Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal’s clash with Benfica tomorrow ‘is a final’ and is refusing to give up on his side’s hopes of securing Champions League football this season.
Arsenal currently sit in the Premier League‘s bottom half following a disappointing domestic season so far, with the north London side a huge 11 points adrift of fourth-placed West Ham in the race to secure Champions League qualification.
The Gunners have not qualified for Europe’s elite club competition since the 2016/17 season and face an uphill task once again, though have an alternative route into the tournament with the winners of the Europa League handed a qualification berth.
Arteta, however, is refusing to rule out a top four finish whilst it remains mathematically possible and says his side must ‘be alive in both competitions’ as they seek a Champions League return.
“While mathematically it’s possible [to make the top four in the Premier League], you have to try so hard,” said Arteta at his pre-match press conference.
“With the Europa League it gives you a route [into the Champions League]. We need to be alive in both competitions.”
Arsenal’s form in continental competition has been a far cry from their inconsistent league performances, having gone unbeaten in seven fixtures in the Europa League in 2020/21.
Arteta’s side now face a huge test with the second leg of their clash with Benfica behind held in the neutral venue of Greece’s Stadio Georgios Karaiskakis, and the Spaniard admits tomorrow’s clash ‘is a final’ for the Gunners.
“It’s a big game and a really important one [both] mentally and confidence wise,” he said.
“It’s going to dictate whether we are in the competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need.
“Benfica are a really tough opponent. It’s a Champions League team with a manager of huge experience, but for us, tomorrow is a final.”
Arsenal have been boosted by the return of Thomas Partey to training with the midfielder in contention to feature tomorrow, though Rob Holding will miss the clash amid concussion protocols after becoming the Premier League’s first ever concussion substitute against Manchester City on Sunday.