keown.
"There's very few players who were at the club when things turned slightly sour under Arsene Wenger.
"This is an adventure. When it's an adventure there's no fear. They're loving every moment."
Subscribers can watch the story unfold from 5.15pm on Thursday - live on BT Sport 2HD