Mikel Arteta appreciates the pressure is always on at Arsenal as he prepares his squad for a pivotal game against Benfica that will shape the remainder of their season.
Arsenal go into the second leg against their Portuguese opponents with the Europa League last-32 tie delicately balanced following a 1-1 draw in Rome.
The English club did grab an away goal in the first meeting, though are without the benefit of home advantage for the return fixture. Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the game is to be played in Greece.
Out of both domestic cups and languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, Europe offers the Gunners their last chance of success in Arteta’s first full season in charge.
“I always feel that it (pressure) is [on me], every time you’re playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in, so that doesn’t really change much,” Arteta said.
“It’s a big season and a really important [game], mentally and confidence-wise.
“It’s going to dictate if we’re in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It’s a really tough opponent.
“It’s a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us, it’s a final.”
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) February 22, 2021
With an 11-point gap to fourth-placed West Ham and just 13 games remaining, it seems improbable that Arsenal can qualify for next season’s Champions League through the domestic route.
The Europa League, therefore, takes on added importance. They have won on each of their previous two visits to Greece as well, albeit both against Olympiacos, including a victory in this same competition a year ago.
“I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard,” Arteta said. “We’re going to do that in the league for sure.
“It’s true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it.
“Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we’re going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions.”
Arteta revealed Thomas Partey is “very close” to a return from a hamstring injury, meaning the midfielder could feature against Benfica. Rob Holding, however, is ruled out due concussion protocols.
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