London (AFP) – Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal side can take their “biggest step forward” under his management if they end a turbulent season by booking their place in the Europa League final.
The Gunners welcome former manager Unai Emery back to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday for the second leg of their semi-final with Villarreal.
The Spanish side hold a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg at El Madrigal, where Nicolas Pepe’s penalty gave Arsenal what could prove to be a crucial away goal.
If Arsenal win they will almost certainly face Manchester United, who are on the brink of reaching the final in Gdansk after beating Roma 6-2 in the first leg of their tie.
Arsenal have not played Champions League football since 2017 but winning the Europa League would take the club back into the elite competition next season.
Arteta’s team won the FA Cup in August at the end of his first season in charge but they have failed to build on that success and are 12 points off the Premier League’s top four with just four games remaining.
There is also disquiet among supporters of Arsenal, who were one of six Premier League clubs to sign up to the ill-fated European Super League.
“It’s a big moment,” Arteta said of the second leg. “Again, not for me but for the club for everything that has happened in the last two years, in the last months.
“All the instability that we’ve been here with for many different reasons. So, I think it will be really important and our biggest step forward if we are able to be in that final and have the opportunity to win that trophy.”
Thousands of Gunners fans vented their anger at US owner Stan Kroenke before the recent defeat to Everton at the Emirates.
With Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek publicly talking about a potential takeover bid, another protest has been mooted ahead of Thursday’s match.
Arteta said he had no problems with supporters making their opinions heard but did not want to see a repeat of the disruption by fans that led to the postponement of Manchester United’s match against Liverpool at the weekend.
“I think that they have to be able to express themselves and if it’s done in a specific way, then they have the right to do it,” he said.
“We have to prepare for the game in the best possible way. I wouldn’t like to use any excuses. If something happens with that, then I know that the only purpose of the fans is to defend the club and that they want the best for the team. We will try to do the same.”
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