Mikel Arteta sends warning to tired Arsenal stars after Sporting draw: ‘You have to be fit’

Mikel Arteta told his players there can be no let-up as the season enters the run-in  (REUTERS)
Mikel Arteta told his players there can be no let-up as the season enters the run-in (REUTERS)

Mikel Arteta warned his Arsenal players that they must be ready to play “every three days” if the club are to maintain their challenge domestically and in Europe.

The Gunners boss made six changes as they travelled to face Sporting in the first leg of the Europa League last-16 tie, with the visitors earning a 2-2 draw to take back to Emirates Stadium for next week’s return fixture.

With Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard and Gabriel Jesus all unavailable, Bukayo Saka was once again called upon while Gabriel Martinelli was required to play through the middle with the club’s strikers out injured.

Arteta has been reluctant this season to change a winning formula, and he has warned the Arsenal stars not to expect much rest in the months ahead.

“They have to be available to play and we have to use them,” Arteta told BT Sport.

“At this club you have to play every three days and you have to be fit and available to do that. If not, it’s not worth it.”

He added: “Making six changes you lose a little bit of the cohesion but we had to make the changes because some players were unavailable, some players have to play in different positions because we don’t have any strikers. We have to adapt to it.”

Arsenal took the lead in Lisbon through William Saliba’s header, but then conceded from a corner themselves as Goncalo Inacio equalised before Paulinho puts Sporting in front after the break.

The Gunners levelled in fortuitous circumstances, as Granit Xhaka’s attempted pass took a huge deflection off Hidemasa Morita and found the back of the net, leaving Arsenal still well-placed to reach the quarter-finals.

“I don’t know if it’s lucky - the second goal was lucky,” Arteta admitted when asked if his side were fortunate not to lose the match.

“Martinelli was through, we had a big chance with Fabi [Vieira] too but it’s true that at 2-1 we conceded a big chance that they had to make it 3-1.

“A lot of things to improve, that’s for sure. But as well we showed a lot of resilience to stay in the game and be alive in the tie.”