Remarkably, Arsenal find themselves one game away from a Europa League final, and despite their turgid Premier League form, could begin next season in the Champions League.
The Gunners must overturn a 2-1 deficit to Spanish side Villarreal on Thursday evening, having lost the semi-final first leg in a tense affair in Spain. Mikel Arteta’s men were two goals down and a man light in the second half, but a Nicolas Pepe penalty sealed a vital away goal for the north Londoners.
Arteta was in defiant mood in Wednesday’s press conference ahead of the Villarreal clash, where he discussed his thoughts on the tie, the form of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and any fitness issues going down to the wire.
Here are the key bits from the coach’s interview.
Arteta was full of praise for striker and captain Aubameyang after his recent performances, which he capped off with a goal against Newcastle United on Sunday. The Spaniard backed the forward to ‘turn things around’ and fire Arsenal to glory.
“My job, my responsibility, is to protect our players and try to get the maximum out of them. We know certain things that the outside world doesn’t know.
“They can comment but sometimes without knowing all the details, which is a little bit unfair for the people. We make decisions that sometimes people are judging but without really knowing the detail. That criticism is part of our job.
“Auba played well and he felt much better than the days before [Sunday]. Obviously, scoring a goal is really important for him as well, so he’s in a good place.
“This game always gives you another opportunity. If you are there, then you are ready for the taking. He can turn things around really quickly so hopefully we can see that tomorrow.”
Speaking about the significance of the game for the club, Arteta described the fixture as ‘massive’, and claimed ‘winning trophies’ is Arsenal’s only purpose.
“It’s a massive game for everybody but in particular for the club because we are here representing a football club and our fans. What we want to do is to do it in the best way by winning trophies. If we win tomorrow, we will be much closer to getting another trophy. This is the only aim and the purpose of us being here.
“We have to embrace the challenge and the opportunity we have ahead. I think it’s the 10th time that the club has been in a European semi-final, so it doesn’t happen very often. We have to take the opportunity tomorrow and earn the right to be in the final.
“It’s a big moment. Not for me, but for the club and for everything that has happened in the last two years and the last months. All the instability that we’ve been living with for many different reasons. So I think it will be really important and a big step forward if we are able to be in that final and have the opportunity to win that trophy.”
Big question marks surround the fitness of David Luiz, who came off with a hamstring injury in the 2-0 win over Newcastle on Sunday. But Arteta hinted that the Brazilian may push to make his return in time for Thursday’s semi-final.
“No [there is no update]. He was feeling better yesterday. Let’s see how he is today. We don’t know the extent of the injury yet.
“With David it’s always possible [if he will play] because he wants to be available. He’s made an incredible effort to be in the position that he’s in today and the fact that he played against Newcastle was already a big bonus.
“He had surgery on his knee so with David, you never know.”
Arteta also confirmed that Granit Xhaka is in contention to start at left-back once again, while the fitness of Kieran Tierney will be assessed in Wednesday’s training session. The Arsenal boss also put the lack of rotation in the full-back area down to helping Xhaka settle into his new role.
“It’s been one of the reasons, because of the way we wanted to play and the players around. We have managed to get some clean sheets since he’s been playing there and that’s something that didn’t happen for 13 games.
“He gives something different to the team.”
“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. 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.”