Aaron Ramsey has been linked with a summer move away from Arsenal, but Arsene Wenger insists that is not why he was left out against Brighton.
The Wales international is among those approaching the final 12 months of their current contracts at Emirates Stadium.
With the Gunners eager to avoid a repeat of the distracting sagas involving Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, as they ran down their respective deals into the 2017-18 campaign, it has been suggested that Ramsey could be moved on when the transfer window re-opens.
His absence from Arsenal’s latest Premier League outing has done little to curb the speculation, but Wenger maintains that he was merely resting the 27-year-old midfielder ahead of a crucial Europa League last-16 encounter with AC Milan.
The Frenchman told reporters following a 2-1 defeat at Brighton: “I left him at home because I played him in the two games against City, without a lot of training in behind.
“I didn’t want to gamble today for a physical setback, so I left him completely out of the squad.
“Yes [it’s a sign of the Europa League’s importance], because we have to be realistic. We need two teams to collapse [in the Premier League]. I can’t see that at the moment because two teams to drop so many points is very difficult to imagine.
“But we have to give our best for as long as we can. Of course, the Europa League becomes important.”
Wenger has conceded that a fourth successive setback in all competitions has left Arsenal with too much to do in order to force their way into the Premier League’s top four.
Europa League success now offers the only route back into the Champions League for 2018-19, with the Gunners prepared to switch their focus to continental competition – much like Manchester United did last season.
Ramsey may have a leading role to play in that quest, but uncertainty regarding his future will continue to reign for as long as he does not commit to an extension at Emirates Stadium.