Arsenal’s hopes of playing in Europe next season might be on a knife-edge but Mikel Arteta is refusing to think about the possibility for fear of transmitting negativity around his squad.
Out of the domestic cups and currently ninth in the Premier League, the Gunners know the best chance of qualifying for Europe is by winning this season’s Europa League.
Having not won a European trophy since 1994, it’s a big ask. At the same time, a four-game route to Champions League football via tonight’s quarter-final second leg with Slavia Prague, a potential semi-final double-header with Unai Emery’s Villarreal and a 26th May final versus one of Manchester United, Ajax or Roma, means it’s very much “up for grabs now.”
Given the possibilities, it’s understandable why the boss is doing his utmost to remain optimistic.
“No,” Arteta said when asked whether he had contemplated the chance of failure. “Because I don’t want to put it in my mind or transmit it to any of the players or anybody at the club.”
Goalkeeper Bernd Leno echoed those thoughts when he faced the media on Wednesday saying, “Arsenal belongs to Europe; that’s our target and that’s our job.”
To get that job done, we’re going to need to cut out the individual errors that have peppered the season so far. While Leno has looked on aghast at some of the defensive howlers (and made a couple himself) he maintains that there’s no benefit to pointing the finger during games.
“I don’t see the point in going to my team-mate to blame him or to do something else,” said the German.
“In some situations, when we make easy or sloppy mistakes, maybe you have to build the confidence again, to be positive to him. It’s not a mistake through laziness or something like this, you have to build confidence. We don’t have the type of team where we destroy ourselves.
“We have to be positive, to show positive body language. This is also my mindset: to be positive, to have a positive attitude and create a positive atmosphere on the pitch.
“I couldn’t see any situations where we would be fighting in the game or something like this. Every situation is different but most of the time I don’t see the point in creating a fight on the pitch or in the dressing room.”
Leno also refuted suggestions that the players had let the coaching staff down with their performances this season.
“I don’t think so. Because we are all together, it’s not about the manager or the team or somebody else.
“We’re all in this all together. Mikel does a great job, the team is fighting for him, for themselves, for the club, for the fans, and we also want the best for ourselves.
“You can see that all the time, that the team is fighting. Our performances in the last couple of weeks, the results were not the best but you cannot change it. We have to look forward and there are still a lot of big games to go.
“It starts tomorrow, then hopefully the semi-finals and the final as well. Hopefully we can finish the season with a trophy and a great result in the Premier League.”