Bernd Leno cannot picture an Arsenal season without European football as they prepare for their crucial Europa League tie with Slavia Prague.
Arsenal head to the Czech Republic on Thursday for the second leg of their quarter-final tie. They drew the first leg at home 1-1 after conceding a late equaliser. It leaves their fate in the balance as Slavia have a crucial away goal.
The Europa League is critical for Arsenal this season as they have been well off the pace in the Premier League. To qualify for the Champions League, they would likely have to win the secondary competition.
Their involvement in even next season’s Europa League is in doubt. But Leno sent a rallying cry to his teammates to do all they can to ensure they don’t miss out on European football for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
Leno said: “When you think about the future without Arsenal in a European competition, it doesn’t feel right. Our job is to make sure it doesn’t come true because Arsenal belongs to Europe and that is our target.
“Slavia Prague have beaten good teams in the competition. I think we dominated them in our home game but you could also see they are very dangerous on counter-attacks, set-pieces so we know what we can expect.
“It will be a very tough game, especially away but we also know it is a dangerous result for us and also for them.
“Once we score one goal, they are under big pressure and that should be our target – to score the first goal and with a second goal, we can almost finish the game because they then need to score three goals.”
This competition also carries importance in terms of measuring the progress of manager Mikel Arteta.
In his first season in charge, Arteta’s Arsenal were knocked out in the Round of 32. They have already bettered that this season but will be aiming to go as far as possible to ease any pressure on their manager.
Leno denied the notion that the squad have let their manager down, though, and urged togetherness.
Leno said: “No, I don’t think so because we are all together.
“It is not about the manager or not about the team, we are all in this together. Mikel, he does a great job and the team is fighting for him and for ourselves, the club and the fans.
“We also want the best for ourselves. You can see all the time that the team is fighting. Of course our performances or the results in the last couple of weeks were not the best, but you cannot change. We have to move forward.
“There are still a lot of big games to go. It starts (on Thursday) and hopefully the semi-final and final as well and we can finish the season hopefully with a trophy.”
Leno reflects on own future
As for Leno’s own future, the goalkeeper remains calm. His contract runs until 2023 and the club put their faith in him over the summer by selling Emiliano Martinez.
Leno added: “I know I still have two-year contract left and I am also 29. For a goalkeeper this is not too old, I still have some years to go.
“I am very happy in the club. I don’t know what will come in the future, but I am open for everything. For a new adventure or to stay at Arsenal, but like I said at the moment I don’t think about my future.”
Leno also spoke about teammate Bukayo Saka, who has been one of Arsenal’s standout players this season despite only being 19.
The German said: “His performances were incredible. He is a top player and has a top mentality.
“It is very unusual for a young player like him, because he feels like older than he really is. He is almost leading the team and this is a very good sign.
“I am pretty sure he will become a world-class player and we are very happy to have him because I think this season I don’t know if he is the best player in our team but probably one of the best.”