Arsenal will step back into the fire tonight as they prepare to lock horns with Slavia Prague in the UEFA Europa League. The Gunners are currently at the quarter-final stage but the end goal, of course, is for the club to kick on and actually win the competition. If they do so, they’ll secure their return to the UEFA Champions League next season – but if they don’t, they’ll be left to scramble in the Premier League.
Prior to the game kicking off, manager Mikel Arteta has spoken with the media about the impending clash this evening.
On whether the UEL is all or nothing:
This competition is all or nothing because when you play a tie, you are in or you are out. We want to be in the semi-finals and we know how important the game is for us.
On chances of Champions League qualification via PL being gone:
Until it’s mathematically impossible, you have to fight. There is no other way to do it. We have to be realistic with where we are in the league and it’s extremely difficult. But it’s mathematically possible so we have to stick to that.
On Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang:
We rely on every player in the squad to give their best, to give their maximum and perform on the pitch at the level that is required at this club.
On Kieran Tierney’s injury:
We have to first make sure that he doesn’t need any surgery, which it doesn’t look like. If that’s the case, the timeframe will be around [four to six weeks]. It could have been worse because the action looks quite scary but he’s feeling better and the damage is not that bad. At the end of the day, it’s not the bad news that maybe we were expecting after the game.
On whether Tierney will play again this season:
I don’t know, we’re going to have to go day by day to see how Kieran is feeling, how he is reacting. When we get close to playing time and training with the team, depending where we are and how he’s feeling, we’ll make a decision.
On whether Tierney will be OK for the Euros:
Again, it will depend on how things evolve in the next few weeks. He’s so keen to play for us before the end of the season and he’s extremely keen to represent his country in the Euros.
On Martin Odegaard’s chances of playing on Thursday:
Again, we will assess today how he’s feeling. He’s been carrying an injury for the last two or three days since he got injured with the national team. We have a few of them from the last game when we played Liverpool, so today will be the day where we see where everybody is at, and look at who is available tomorrow.
On Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Granit Xhaka:
Today is the day when they are going to be training fully with the team and we’ll see how they feel.
On Willian’s first season and how he feels about it:
I think we can reach a higher performance level because his potential is so big. He needs the contribution to the team and the team to be stable in order to provide what he needs to express himself on the pitch. It’s true that in recent weeks we’ve seen a much better version of him and his contribution when he is playing has been really positive. So it’s going to be crucial, his form, for the performance of the team in the last two months.
On whether we’ll have to change how we build attacks without Kieran:
Yes. We’re going to have to make some adjustments because his qualities are unique and we don’t have anybody with his qualities within the squad unless we start to move a lot of pieces. Without any time to train, it is a little bit dangerous to do. But we’re going to have to find different ways to fulfil that gap and use other things that can be as effective as well.
On whether he considers using Bukayo there or if he worries it can unbalance other areas of the team:
That’s the reality. You have to change something and you have to find a different way of attacking. At the same time, the structure when you are defending and in transitional moments has to be stable and has to be done by players that are comfortable doing that. We knew that position was a weakness around the squad, because we didn’t have anybody to replace Kieran, and we have to find different solutions.
On whether we’ll go out if we play like we did against Liverpool:
I don’t want to think that we’re going to play the way that we did. Every game is completely different and I want to think that we can play at the level that we played at against other opponents this year. Then we’ll have a great chance to be in the next round.
On whether he pulls his hair out at the sudden fluctuations in performances:
Yes, I do. I’ve got to find that and it doesn’t happen again.
On criticism from Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher of some of our players:
No response. I think we have to respect every opinion and when there is criticism coming after the way we played against Liverpool, we have to take it on the chin because it’s fully deserved for the way that we played. It’s no time to respond, it’s time to talk on the pitch and show what we can do. When we are at full gas, that is a lot.
On whether Auba has to start playing better:
I think the whole team and myself have to put in better performances than we did against Liverpool, that’s for sure.
On whether he thinks we will progress to the next round:
We have a really difficult opponent, if you see how they came into this position, they completely merit that. They’ve done it in a really specific way and a really efficient way and it will be a challenge, that’s for sure.
On whether the back three is left behind or if he will consider it again:
The team has to have the flexibility to adjust when it’s needed. Sometimes because of what the opposition is doing and sometimes just to adapt the quality of the players that we have. Sometimes because opponents cannot just predict what we are going to do. So there are different ways of doing that and we have to be flexible.
On Gary Neville’s comments:
Listen, I don’t read or listen. Obviously, I need to be aware of what has been said. The only thing I’m saying is where there is the one from Gary or Jamie or whoever is talking about us, after the performance that we had against Liverpool we have to be mute and we have to perform. That is the only thing that we have to do.
On if he’s seen the right reaction in training:
On how that plays out:
I cannot criticise the hard work or the ethic of my players. I have never done it. Whether we are more efficient or not, whether we win enough duels or not. It’s not about they don’t want to run or they don’t want to try. There are areas where we have limitations, there are areas where we’re inconsistent but there are areas where we can do really, really well. My demands is just to be hitting those goals and to achieve our best level every single day. Whether it’s in training or in a football game and in the last two days again, I’ve seen that. I didn’t see anything different. That’s why it was a big shock to the system, what happened against Liverpool. Because of the training that we showed since December but probably it’s part of the journey. Sometimes a punch or a big slap in the face is a good thing to go back to reality.
On the areas the players need to improve in:
Again, going back to the performance the other day. It’s every single area. We have to do much better. I cannot discuss here the specific things that we need to do better. We need to pick up a result, pick up the best possible performance because that’s going to allow us to get the result that we want. That’s all I’m interested in in the next six or seven weeks.
On Slavia Prague:
They are a really strong side. They’ve been unbeaten in the league. You see how they have the ball. I think in the last few years, competing at the highest level, they’ve always been in the game and made it really difficult. [They’re] really competitive, brave, very direct and incisive and a team that can cause you problems throughout the game. They never give up, they have a top attitude all the time and that’s why they beat teams because they’re a really good side.
On the difference between Slavia Prague and other opponents this season:
It’s very specific, very creative, some of the things that they do. And some rare things that you don’t see in a lot of teams. I would describe them as a really brave team.
On if any players have caught his eye:
I would like to highlight the collective performance they put in. Obviously, they have some really good individuals, they have had some really good players that they’ve sold in recent years. The market is looking at them because they’ve been a really good side. We know that they have some really interesting players there.
Quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
Will Arsenal secure a first leg win against Slavia Prague?