Mikel Arteta has described Arsenal’s upcoming Europa League second-leg clash against Benfica as a “final” after the Gunners slumped to their 11th Premier League defeat of the season to Manchester City on Sunday.
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Raheem Sterling scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for the leaders at Emirates Stadium which extends their winning run across all competitions to 18 matches. It is a result which leaves the Gunners facing an uphill task in qualifying for next season’s Champions League as they sit 11 points adrift of the top four.
The winners of the Europa League also secure entry to the Champions League and Arteta underlined the importance of that lifeline with the tie finely poised after last week’s first leg against Benfica ended 1-1.
Due to travel restrictions due to COVID-19, that match took place in Rome though the Portuguese side were the designated hosts. The second leg will take place in Athens with Arsenal serving as the home squad.
“We have a final on Thursday because we want to continue in the competition [Europa League],” he said. “We have to sleep, eat and we won’t have time to train then we fly to Greece.”
Arteta also admitted his squad were feeling the effects of competing on two fronts after managing just one shot on target in defeat to City.
“It is hard because everybody wants to play and everybody wants to be available for every game so if anything [I’m] just feeling sorry for the players that they cannot play or are not playing more,” he added. “Everybody is doing their best to be all the time available which I value a lot.
“But it is true there are a lot of players with fatigue, they played so many minutes and we don’t have enough players to replace them unfortunately.”