Irish Daily Mail
Arteta says Arsenal missing Europe for first time in 25 years not an option
Arteta refuses to accept missing out on Europe after 25-year run
ARSENAL are facing their first season without European football since 1995-96, but manager Mikel Arteta is not prepared to consider that dreaded scenario.
The Gunners are ninth in the Premier League table and 10 points off the top four, so winning the Europa League looks increasingly like their best hope of returning to major European competition.
However, Arteta’s side face Slavia Prague tonight with their hopes of staying in the competition hanging in the balance.
A 1-1 draw in the first leg has left Arsenal with work to do in the Czech capital to reach the semi-finals.
Asked if he is contemplating the club not being in Europe after 25 successive seasons, Arteta replied bluntly: ‘No.’
Pushed further, he added: ‘I don’t want to put it in my mind or transmit it to any of the players or anybody at the club.’
Goalkeeper Bernd Leno said: ‘When you think about the future without Arsenal in a European competition, it doesn’t feel right.
‘Our job is to make sure that doesn’t come true. Arsenal belongs to Europe and that’s our target and our job.’
Positive thoughts are the only ones Arteta is interested in ahead of his team’s season-defining game against Slavia.
Arsenal will need a better result than anyone has managed at the Sinobo Stadium all season to go through without the need for a penalty shootout.
Slavia have not been beaten at home all campaign. They have only been held four times, and the highest score draw has been 1-1.
Matching that result would only be enough for Arsenal to force extra time.
Arteta said: ‘We know that it is going to be very difficult and they have been doing extremely well at home. They are really strong.
‘We have been strong away, so I don’t want to focus too much on them. I want to focus on what we can do and the task ahead of us, and we have to do our thing to have the best possible chance of going through.
‘We’ve shown that in big games, big players have to step in and create magic moments and you need that — so let’s hope we can have them.’
With scrutiny on his manager increasing, Leno added: ‘We are all together. It’s not about the manager, it’s not about the team, we are all in this.
‘Mikel does a great job and the team are fighting for him, the club, the fans and ourselves.
‘As players, we want the best for ourselves and you can see, from our performances in the last couple of weeks, we are fighting — although the results were not the best.
‘We cannot change the past. We have to look forward, and there are still a lot of big games ahead of us.
‘It starts with Prague. Hopefully there will be a semi-final and final to follow, and we can finish the season with a trophy and a great finish in the Premier League.’