Mikel Arteta has called on his players to show efficiency in the final third with Arsenal facing “a real battle” when they take on Slavia Prague tomorrow night.
The Gunners head into the Europa League quarter-final second leg still smarting from last week’s 1-1 draw after creating enough chances to put the tie to bed before conceding a stoppage-time equaliser.
Arteta knows his side can’t afford similar sloppiness in the Czech capital if we’re to keep our chances of qualifying for the Champions League alive.
Facing the press on Wednesday morning, he said: “We said before the game that we’d been really impressed with the form, with what that team transmits, a real attitude and desire that they show in every single game.
“That’s why they are here, because they’ve knocked out some big teams along the way and fully deserve to be where they are. They showed in the first leg against us that they never give up, and they scored in the last minute of the game. We’re going to have a real battle tomorrow.”
Out of the domestic cups and currently labouring in ninth place in the Premier League, it’s clear that success in this season’s Europa League is now our best chance of salvaging a season that was supposed to mark a turnaround in fortunes. The pressure is on.
“It’s very important for us and this is our club,” said Arteta. “There’s no individual interest, it’s all a collective interest that we want to do well in every competition.
“Tomorrow’s game can put us in a position to go into the semi-final of a European competition. This is exactly where this club has to be and that’s why tomorrow we have to do our best to earn that.”
Put to him that a European semi-final would at least mark tangible progress to onlookers, he added:
“Absolutely, tangible is the right word and the only tangible thing is results. Whether you’re doing a good job or not, to judge it externally is only going to be judged with results.
“Internally, you know what you are doing and you can have many different ways of judging that but at the end of the day, externally results are the only important thing to give the perception that we are moving forward in the right direction.”
While it remains to be seen whether Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Odegaard travek, the Gunners were at least boosted by news both Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka are fit. So important on the creative front, the duo will likely carry the weight of supporter expectations on their young shoulders. That said, the boss is keen for all his players to be ready to step up and deliver.
“They are all as relevant as the senior players,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is but someone has to create when the team needs those moments. We have moments in the season where it has been the senior players and then other moments where it has been the young players. It doesn’t really matter.
He added: “We had moments against Slavia where if we had put the ball in the net, we are having a different conversation.
“This game is decided there and then when you don’t win, and you draw in the final minute, it leaves a different taste. But it could have been a completely different game. It’s about efficiency and in these Europa League games, your efficiency has to be so high to have the chance to compete with the best.”