Press conference

Arteta on... the win, Saka, Aubameyang, Ceballos


Mikel Arteta was a relieved man after seeing Pierre-Emerick Aubamehyang and Bukayo Saka come up trumps as we sealed a late win against Benfica in Athens.

The win secured our place in the last 16 of the Europa League, and afterwards our manager faced the media.

This is what he said:

on whether Saka and Aubameyang have kept our season alive…
Well, it certainly keeps the season going in a much better way because this competition is going to help in the Premier League a lot. It joins everyone together to have something important to play for and today would have been really harsh with what has happened in the two legs to be out of the competition. I’m extremely happy with the result.

on whether he was worried that Auba’s winner would be disallowed…
Well, I was worried because we had one overturned that was really tight as well, so anything can happen and we cannot see the line. My impression was that he was onside, but I didn’t know, so the celebration isn’t the same, but at the end, what counts is that it went in.

on potentially facing Tottenham in the next round…
You never know! In this draw there’s going to be some funny games because there are a lot of teams left in the competition still. Let’s see. We will celebrate today a little bit because it’s been a rollercoaster, as you said, then we’ll have a nice dinner and recover because on Sunday we have a big one again.

on what was going through his head in the 87th minute…
No, I don’t think we would have deserved it (to go out). The reality is that we gave them two goals in the two legs, and when you do that against any opponent, and an opponent with the quality of Benfica, you’re going to be in trouble. That’s why we were in trouble. We gave away a penalty in a situation that we knew was going to happen, and then today we gave away a goal after our own corner. After that, the reaction of the team, the belief and what I was sensing on the pitch and how much they wanted it, gave me hope. We changed it and tried to be more of a threat, more attacking, and I’m especially happy about Dani because he’s a player that lives this profession like the most important thing in his life, and when he made that mistake, if that would have cost the team to be out of the competition, it would have been mentally really tough. That’s when you need players in the team like the ones we have with Auba and Bukayo creating and KT scoring the goal to save him. Out of a difficult situation created a really nice moment.

on Saka’s overall performance and his nerves of steel…
It is (nerves of steel), and as well because he’s really fatigued. He’s played a lot of minutes and he hasn’t had much rest. We asked him to go again and produce this moment, and the boy has done it against a really difficult formation with the way they were so deep and there were very small spaces, but he’s found a way to do it again.

on how football can be like poetry...
Yes. That was the first instance [Aubameyang's miss against Olympiacos] that came into my mind when he scored. I didn't know if VAR was going to allow the goal and then with the last action they were offside as well. They had the chance so this is the beautiful thing about football. If you keep going always, you have the chance to put it right.

on if the team showed it could perform under pressure...
Yes, absolutely. We had better moments in the game than others but I think everybody had the courage to play the way that we wanted to. They gave absolutely everything with the amount of games that we've played and the intensity that they're playing at, how much they're trying and I really thank them for that. I think that is going to be an important moment in the competition, to learn how to overcome difficulty and still achieve what we want.

on how Dani Ceballos was feeling when the goal went in...
I'm especially happy for him because he really loves this game and he does everything in the right way to be as prepared as possible. You can see how he celebrates every single goal. He doesn't have a 10 year contract at the club, he's on loan and still feels and defends this club in the best possible way. I think someone like him deserves good things to happen to him in football.

on how hard it is managing the team with the away goal hanging over us...
It is [challenging] because you know that a clean sheet takes you through to the next round of the competition but you can't play with that in your mind from the first minute because it is going to affect what you're going to do it. I don't think we did that today, we scored a really good goal. To be fair, they didn't create any chances, any shots. The first shot they created they scored a beautiful individual action and after that the tie becomes completely different because there's no extra-time. Then it's all open and all for the taking.

on what the manner of the win will do moving forward...
As one of your colleagues mentioned, it happened last year against Olympiacos. It was a really difficult one to swallow. We're having a very very strange and difficult season with all the challenges that we all know about, so to have some good moments, some beautiful moments to celebrate together as a team is really important. In this competition over two legs, you're going to have difficulties. It's going to be players sent off. It's going to be refereeing decisions. It's going to be a mistake, you concede an early goal. You have to react to it and you have to know that you're capable of doing that so when a positive experience is in the back of your mind, instead of a negative one, I think it's much more powerful and much more convincing from everyone to try to do to.

on the importance of Kieran Tierney's goal...
Absolutely and you mention the right word because that is the way I would describe him, which is all determination and passion for what he does. The way he has come back from his injury and how willing he is to try to help the team, it gives us a big lift. After I think I have to mention the subs, because all of them, when they came in, made a difference. With Willian especially, I think he changed the game, he gave us much more composure, moments of creativity, he produced a goal for Kieran and we need everybody on board as this competition has the possibility to make five subs, which is a big bonus.

on why he didn't bring on Pepe or Martinelli...
Because there wasn't much space to run in behind, it was a really tight two lines, 4-4-1-1, or 5-3-2 at times, they were a really, really low block, not much space to run apart from when they set the line around the 18-yard box. You need people to unlock that, with special qualities in tight spaces to create movement and I think Willi was really helpful tonight.

on Aubameyang showing you can trust him in the key moments...
I completely trust him because we produced the chances and you know with Auba  that when he has chances, he is going to score goals. The last few days after the game in Rome against them, he missed three opportunities that are normally three goals for him, and he needed to react and it's great to see that the way he reacted is by being upset and trying to be better and not just feeling sad for himself in this moment. I am really pleased with how he did tonight.

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