Mikel Arteta appreciates the pressure is always on at Arsenal as he prepares his squad for a pivotal game against Benfica that will shape the remainder of their season.

Arsenal go into the second leg against their Portuguese opponents with the Europa League last-32 tie delicately balanced following a 1-1 draw in Rome. 

The English club did grab an away goal in the first meeting, though are without the benefit of home advantage for the return fixture. Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the game is to be played in Greece. 

Out of both domestic cups and languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, Europe offers the Gunners their last chance of success in Arteta's first full season in charge. 

"I always feel that it (pressure) is [on me], every time you're playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in, so that doesn't really change much," Arteta said.

"It's a big season and a really important [game], mentally and confidence-wise.  

"It's going to dictate if we're in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It's a really tough opponent.  

"It's a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us, it's a final."

With an 11-point gap to fourth-placed West Ham and just 13 games remaining, it seems improbable that Arsenal can qualify for next season's Champions League through the domestic route. 

The Europa League, therefore, takes on added importance. They have won on each of their previous two visits to Greece as well, albeit both against Olympiacos, including a victory in this same competition a year ago. 

"I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard," Arteta said. "We're going to do that in the league for sure.

"It's true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it.  

"Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we're going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions."

Arteta revealed Thomas Partey is "very close" to a return from a hamstring injury, meaning the midfielder could feature against Benfica. Rob Holding, however, is ruled out due concussion protocols. 

Rob Holding has signed a new contract at Arsenal running until June 2024, the Premier League club have confirmed.

The centre-back's terms contain the option to extend for another year and his new deal is a reward for overcoming injury to establish himself as a first-team fixture under Mikel Arteta.

Holding suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament against Manchester United in December 2018 but returned to the fray last season to lift his second FA Cup in Arsenal colours.

The 25-year-old has made 16 appearances so far in 2020-21, taking him to 96 overall for the Gunners, who he joined from Bolton Wanderers in July 2016.

"Since I started as manager, I have been hugely impressed with Rob’s contribution to the club and the dressing room, on and off the pitch," Arteta told Arsenal's official website.

"The quality of his work every day on the training pitches is excellent and he is translating this into consistently high performances in matches. 

"We all know Rob’s quality, which he has shown in his displays during the intense moments of those two FA Cup final victories.

"We are all very happy that Rob has signed a new contract, he is very popular with all the players and staff, and we’re looking forward to watching him continue to grow with us in the coming years.”

Holding the opposition at bay

Holding has certainly led by example on the field for an Arsenal side not always noted for their defensive resolve.

His 58 clearances in the Premier League this season are comfortably the best return in the squad as Kieran Tierney comes in next on 42.

In terms of headed clearances, Holding's 40 are nearly double the next best overall from fellow centre-back Gabriel (23).

Holding ranks second among his team-mates for tackles (20, behind Dani Ceballos on 25) and blocks (10, behind Gabriel on 12).

He has also made 14 interceptions (joint fifth) and won possession on 72 occasions (joint third) and is yet to make an error leading to either a goal or a shot.

In other good news for Arteta, Gabriel Martinelli is set to resume full training in the coming days as Crystal Palace prepare to visit Emirates Stadium in the Premier League on Thursday.

Martinelli withdraw from the FA Cup win over Newcastle United last weekend after turning his ankle during the warm-up.

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