London (AFP) – Mikel Arteta has challenged Arsenal’s under-performing stars to save the club’s season in the Europa League quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague on Thursday.
Arteta’s side have no margin for error after being held to a 1-1 draw by Slavia in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners, languishing in ninth place in the Premier League, must win the Europa League to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
But Leicester and Rangers have already been knocked out of the competition by the Czech team this term.
Next season is likely to be Arsenal’s first without European football since the 1995-96 campaign if they don’t survive against Slavia.
Arsenal boss Arteta is well aware the critics are sharpening their knives after his disappointing first full season in charge.
“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,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
The Spaniard would buy himself some time if Arsenal progress to the last four and for that to happen he will need big performances from a squad that has struggled for consistency.
“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,” Arteta said.
“The 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 we have to do our best to earn that.”
Arteta knows the stakes will be high in Prague, but he is trying to keep calm.
“I don’t want to put it in my mind or transmit it to any of the players or anybody at the club,” he said when asked if he has considering the possibility of failing to qualify for Europe.
Arteta is unsure if Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Danish midfielder Martin Odegaard will be fit for the tie.
Aubameyang and Odegaard, who is on loan from Real Madrid, missed training Tuesday because of illness and an ankle injury respectively.
Arsenal were due to train Wednesday before travelling to the Czech Republic and Arteta said: “It depends how they wake up. (On Tuesday) none of them could train. Hopefully (on Wednesday) it is a sunnier day so maybe it is better.
“I don’t know, we have to see how they are. We still have a couple of other ones as well from the last few days, so we’ll have to see how everybody is and after training how they react for (Thursday’s) game.”
The Gunners, however, have been buoyed by the availability of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe after injuries.
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