Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has been on quite the rollercoaster ride this season in the Premier League, but now, it’s time to turn the attention back over to the rest of Europe as the Gunners begin their quest for knockout glory in the UEFA Europa League. Their first test since the resumption of the competition will be a Round of 32 tie against Portuguese giants Benfica, with the first leg taking place in Rome due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Prior to the game, Arteta spoke with the media as Arsenal’s European journey continues.
On Kieran Tierney and Thomas Partey:
Thomas didn’t travel. He’s not there yet, he’s still training individually. Kieran has had one session with us and is part of the squad.
On Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s tattoo:
Whatever we do with our players, we keep it internal. It’s true that a lot of the members of our squad have extended families at home and if a player does something that is not within the regulations obviously, the club acts immediately but always privately.
On playing at two neutral venues:
Well, it’s very unusual but we have to try to maintain the integrity of the competition as much as we can. The only way to do that at the moment is to play at different venues, but at least it’s played over two legs with away goals always present.
On if the Europa League is the best way into the Champions League:
It’s one of the ways. There’s still a lot of games to play in the Premier League too but obviously, we are very excited with this competition. We’ve been on a really strong run this season in the Europa League and tomorrow we have a good opportunity to make another step [forward].
On Nicolas Pepe:
Yes, the fact that we have the Europa League gave the opportunity to almost everyone in the squad to be fit and available and compete for their place. He’s had some really good matches and scored some important goals as well and I think that has helped him for the Premier League form and the recent form that he’s shown.
On seeing signs of Nicolas Pepe’s development:
I’ve seen a lot of things, in his mentality, the way he approaches every training session, in his understanding of the game as well. It’s true that he has patches where he’s played more than at other times. He has had the opportunity over the last couple of months that probably every player has been seeking to have but I think overall there is a lot of progress with Nico.
On if he thinks about lifting the trophy:
Victory is always in the back of my mind. Why were are here is to win trophies for this club and this is a competition that we want to be linked to as well because we are participating. The Champions League has been massive for this club but at the moment we are not in it. The best way to get back to that is by winning this competition.
What he’s doing at the moment, the way he’s training, the way he’s working, the way he’s willing to give everything to the team is what I demand. Whether he’s more successful or less successful in the game is another matter, it will come with the quality that he has but this is what I demand to every player. A full commitment and to put the passion and everything they have in every training session and when they have the opportunity to play and so far Willian has done that every single day.
On if the criticism of Willian is unfair:
I don’t say it’s unfair because with Willy the expectation is really high in terms of the goals he can score. The assists he can create, you expect him to be in the starting lineup as well so it’s normal that people write things about him. We have to protect him, we have to support him as much as we can because he deserves it from the way he handles his profession and the way he is with us.
On whether Willian could be involved against Benfica:
Well, he’s part of the squad so he’s got a good chance.
On our defeat against Olympiacos last season:
I thought it was very cruel with the way we got knocked out of the competition. The tie was in our hands and we scored a goal, but then we conceded in the last minute of extra time. We still had a massive chance with Auba to go through, but the big lesson there is that you have to play every single minute of the competition with a high focus. Every detail matters and every situation has to be handled, and it’s about being able to manage the game in the way it’s required because it’s over two legs. The goal difference is very important and that has to be in the back of your mind, and you have to be able to control your emotions and as well be able to change the game when you need to, to take it to your territory when the tie is in your hands.
On whether we can use that game as motivation:
I hope so. I think it was a really tough experience for all of us with the way it happened because I think we deserved to go through, but as well I think that created more hunger for this season to go and do more and we have to use that thing that we have still there, that we haven’t gone through yet to put more energy, more passion and more commitment into this competition.
On whether he’s confident that Aubameyang didn’t breach protocols:
We tried to advise every player and make sure that they know all the rules and that we have to stick to those rules all the time. If someone doesn’t do it, obviously we have to act immediately, so again, I cannot tell you who every player lives with, but we do and when somebody does something you shouldn’t be doing, obviously it’s going to get found out from us and there will be consequences. And if not, there won’t be.
On whether Aubameyang has travelled for the game:
Yes, he’s here.
On whether he spoke to Guardiola about Odegaard during his time at Manchester City:
I can recall when he was playing a game or two we made a comment about it, but not about the story you’re telling me.
On whether he can make Odegaard one of the best players in the world:
Well, he’s got the potential. I followed him very closely when he was at Real Sociedad and he had a lot of opportunities and he was really impressive over there for long periods. He had a really successful season over there and that’s one of the reasons why I was so convinced that he’s a player for us. He’s a player that I really like and as you say, still has huge potential to become even better.
On what he’s made of Odegaard so far:
All positive from my first conversations with him. He’s a really focused and humble boy that was really keen to join, but he just wants to play football in the right way and then he said some really good things. He’s a really nice guy, the players like him, the staff like him, he’s easy going, a really hard worker, and I’ve been very impressed with his leadership. He looks a little bit calm but on the pitch he’s got something about him. I’ve been really impressed with him. It’s how he talks to his teammates and how he, for example, commands the high press. Then the personality that he brings and shows every time the opponent comes towards him he still wants the ball in the right areas. His decision making is really good and he’s a really intelligent player.
On whether Odegaard has a bigger character than he expected:
Yes and when I talk about leadership as well, it’s how he talks to his team-mates, how he commands the high press and then the personality he shows. Every time the opponent comes after him, he still shows for the ball in the right areas. His decision making is really good and he’s a really intelligent player.
On Benfica’s strengths and weaknesses:
What I can say is that they’re a really competitive team, a really high-rhythm team. They have a really high press and they are dominant when you allow them to be. They have very aggressive attacking players too. When they have the space to attack and they are close to the final third, they are really dangerous. Their manager has a huge history in football and some of our players know him really well as well. There’s a big respect there and they’re going to be a difficult opponent.
On Benfica’s best player:
I would not like to mention just one player. I think it’s a really strong team.
On whether he expects Benfica to play 4-4-2 or 3-4-3:
I am expecting them in both. The preparations of the games are always in response to the possible formations they can use, so we prepared for both with the alterations they have, depending on the players they play, as well within the formation. Regarding the players you mentioned [Cedric and David Luiz], of course I am always interested to find out about the history, how they get coached, the coach of the team. It’s always useful to have opinions of players who know the league and the team so well.
On how we can nullify Benfica:
They will propose different problems in relation to what you said about the build-up phase. They can do that in many different ways and we have to be prepared for that and try to nullify that as much as possible, which is the same thing they will try to do with us. The amount of goals we concede in the competition is huge because [away] goals become crucial in these stages, so it’s obviously something we’ll have to bear in mind all the time.
Quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
Will Arsenal gain the upper hand in this tie?