Mikel Arteta has conceded that achieving positive results on the pitch – starting with victory over Slavia Prague on Thursday – is the only way of convincing Arsenal’s critics that the club is moving forward under his leadership.
Arteta replaced Unai Emery in December 2019 and led Arsenal to victory in the FA Cup final at the end of his first season in charge, but has come under pressure this campaign with the Gunners ninth in the Premier League and out of both domestic cup competitions.
Arsenal’s inconsistent league form means winning the Europa League could be their most realistic way of qualifying for Europe again next season, with the competition’s winners granted entry to the Champions League.
But they must overcome tough opponents in Slavia Prague, who scored an injury-time equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw at the Emirates last week and have already eliminated Leicester and Rangers.
When asked whether Arsenal must win on Thursday to demonstrate their continued progress with him at the helm, Arteta said: “Absolutely.
“The only tangible thing is results. Whether you are doing a good job or not, externally you are only going to be judged with results.
“Internally, you know what you are doing and you can have many different ways to judge. But in the end, results are the only important thing externally, to have the perception that we are moving in the right direction.”
Defeat to Slavia would mean Arsenal’s only route into Europe next season would be via the Premier League, where the team finishing fifth qualifies for the Europa League group stages.
The FA Cup winners are also handed entry – if they also finish in the top five of the Premier League, their Europa League place goes to the club finishing sixth in the league.
Arsenal are currently nine points behind fifth-placed Chelsea and seven behind Liverpool, who are sixth, with just seven Premier League matches to play.
But Arteta will not contemplate the possibility of failing to qualify for Europe next season, and insists he has not begun to draw up any contingency plans for the summer in case they miss out on continental competition.
“No, because I don’t want to transmit any of that to any of the players or anybody at the club,” he said.
Arsenal have been handed a boost ahead of the trip to Prague with the news that Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe will be fit to play in the quarter-final second leg.
However, the Gunners have doubts over the fitness of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Martin Odegaard, and when asked if they would feature on Thursday, Arteta said: “I don’t know.
“We have to see today (Wednesday) how they are. Yesterday none of them could train. Hopefully today… it’s a sunnier day so maybe it’s better!”
‘Balogun deal very close’
Speaking ahead of the trip to Prague, Arteta confirmed that Folarin Balogun is “very close” to signing a new deal with Arsenal – as reported by Sky Sports News last week.
The 19-year-old striker’s contract expires at the end of the season and he has been linked with numerous clubs, but Arteta says he and the club have convinced him to stay in north London.
“We’re going to make it official when it’s official and everything is done,” Arteta said. “But as I said before, I’ve always been very positive that he wants to stay at the club. We want him to stay and we are very close.
“[We had to] understand why he got to the point that he was really thinking about leaving the football club after being raised here, and the feeling that he had built towards the club.
“Once you understand the position of him, then try to explain what you want to do, how involved he’s going to be in the project. Then get the full commitment from the club and Edu (technical director), who I think has done an incredible job.”
Balogun made his Arsenal debut against Dundalk in October and scored his first Gunners goal in the win over Molde a month later.
The England U20 international, who was born in the USA, has two goals in five appearances in total this season.