Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal side can take their “biggest step forward” under his management if they top a turbulent season by booking their place in the Europa League final.
The Gunners welcome former head coach Unai Emery back to the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night for the second leg of their semi-final clash with Villarreal. The Spanish side hold a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg at El Madrigal, where Nicolas Pepe’s penalty gave Arsenal what could prove to be a crucial away goal.
Having not played Champions League football since 2017, winning the Europa League could take the club back into the elite competition for next season.
That appears to be the only path left open to Arsenal, who are 12 points off the Premier League’s top four with just four games remaining.
Arteta guided the club to the FA Cup last season, less than eight months after replacing Emery, but knows this tie is huge in terms of the short-term future as a potential takeover also continue to rumble on in the background.
“Well it’s a big moment,” he said of the second leg.
“Again, not for me but for the club for everything that has happened in the last two years, in the last months.
“All the instability that we’ve been here with for many different reasons. So, I think it will be really important and our biggest step forward if we are able to be in that final and have the opportunity to win that trophy.”
Asked if it would be acceptable for Arsenal to miss out on Champions League football for a fifth successive year, Arteta added: “It is the reality.
“It is not what we want, obviously, but there are a lot of things that have happened in that period for many reasons.
“One is because the level is being raised to a standard that is unprecedented in this league, and we are not the only club that has been out of that.
“But obviously no one accepts that situation and we want to change it straight away and this season we still have the opportunity to do that.”
Arsenal lost at home to Everton in their last home game, which was somewhat overshadowed by protests against Stan Kroenke’s continued ownership of the club.
With Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek publicly talking about launching a takeover bid, another protest has been mooted ahead of Thursday’s game.
Arteta opens up on fans’ protest
Arteta insists he has no problems with supporters making their opinions heard but does not want it to lead to similar problems which saw a Manchester United fan protest lead to their Premier League fixture with Liverpool being postponed.
“I think that they have to be able to express themselves and if it’s done in a specific way, then they have the right to do it,” he said.
“We have to prepare for the game in the best possible way, I wouldn’t like to use any excuses. If something happens with that, then I know that the only purpose of the fans is to defend the club and that they want the best for the team. We will try to do the same.”
Asked if he would like to see supporters cheer the players on their arrival to the stadium, Arteta added: “I think that would be great.
“We’ve been missing them so much, we need them and (for) the players and the team to feel that they are right behind them supporting them.
“I think it’s the 10th time the club is playing in a European semi-final, so it’s a big moment for us. Hopefully we can have them closer than we have in the last few months.”