Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta does not fear Slavia Prague’s impressive home record

George Sessions, PA
·4-min read

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is not fearful of Slavia Prague’s impressive home record ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final second leg.

The Czech outfit have already knocked out British rivals Rangers and Leicester this season with both clubs failing to taste success at Sinobo Stadium.

Slavia Prague have not lost on home turf in all competitions for almost 18 months with one of their most recent defeats on their own patch to Chelsea in April of 2019 at the same stage of the tournament.

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A 1-1 draw at the Emirates last week has put the pressure on Arsenal, who know winning the Europa League remains their only realistic chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season.

“We know it is going to be very difficult and they have been doing extremely well,” Arteta said.

“At home, they are really strong but we have been strong away as well.

Nicolas Pepe
Nicolas Pepe scored Arsenal’s goal in the first leg (John Walton/PA)

“I don’t want to focus too much on them, I want to focus on what we do and the task ahead of us. We have to do our things well to have the best possible chance to go through.”

Nicolas Pepe’s 86th-minute goal had put Arsenal on course for a 1-0 victory last Thursday until Tomas Holes grabbed a stoppage-time leveller.

The disappointment of Arteta’s players was visible, but they bounced back at the weekend to triumph 3-0 at Sheffield United.

In a high-stakes clash in Prague, the pressure will be ramped up compared to Sunday’s win and while Arteta knows the fixture is season-defining, he remains confident his squad can hold onto a narrow lead if they have to.

He added: “The thing we have to do different is to manage those situations better to avoid them having the possibility to do it. It can happen again, it happens to every team in the world in football.

“It is about why it happens and trying to explain if we do that, then the chances of happening are bigger and if we don’t do that, the chances of it happening are much less.”

Arsenal’s cause could be hit by the absence of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (illness) and Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard, who both missed the win at Sheffield United and were not spotted in training on Wednesday.

Emile Smith Rowe and Bakayo Saka are in contention after ankle and thigh injuries respectively, but David Luiz and Kieran Tierney (both knee) are out.

Granit Xhaka
Granit Xhaka filled in at left-back against Sheffield United (Adam Davy/PA)

Tierney’s latest fitness issue saw Granit Xhaka fill in at left-back on Sunday and he could perform the role again in Prague while Arteta conceded the constant changes to his defence are far from perfect.

The clean sheet last weekend was Arsenal’s first since the end of January with Bernd Leno continuously forced to play in front of a different back four.

“It is not ideal,” Arteta admitted. “If you ask me, not only with the two centre-backs but the back line, it is to have a consistent back line to bring some stability. It has not been the case because of different reasons.

“Because of injury, form and sometimes we have to rotate with the amount of games we are playing every three days. Players cannot sustain that level and that consistency is needed and for me it is really important to find a solution.”

Arsenal will have no lack of motivation ahead of their last eight second leg tie with this game the biggest of their season to date.

Progress will keep alive their hopes of qualifying for Europe and also ensure they remain on track for more silverware under Arteta, who won the FA Cup last season.

First-choice goalkeeper Leno missed out on appearing at Wembley with a knee injury and it has added to his personal desire to reach the semi-finals to stay in the hunt for a trophy.

Bernd Leno
Bernd Leno hopes to win more silverware with Arsenal (PA)

The German said: “Yes of course it was very disappointing but at this time I had the injury. You can not expect an injury or say you don’t want this injury.

“It was probably the worst moment of the season, but I was happy for the team because to win a trophy is always good for the squad and for the fans as well.

“Also for ourselves because we wanted to play in Europe, we qualified for the Europa League through the FA Cup so it was also important for my future, for our future.

“It gives me a lot of motivation to play in another final and especially in Europe it is very special.”