Mikel Arteta calls Arsenal’s clash with Benfica a ‘final’ as he admits the success of their season now depends on the Europa League with his side 11 points adrift of top four after Man City defeat
- Arsenal lie 11 points adrift of the top four after 1-0 defeat by City
- Arteta bemoaned a lack of cutting edge in the final third on Sunday
- Arsenal boss says season comes down to progression in the Europa League
- Manchester City make it 18 victories in a row thanks to Sterling’s winner
Mikel Arteta admitted that Arsenal’s season comes down to progression in the Europa League, labelling Thursday’s last-32 second leg with Benfica as a final.
The Gunners lie 11 points adrift of the top four after Sunday’s one-goal defeat by Manchester City, who extended their ominous winning run to 18 matches in all competitions.
Arteta bemoaned a lack of cutting edge in the final third and insisted they must progress from their home tie – staged in Athens – after the 1-1 draw last week.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are languishing in 10th place after Sunday’s defeat by Manchester City
‘We have a final on Thursday,’ he said. ‘We want to continue in the competition. We have to sleep, eat and we won’t have time to train. Then we fly to Greece.’
Raheem Sterling’s second-minute header decided the contest and Arteta was frustrated with his side’s lack of concentration.
‘There is nothing worse than going behind against them,’ he added. ‘The game is exactly where they wanted it.
‘To start the way we did, against the best team in Europe, you have to be exceptional for the rest of the game in every department, but we didn’t do it.
Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling headed the winner after just two minutes
‘We had some good moments, but we lacked the final pass and the quality to score.’
Sterling, now City’s joint-top scorer with 13 goals, believes the current winning streak has eclipsed previous runs given the precarious position Pep Guardiola’s side found themselves in two months ago. City have trailed for only 22 minutes in their last 25 matches – against League Two Cheltenham Town in the FA Cup.
‘It’s even better now because we had a difficult start to the season,’ Sterling said. ‘We weren’t scoring as many goals. We started to dig results out when it really matters.’
Guardiola said: ‘We cannot forget that we won at Anfield, against Tottenham, at Goodison Park and here away – three incredibly tough games in this period.
Sterling’s goal came from poor defending from Rob Holding (second left) after just 79 seconds
‘That’s why I’m more than pleased to win just 1-0. People talk and talk about the records but to do this you have to win this type of games many, many times.’
Sergio Aguero was an unused substitute for the third successive game and did not participate in the pre-match warm-up. The striker’s manager remains uncertain over his fitness.
‘I want to say keep working hard because your time you will come,’ Guardiola said. ‘Always I have doubts about his physical condition. I want to be sure, for him and us. As soon as I can see it he will play.’
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