Arsenal have a whole lot riding on the second leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague tonight. The Gunners are heading into the clash knowing that they have to at least score in order to avoid being knocked out on away goals, and while that rule may seem odd in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.
As Arsenal fans prepare for what may well be the biggest game of the season so far, manager Mikel Arteta has taken the time to speak with the media as the countdown to kickoff continues.
On Aubameyang and Odegaard’s chances of playing:
I don’t know, we have to see how they are today. We still have a couple of other ones in the last few days, so we will have to see how everybody is today and after training, how they react for tomorrow’s game.
On Slavia Prague:
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.
On Folarin Balogun’s reported new contract:
We’re going to make it official when it’s official and everything is done, but as I said before I was being very positive that he wants to stay at the club. We want him to stay at the club so we are very close.
On how important it is to reach the semi-finals:
It’s very important for us and this is our club. 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.
On reaching a semi-final being tangible progress:
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.
On whether this is a bigger game than the 2020 FA Cup final:
The biggest game is the next game. After that one it will be Fulham. In football it’s about the next game and that’s the most important game in our lives. That’s it and we cannot go any further than that.
On needing his big-game players in this game:
Absolutely. We’ve shown that in big games, big players have to step in and create the magic moments and you need that. So let’s hope that we can have them.
On how difficult it is for a loan player to make their mark:
Well, with the financial position that we’ve been in, we’ve had to find different ways to try to recruit good players to the club and as well, it gives you the possibility to see with both eyes on a daily basis how those players can improve the team and how they can adapt to this league. In both cases [Dani and Martin], I’m really happy with both of them and the decision has to be decided at the end of the season because there is, in this case, the same club involved with both of them and I will have these conversations.
On whether Xhaka playing left back was a one off or not:
We looked at our options in relation to the opponent and the formation that we wanted to use to fit the qualities of the players that we had available. Obviously not having Kieran, it was a big hit because of what he produces and how important he is on the team. Now we have to find different ways and the good thing with Granit is that he can play in two or three different positions. I can see him still playing as a centre back when it’s needed because of his discipline, his commitment and his qualities and he did a good job in a different game, for the way Sheffield were set up. We’ll decide tomorrow.
On the balance of weakening the midfield by removing Xhaka:
Yes, but then you have to move one or two pieces. At the moment we are missing David, Kieran, we are missing Martin as well, we are missing Auba. So we’ve been missing quite a lot of important players and we have to move the team somehow without touching it too much. But we have to find the right solution.
On Balogun and how the situation has seemingly changed:
Just by trying to, first of all, understand why he got to the point that he was really thinking about leaving the football club after being raised here and the feelings that he had built towards the club. Once you understand the position of him, then try to explain what you want to do, how involved he is going to be in the project and how. Then, get the full commitment from the club and support from Edu, who I think has done an incredible job as well.
On whether Balogun will stay with the squad next season or go on loan:
First of all we have to sign him! Once we sign him, we go step-by-step and we’ll communicate with you guys on what we’re doing.
On whether Auba or Odegaard will train today:
Depending on how they wake up! If they wake up better, yes. Yesterday, neither of them could train. Hopefully today. It’s a sunnier day, so maybe it’s better!
On the senior players needing to deliver tomorrow:
They are all as relevant as the senior players. 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.
On whether the first leg was a wake-up call:
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.
On whether he’s considered us not being in Europe next season:
On why that is:
Because I don’t want to put it in my mind or transmit it to any of the players or anybody at the club.
On Ian Wright saying Odegaard is ‘too good for Arsenal’:
I really enjoying having Martin with us in the team.
On Odegaard being named Norway’s captain:
He was very proud and I’m very proud for him to achieve that because I think it merits his character and what he’s doing here. I’m really happy for him.
Quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
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