'Playing in Europe is always great' – Arteta relishing Europa League challenge despite Champions League aim

By Sports Desk October 05, 2022

Mikel Arteta said Arsenal will not take participating in the Europa League for granted ahead of Thursday's tie with Bodo/Glimt, but acknowledges the Gunners have loftier ambitions.

Arsenal sit top of the Premier League table after a scintillating start to the season; only twice have they bettered this campaign's return of 21 points after eight games in the competition, earning 22 points in 2004-05 and 2007-08. 

Having missed out to Tottenham in a fierce battle for Champions League qualification last term, however, Arsenal are competing with Bodo/Glimt, PSV and FC Zurich in Group A of Europe's second-tier competition. 

While Arteta knows Champions League football must be the aim for his team, he said Arsenal will "make the most" of their continental campaign.

"Playing in Europe is always great. We know we would want to be playing yesterday or today, but that's the next step," he said on Wednesday. 

"This is the reality, and we have to make the most of it.

"It's a test for the squad, in terms of the numbers and the quality. If you make changes, how much you notice it, whether you can continue consistently playing at the top level.

"Everyone's going to have to do that after the World Cup, especially with the schedule.

"It's a competition that is really important for us, we know how important it is to be on top of the group and the home advantage, we have to use it."

Meanwhile, William Saliba and Bukayo Saka have both expressed confidence they will sign new contracts after emerging as key components in Arteta's side, and the Arsenal boss says the club is working on deals for the duo, as well as fresh terms for Gabriel Martinelli.

Arsenal have been forced to sell several stars after allowing them to run their contracts down in the past, but Arteta moved to quell fears of a repeat, adding: "Obviously we have to plan for the future, and we are all working on it.

"Edu is on top of it, and all the board. We will try to do things in the right way, being fair, and rewarding the players that – in our opinion – have a big future for the club.

"When we have something to announce, we will do it. Every player is different and what happened in the past, the people that were in charge had the right reasons.

"We will try to do the same thing and make sure the club is always protected, that the club is always in a good position to move forward, and the players are happy."

Arsenal saw their first scheduled home game of the Europa League campaign, against PSV, postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth II last month, and will look to end a poor continental run at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

The Gunners have failed to win any of their last three home European matches (D2 L1), their worst such run since they went six without victory between October 2002 and September 2003.

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  • Bento hopes Neymar fit to face South Korea Bento hopes Neymar fit to face South Korea

    South Korea coach Paulo Bento hopes Neymar is fit to play his team in their World Cup last-16 clash with Brazil, even if he concedes it would better for them if he was absent.

    The Taeguk Warriors caused something of a shock by reaching the first knockout round of the tournament at the expense of Uruguay, with South Korea scoring a dramatic winner against Portugal on matchday three.

    Brazil await in the last 16 and there remains some doubt over the fitness of talisman Neymar, who injured his ankle in the Selecao's first match of the tournament.

    Neymar's involvement will be determined in training on Sunday, and Bento hopes he is ultimately passed fit.

    "It would be hypocritical if I said that it's better to play against Neymar than without him, but to be fair, I always prefer the best players to be on the field. If not, we hope it's not because of injury, that's for sure," he said.

    "It will be up to the coach, Tite, to decide whether he's in the starting line-up if he's fit to play, and we'll design the best strategy to play against a great national team that is full of balance and adding more and more talented players."

    Nevertheless, Bento clearly feels South Korea's chances of causing an upset have not been helped by FIFA.

    The Portuguese coach vented his frustration at the governing body scheduling games just 72 hours apart, particularly given the emotional exhaustion from their turnaround against Portugal.

    "Unfortunately, we don't have much time to train, because 72 hours is too little, I doubt any team can do that," he added.

    "After physical tiredness, and the emotional fatigue, we let the players rest [on Saturday] and only trained this morning, and of course that's a burden for the team.

    "We have an additional burden compared to Brazil because they changed their line-up in the last game.

    "They did something we couldn't do in the last game and honestly speaking, I was watching the 2018 World Cup and after the group stage, I do not remember seeing games played after 72 hours. The spaces between games was longer.

    "In my opinion it's not fair to play every 72 hours, it's something inhuman, it's something FIFA intends to create less conditions for those who already have less conditions, but we need to accept it if it's FIFA's decision.

    "It's difficult to play very a great team such as Brazil, who in my opinion they are the favourites, and if we add this burden, our task will be very difficult."

    But as irritated as Bento was by FIFA's decisions, he certainly is not worried about motivation.

    "I'm a realist. I conveyed we have a tough task ahead of us, but we have to try," he said. "If they needed me to motivate them for a last-16 game at the World Cup, they'd be in a bad spot.

    "What they showed already shows they are motivated. I get more motivation from them than they get from me."

  • Brazil coach Tite wishes Pele good health in 'difficult moment' Brazil coach Tite wishes Pele good health in 'difficult moment'

    Brazil head coach Tite recalled how he was "shaking" when he first met Pele, as he wished the three-time World Cup winner good health.

    Pele was hospitalised on Tuesday, though his daughter said a day later there was "no surprise or emergency" pertaining to his condition, with Pele also describing it as a "monthly visit".

    It was later reported, though not officially confirmed, that the 82-year-old had been moved to palliative care as he was no longer responding to chemotherapy treatment.

    The hospital treating Brazil's record scorer described his condition as "stable", while Pele issued a statement to say he remained "strong, with a lot of hope".

    Speaking at a press conference ahead of the Selecao's World Cup round-of-16 tie against South Korea, Tite shared a memory of meeting Pele for the first time.

    "He's probably the only person where I was shaking when I greeted him," he said. 

    "Speaking from the bottom of my heart, it was a very emotional moment for me... I didn't even know what was going on... Someone said, 'go and hug Pele'.

    "I stopped, started shaking, hands sweating, heartbeat racing. I said, 'wow, I'm going to have opportunity to greet Pele.' He is the person who represents the human aspect.

    "Health, Pele, health. That's all I can give you. It's a difficult moment."

    The Santos great underwent surgery to remove a tumour from his colon last year, and has been in and out of hospital since.

    Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane and Vinicius Junior are among those to have sent messages of support from the World Cup in Qatar, while former Brazil international and Tite's assistant, Cesar Sampaio, also added his well-wishes.

    Sampaio – who began his career at Santos, albeit several years after Pele had retired – recalled having the opportunity to play with him.

    "I also had the blessing of meeting Pele," he said. "When I was at Santos, I had the chance to play with him, it was something even more than what Tite said, to be able to be with him on the pitch was so difficult because of what he represents.

    "Regardless of your religion, we ask you please send him a prayer and positive vibes. He influenced my development as a man and a human being."

  • Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash Japan v Croatia: Discipline the key for Dalic ahead of last-16 clash

    Zlatko Dalic stressed that staying disciplined will be crucial if Croatia are to defeat Japan and reach the World Cup quarter-finals.

    Croatia, runners-up in Group F behind Morocco, face Japan on Monday in the last 16.

    Japan were the shock victors of Group E in Qatar, having claimed 2-1 victories over Germany and Spain either side of a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica.

    Runners-up to France in 2018, Croatia have only lost two of their eight knockout stage games at the World Cup (W4 D2), while Japan have never progressed beyond the last 16.

    Hajime Moriyasu's team have shown their quality against top sides, however, and Dalic knows his team must stay regimented if they are to avoid an upset.

    "Spain might have thought it was going to be easier, but Japan are a team that do not quit, as they showed against Germany as well," Dalic told reporters.

    "At some point, when Costa Rica were leading against Germany, Spain were out of the tournament, so they couldn't allow themselves to lose. Japan deserved to win.

    "Before the group stage, if we could choose an opponent in the next round, some people may have said Japan, but after seeing them beat Germany and Spain, they are anything but an easier opponent.

    "If you are first in a group with Germany and Spain, it shows your quality and that you are playing at a really high level. What I would say about the Japanese team is that they never quit. They conceded goals at the beginning of the match both against Germany and Spain, but they came back.

    "They had a lot of faith in themselves, and that is a great virtue of the Japan national team. For us, it will be key that we are also disciplined and patient. We cannot make mistakes, because Japan has the quality to punish those mistakes. We need to be good at falling back if we lose the ball."

    Croatia might have progressed from a group that also included Belgium and Canada, but failed to score in two of their matches – they had only drawn a blank in two of 13 matches at the tournament in the 2006, 2014 and 2018 editions combined.

    Dalic's side like to control possession, but that could play into Japan's hands. They averaged just 32.3 per cent of the ball across their three group stage games. Indeed, their two wins over Spain and Germany came with 17.7 per cent and 26.1 per cent possession respectively, while the one match they lost came when they had more of the ball against Costa Rica (56.8 per cent).

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Japan – Ritsu Doan

    Three of Japan's four goals scored have been scored by substitutes. Ritsu Doan has netted two of these. 

    Only three players have ever scored at least three goals as a substitute at a single World Cup – Andre Schurrle in 2014 (three), Roger Milla in 1990 (four), and Laszlo Kiss in 1982 (three).

    Croatia – Ivan Perisic

    Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric run the midfield for Croatia, but their attack is not quite as world-class.

    That being said, in Ivan Perisic they have a wide player more than capable of chipping in. The 33-year-old has scored nine goals at major tournaments, which is a joint record for Croatia along with Davor Suker.

    Perisic has also set up seven goals at either the Euros or the World Cup, a national record, and no Croatia player has had more shots so far in Qatar than his tally of five.

    PREDICTION

    This will be the third World Cup meeting between Japan and Croatia, with Japan winless and goalless in the previous two – a 1-0 defeat in 1998 and a goalless draw in 2006, both in the group stage. 

    Opta's model says the odds are against Japan, who are given a 26 per cent chance of progressing to the last eight. Croatia are the favourites (46.1 per cent).

    Do not be surprised to see this one go to extra-time, though – the draw is ranked at a 27.9 per cent chance.

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