Press conference

Arteta on... Benfica, Aubameyang, Saka and more

With a long trip to Athens ahead of us, Mikel Arteta faced the media early on Wednesday morning to preview our Europa League last-32 second-leg clash.

Our manager discussed Benfica, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey and more.

This is what he told the press:

on whether Bukayo Saka is one of our most important players...
His form in recent months shows that he's a very important player for us. I think he's getting better and better, his performance levels have been really consistent, so that makes him for sure one of the most important players in recent months.

on whether Saka's consistency is unusual for a young player...
It is very unusual but he's been doing a lot of unusual things. He's dealing with things at his age in a very unusual way, but that's why he's showing what he's showing, because his maturity is above his age and so is his intelligence as well.

on how he sees the tie...
I think it's different. The away goal is always important but in this context I don't think it's that relevant. We take the game like there is everything still to play for. It's the second half of the game and we need to go there to try to go to win the game. Any other thing, without the fans, without being in our stadium, I think makes the game very tricky.

on the prospect of there being some fans for the end of the PL season...
I cannot wait to have our fans back in the stadium. I think all the players and everyone at the club are desperate to have our fans back at the Emirates because they make a huge difference. For me personally as well, because the energy they are able to create, the motivation they create, the passion they can show in the stadium for our players, I think is something we've really been missing. I've said it before: to feel part of something that you are trying to do without sharing it with the people that really matter is very empty at the end. A lot of the emotional parts are the beauty of this game so hopefully we can have them back very, very soon.

on team news...
Thomas is very close. He's got a final test today in training. If he's feeling good, he will be available to play the match. Regarding Rob, he's not available. He had a concussion, we tested him and he's completely fine but obviously now we need to follow the protocols and he won't be able to travel.

on whether the UEL is our only route to the UCL...
I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard. We're going to do that in the league for sure. It's true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it. Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we're going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions.

on if he has a special relationship with Hector Bellerin...
If you asked me that question a few years ago I'd probably say if he is the way he is it's nice because we had a really strong relationship and I tried to help him as much as I could. Now it's a different relationship. Obviously, when you know the person and you know the professional, it's easier to help them becuase you know how he feels, you know what he needs and how to get the best out of him. It's true that this season he's found much more consistency, he's been available in many more matches and hopefully, he's now forgotten the last two years when injuries meant he wasn't able to play as much.

on if that means he can no longer be his friend...
It's a very tricky one. You can't change your feelings towards somebody but then you have to be fair, you have to be really demanding as well, and it has to be a space that has to be shared and lived in in a different way between a player and a manager. It doesn't mean that your feelings are different towards the person.

on if his place is under threat by Cedric...
I think everybody has to compete with each other. I think Cedric has done really well. We've got Calum now that has been training really well in the last three to four weeks as well and looks completely ready to step in so everybody has to play at their best level and we're going to have to rotate players as well with the amount of games that we have.

on if he'll start against Benfica...
I don't know. I will decide the lineup tonight.

on if this game is the biggest of our season...
It's a big season and a really important [game] mentally and confidence-wise. It's going to dictate if we're in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It's a really tough opponent. It's a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us tomorrow, it's a final.

on if the pressure is on him ahead of the game...
I always feel that it is [on me], every time you're playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in so that doesn't really change much.

on Jamie Redknapp's comments on Aubameyang...
I didn't see those comments. I've heard about them. I'm here to support every single player and that is what I try to do all the time. I try to give them the best possible advice and when they have a difficult moment, stay right behind them and that's what we try to do always.

on if Aubameyang can respond on the pitch...
I think the best way to talk is always on the pitch. Seven days before when he scored the hat-trick and he could have scored four or five against Leeds, he was again the main man. He could have scored a hat-trick against Benfica easily with his qualities and it would have been different. At the end [of the day] it's about putting the ball in the back of the net for him and that's how he gets joy.

on whether he enjoys the big games where everything is on the line...
This is why we are here! When you play in these competitions and these games, finals too, it's the pressure that you want. It's much better to have the pressure to win than the pressure not to lose. I really enjoy the pressure of winning and to be here and to represent this club you have to be prepared to do that. If not, you don't belong here.

on his admiration for Eusebio and why he has a pair of his boots...
Well, I had always been a big admirer of football history, to try to understand a little bit why things have developed here and the people who have contributed to the game in a really strong way to have the beautiful game that we have today. I think that he was a big, key participant of that. He was a player that created a massive admiration with a huge personality and charisma and this developed because I have had some very important Portuguese friends in my career. That has created a link with some fans and some friends who have come very close to me and when we were talking football all the time, sometimes when I had done something for them or to show some gratitude in our relationship, I have been given some presents and I kept them [Eusebio's boots] really close to me.

on whether he can remember playing against Adel Taarabt...
Yes, he used to play as a No 10 and he was a super talented and very creative player. He had a really good season in the Premier League and it was very hard to play against him, because I played very close to him a few times. He was a player with an enormous talent. He's changed his position a little bit and a bit with his discipline too. It's nice to see him back playing.

on Benfica's defensive positioning in the first game causing offsides and what solutions he can find...
They have a really aggressive backline and I don't know if we can expect a back three or a back four tomorrow. I don't know what they will try to do but it's been a key principle in their way of playing that they manage those situations really well. We were offside on many, many occasions. Credit to them as well for how they deal with those situations. Regarding the game and what we expect, again, a really tough game against a really aggressive team that want to come at you and I'm expecting them to do the same again.

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