With an opportunity on the horizon to book our place in the knockout stages of the Champions League with two games to spare, Mikel Arteta is urging his players to wrap up qualification as soon as they can.
Our victory in Seville two weeks ago saw us leapfrog Lens and return to the top of the group, and a win in the return game against Sevilla coupled with PSV Eindhoven failing to beat the French side would see us secure a top-two finish.
And having been involved in the game for a long time, Mikel is hoping we keep up our side of the bargain by claiming a third win from our opening four games to reduce the pressure mentally and physically on his players going into the final two matchdays.
Reflecting on the scenario, he said: “The moment you have a chance in football to put it to bed, do it. We have to do a lot of things right tomorrow to earn the right to win it against a really good team with enormous experience in this competition.
“We have to prove tomorrow in front of our people how excited we are to play that game and what it means for us.”
Our three games so far have been a first taste of the Champions League for many of our squad, who have been learning on the job what life is like playing in Europe’s premier club competition.
Having played all of our opponents once now, Mikel is pleased with what he has seen from his squad, who registered impressive victories against PSV and Sevilla to put them on the brink of advancing into the last 16.
“We had two very good games,” the boss evaluated. “The one against Lens we struggled in the first 20-25 minutes of the second half, but overall the way the team has not only performed, but I think the presence of the team, the maturity they have shown in big games like this has been really good.
“It's about doing it consistently and tomorrow we're going to have to do a lot of those things very, very well.”
After losing to West Ham United and Newcastle United last week, Mikel is keen to get his side back into the winning groove, although he believes that a similar display to the one we put in at St James’ Park could be the foundation we need to clinch the desired three points.
Having watched the game back, he feels that we played better than we did against the Magpies in our victory back in May, but a little more cutting edge is necessary if we’re to once again topple Diego Alonso’s side at Emirates Stadium.
“The two games that we watched last year when we won 2-0 and the one that we lost 1-0, we were much better three days ago than we were a year ago, much better,” he added. “We deserved more in that game, but that’s the beauty of this game.
“We have to build a lot of things that we did right against Newcastle, improve certain things, especially in the final third, to be more of a threat. For the rest, the way the team played, the way we competed, it was extraordinary.”
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