Mikel Arteta says Arsenal are determined to finish top of their Europa League group with the competition becoming “harder and harder” to win due to the quality of opponents dropping down from the Champions League.
As things stand, Ajax, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sporting Lisbon, RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla and Juventus will all be parachuted into Europe’s second-tier competition for a mid-February knockout stage play-off.
Given the hectic post-World Cup schedule a potentially hazardous double-header with a European big banana is not what we want, so the boss has called for focus from his players as they look to secure a point from their final two games versus PSV Eindhoven and FC Zurich.
“Last week, we made the first step which was to qualify for the next round. Now we need to win tomorrow because we want to finish first,” Arteta told his pre-game press conference in Holland.
“This competition is getting harder and harder. How it looks today and what the possibilities are, it looks like the next round is going to be extremely competitive. That’s why finishing top of the group and avoiding another two games is such an important thing for us.”
Despite his players looking fatigued at the weekend and tomorrow’s clash being the eighth of the month, Arteta said he had little choice but to bring a strong squad. In addition to long-term absentees Mo Elneny, Emile Smith Rowe and Oleksandr Zinchenko, Marquinhos will be absent due to illness.
“We don’t have that many players,” explained Arteta. “I bring the players that we have. We are bringing four kids with us because we cannot make up the squad.
“We need to put 11 players there [on the pitch] and we cannot change 10 or 11 players every game.”