Mikel Arteta needs his Arsenal players to shut out the noise with the stakes never higher

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Simon Collings
·3-min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
 (Pool via REUTERS)
(Pool via REUTERS)

By now, Mikel Arteta has become used to off-field distractions threatening his bid to re-establish Arsenal as a force.

For a rookie manager, the Spaniard has had to deal with so much since he was appointed in December 2019 that he often jokes he could already write a book about it all.

First there was the shutdown of football last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a week after Arteta had himself tested positive for the virus.

Then there was the departure of head of football, Raul Sanllehi, last summer and the executive reshuffle that saw Arteta promoted from head coach to manager.

Throw in having to negotiate players taking pay-cuts last season, 55 staff members being made redundant, the saga of Mesut Ozil's protracted departure in January and you begin to get an idea of just what Arteta has had to put to one side.

Issues around Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — who signed a new contract last summer, was dropped after being late for the north London derby in March and recently contracted malaria — could have their own chapters.

Then, of course, there was all the fallout from the European Super League fiasco, which has been closely followed by supporters protesting against owner Stan Kroenke and now a public takeover bid from Spotify's billionaire founder, Daniel Ek.

Ek has teamed up with Arsenal legends Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira and is putting together a formal offer to buy the club.

Kroenke is adamant he will not sell but the whole situation is hardly an ideal backdrop as Arsenal prepare for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final with Villarreal tonight.

Asked how he can prepare players given all the noise around the club at the moment, Arteta said on the eve of their game in Spain: "Try to focus just on what we have to do, what we can control on that pitch and try to leave the rest of the things for people to talk about and speculate.

"The only way that we can help the club and be at our best is just to focus on what we have to do on that pitch and the rest is nothing to do with us."

Arsenal's season is on the line tonight. Taking one point from matches against Everton and Fulham has well and truly ended their hopes of qualifying for Europe via the Premier League, so their last chance of salvaging a turbulent season is by winning the Europa League.

The fact that Unai Emery, Arteta's predecessor, is in the opposite dugout only adds to the stakes. The optics of losing to the man he replaced does not bear thinking about for Arteta.

A huge positive for Arsenal is that Alexandre Lacazette, Kieran Tierney and Aubameyang all trained yesterday and the trio are vying to play tonight.

Arteta needs his big players to stand up and, in the past, they have found a way to deliver when it matters most. The FA Cup Final, the Community Shield and even their 3-1 Boxing Day victory over Chelsea, when Arsenal were languishing near the relegation places, are all examples of that. But tonight is the biggest game of Arteta's tenure so far.

"In moments of big pressure, moments where we had to deliver, the players have done it," said the manager.

"This is what they have shown since I have been here. Not only in the [FA Cup] semi-final or the Final, and against Liverpool when we won the Community Shield, but in some moments in the Europa League when the tie was against us and we had to find a way to go through."

Now, more than ever, Arteta needs his team to deliver again.

Read More

Villarreal vs Arsenal: Uefa Europa League prediction, TV channel, team news, lineups, live stream, h2h results

Arsenal XI vs Villarreal: Predicted lineup, confirmed team news, Europa League squad, injury latest today

Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal predecessor Unai Emery did ‘a lot of good things’ during Gunners reign

Daniel Ek on Arsenal FC takeover: Spotify CEO ready for ‘long journey’ to buy club from Stan Kroenke

Arsenal team news: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney boost

Unai Emery tried to get Mikel Arteta to buy his house after Arsenal sacking

Mikel Arteta: Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke ‘fully excited and committed’ to club amid takeover talk