By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA, Lisbon
Granit Xhaka believes Arsenal have what it takes to compete for trophies on two fronts.
The Gunners are five points clear at the top of the Premier League and returned to Europa League action with a 2-2 draw at Sporting on Thursday.
It leaves the last-16 clash finely-poised heading into the second leg at the Emirates Stadium next week.
Before that, Mikel Arteta’s side face what could prove to be a tricky trip to face Fulham on Sunday.
Honours even in the first leg
Back to Emirates Stadium next week 💪 pic.twitter.com/UgXWEv5fua
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 9, 2023
“Absolutely,” Xhaka replied when asked if Arsenal have the mentality within the squad to cope with playing twice a week as they chase both domestic and European glory.
“You can see that every team is playing different against us. They are dropping a lot, sometimes they are pressing us as well.
“But this is what happens when you are top of the League – much more pressure than before, for sure. But in general, I think we are doing well. I think there is a good mentality in the team and let’s try to keep that.”
With closest challengers Manchester City playing first, the gap at the summit could be reduced to two points before Arsenal kick off at Craven Cottage.
Arteta made six changes in Portugal and the likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhaes are expected to return against Fulham.
There are, though, question marks over captain Martin Odegaard, who travelled to Lisbon but missed the match after feeling under the weather.
The PA news agency understands Arsenal originally intended to travel back on Friday after a light training session in Lisbon.
Those plans were changed after an illness in the camp affected a number of players, with the squad instead returning to London on Thursday night.
As well as Odegaard, it is understood Kieran Tierney, Fabio Vieira and Reiss Nelson have also been laid low with minor symptoms.
The travel alteration also meant Gabriel Jesus did not head to Portugal, having initially been scheduled to be on the plane to take part in the Friday session.
Step by step 💪 pic.twitter.com/b3ipqjsPrc
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 8, 2023
As soon as the plans were adjusted, Arteta saw no value in taking the forward out to Portugal as he continues to train ahead of a comeback from knee surgery.
Asked about Jesus’ return being a boost for the squad, Xhaka added: “For sure, because we lost Eddie (Nketiah) as well, it’s much more important to have Gabi back.
“Leandro (Trossard) as well is injured and he can play in this position. Step by step, I hope that Gabi will be 100 per cent fit to help this team because we know that he can help us. With his attitude, with his personality, he is very, very important for us.
“You need a big squad. You need every player to be, first of course, fit. But you can see that European football is totally different than the Premier League.
“We saw that on Thursday as well. But we are still in (the tie), 2-2 is the result, it’s okay. We can finish now the second leg at home.”