Arsenal may not be destined for great things in the Premier League this season but the jury is still very much out with regards to the Europa League. They’re at the semi final stage of the competition and tonight, they face an exciting first leg encounter against Villarreal.
The winner will meet Manchester United or Roma in the final but for the time being, the focus needs to be on one thing and one thing only: building a solid lead heading into the second leg.
Prior to tonight’s festivities, Gunners manager Mikel Arteta has spoken to the media about the game.
On the feeling in the squad ahead of the semi-final:
Extremely excited to travel today and play the game tomorrow, knowing that this tie is going to take us to the final if we do the right things and we earn it. We have a tough opponent in front of us but we really want to be there.
On the latest team news:
They are all in contention. All of them. Including Aubameyang, Laca and Kieran. They are all in contention for the game. Yes [it is good news].
On the statement from the board:
Yes, we spoke to them and I think it was very clear. They show their commitment and their ambition to the football club because we all want a successful team on the pitch. It was very clear and it took any doubts out of the situation I think.
On whether it’s a distraction for the players:
Well a lot of talk and a lot of speculation has surrounded the situation in the last week or so, our fans raised their voices during the game against Everton, but now we have a very clear and committed statement from the ownership and I think that is gone when they say what they said last night and show the commitment and desire to take the team where we all want. I think it is very clear where we are moving forward.
On whether the Kroenkes will lead the team to the good times:
said from the very beginning what my perception was, everything I sensed and all the communications I have with them and they are fully excited and committed to this project and they want to push everybody to do what we want to do.
On whether he ever spoke to Unai Emery:
I spoke to him a few times, because we had people in common. Then I spoke to him before I took over at the club and he was really helpful, a very experienced and successful manager in the Europa League in particular with what he has done. So there is no doubt that he has the tools and knowledge to manage at the top level.
On whether he spoke to Unai before taking the job:
Yes, I did. He offered me that opportunity which is sometimes unusual. He was very sincere and open. I was very grateful for that.
On the disruption a potential takeover could cause:
Listen, Roger, I cannot control the speculation and what is going on. What I’d like to know and talk about is the reality, and the reality is that we have owners that are really, really committed and that they want a successful team on the pitch. They’re going to do everything they can to achieve that. This is what we have and I feel fully supported by them.
On the possibility of seeing more regular protests:
Again, that is nothing I can control. They have the freedom and the possibility to express themselves. If you ask me as a manager what I want towards the team, obviously I want the stability around all the sectors of the club because I know it’s best for the players and it’s best for the performance of the team. The players need their supporters fully committed behind the team. The moment we have them inside our stadium, I’m sure that’ll be the case.
On Folarin Balogun:
It’s done, we’re really happy about it, really excited about it. It took a while because we had to undo a really complicated situation that was developing. I think the club made a big effort, I think Edu made a great job and with Flo and his agent we were able to find the right agreement for him to save.
On what commitments KSE have given him:
It’s always been part of the discussion [to help him improve the team] amongst other things. What I can tell you is that they want to do their best in their capacity to support what we want to do, and have a really successful Arsenal on the pitch.
On Tierney’s fitness:
He didn’t need the surgery that we were afraid of at the beginning and then he’s been working like a beast every single day. I don’t know if he’s going to make it tomorrow but he certainly wants to be as close as possible to that football pitch to give himself the best possible chance.
On whether he’s willing to risk players like Kieran and Auba because of the importance of the fixture:
We do need them, because we know that we have some players that are in contention and they are the ones who can make the difference in a big tie like this. But the word risk, I don’t like to put players on the pitch if they can’t perform and they can’t feel secure that they can perform. If it’s a risk or we’re going to take a gamble, then I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.
On ignoring the narrative around Unai Emery vs Arsenal:
Again, I cannot control that. That relationship existed and we cannot go against it. Unai knows the club really, really well and we know Unai as well and what he did before he joined here and what he did at the football club and that’s it.
On the statement from KSE and whether it will be popular with the fans:
I don’t know, but I think it closes a lot of the speculation about what could happen. They moved straightaway and they made very clear lines of where they are standing and what they want to do with the football club. And that’s it, one thing doesn’t take the other, that the fans express themselves and their opinion, which is completely normal.
On whether he thinks Stan Kroenke should talk to the fans:
Well, I don’t know if that will be the case. If we all feel that it is necessary and it would be helpful, I’m sure that they would do anything it takes to bring the fans closer to them. If they get the opportunity to know them, I think most of them will be surprised. If that’s the case, I think that will benefit everybody at the football club, it will benefit the fans and it will bring a lot of clarity. So if there is a way to do that and it’s going to be helpful, let’s do it if that is what is necessary.
On what needs to change to shift the ‘difficult’ relationship with the fans:
It’s a question that I’ve been thinking about a lot, but there are a lot of factors which are difficult to control. There are still moving pieces there, but I am positive that in the next few weeks and months, we are going to be in a much better position. The only thing we can do to help that situation is to win football matches and win trophies. That always helps in football to bring that stability and excitement. And then, each party has to do a little bit to try to reunite everybody, because in the end it’s to the benefit of the football club and what they could achieve.
On Dani Ceballos saying La Liga suits his style more:
We mentioned to you guys and at the end of the season we have a lot to play for yet, so I don’t want any distractions. We will sit with them and we are always in contact and communication with the players and the agents to know what their feelings are, and at the end we have to make a common decision for what’s best for the club and the player.
On what he’s expecting from Villareal:
In terms of the club in the last 10 or 15 years they’ve had spectacular progression with various different coaches, but they’ve always had a clear idea of how they want to play. Unai’s brought them a lot of experience in this competition and they have a very clear identity in terms of their play style. Obviously it’s a two-legged affair and there’s obviously always a bit of uncertainty in terms of the first leg, who is going to be more dominant and who is going to take more risks, but we will see that tomorrow.
On his biggest concern about facing Villareal:
Well, I’d say the main thing is the clarity of idea that they have both with and without the ball, and in transition and set-pieces they have very clear ideas and some great connections between the players. They have some fantastic individual players in the final third and they can decide a game at any time. They compete throughout the game and they also have an ability to change system using either the same players or different players during a game, and that makes them a very difficult to read.
Quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
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