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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Arsenal have ‘earned’ Champions League knockout stage return – Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta says Arsenal are “very excited” about their return to the Champions League knockout stages.

“We have earned the right to be here,” he told a press conference in Porto ahead of their last-16 tie.

“It’s been seven years since we’ve been at the top table for these kind of matches and 14 years since we were able to go to the next stage (the quarter-finals). That’s the challenge. We know what is ahead of us but we are very excited to face it and to go for it with full belief, that’s for sure.”

As an Arsenal player, Arteta was part of a team that struggled to get beyond the likes of Barcelona. “Someone called Messi was another obstacle as well and Bayern Munich that we faced twice,” Arteta quipped. “This competition is what it is. Individual quality is extremely important. It comes down to details and you need your players at your best when the occasion arises. Tomorrow for sure we’ll need that.”

The Arsenal manager would not entertain the idea that those historic defeats would inhibit his team on Wednesday night.

“No I have not had any conversation related to that,” he said. “They know that we have not been in the competition for seven years, obviously as some of them were here and they know the story. And they know that what happened in the past is irrelevant, it is the challenge and ambition that we have now to go through.”

Last season, Arsenal went out of the Europa League at this stage against another Portuguese team, Sporting Lisbon. It was a game that had ramifications beyond that defeat — Arsenal also lost both William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu to injury, which would ultimately go some way towards derailing their title challenge.

Tomiyasu is one of several players absent for this trip to Portugal — Gabriel Jesus, Thomas Partey and Oleksandr Zinchenko have also remained in London. Fabio Vieira has been declared fit and travelled with the squad. A former Porto player, Vieira has also provided Arteta’s coaching staff with some valuable insight.

“He gave us a few important informations that are relevant for us,” said the Arsenal manager.

Asked whether Arsenal can challenge for both the Premier League and the Champions League, centre-back Gabriel was adamant.

“Of course,” he told a press conference in Portugal. “The team has been in a crescendo. I think we’ve learned a lot the last few years, and now we’re iat a very good level. We can compete in any competition. I’m sure we are all focusing on tomorrow’s match. We know the Champions League is a different thing, a different feeling — but we are prepared.”

(Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

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