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Mikel Arteta refusing to consider first Arsenal season without any European football since 1995/96

Simon Collings
·3-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Mikel Arteta is refusing to think about the prospect of Arsenal not playing European football next season ahead of their crunch clash with Slavia Prague.

The Gunners are at risk of missing out on Europe altogether for the first time this century as they currently sit ninth in the Premier League and trail on away goals going into the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Slavia.

Arsenal drew the first leg 1-1 at Emirates Stadium last week and must prevail in the Czech capital on Thursday night if they are to keep alive their dream of winning the competition and qualifying for the Champions League.

Failure to do so would mean the Gunners not playing European football for the first time since the 1995/96 season, when Bruce Rioch was in charge.

But asked on Wednesday morning if he had considered such a prospect, Arteta said: “No.

“Because I don’t want to put it in my mind or transmit it to any of the players or anybody at the club.

“Tomorrow’s game can put us in a position to go into the semi-final of a European competition. This is exactly where this club has to be and that’s why tomorrow we have to do our best to earn that.”

Arsenal face a difficult task against Slavia, with the Czech side already responsible for knocking out Leicester and Rangers this season.

The Gunners’ hopes, however, have been boosted by the return to fitness of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe.

Saka - who limped off during Sunday’s win at Sheffield United with a thigh issue - is back in full training and fit to start. The same goes for Smith Rowe, who sprained his ankle during the first leg against Slavia.

Arsenal are, however, still sweating over the fitness of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and playmaker Martin Odegaard.

Aubameyang was ill last week and missed Sunday’s win at Bramall Lane, while Odegaard has been experiencing discomfort in his right ankle since being injured on international duty last month.

“Yesterday, neither of them could train. Hopefully today [they can],” said Arteta.

“We have to see how they are today. We still have a couple of other ones in the last few days, so we will have to see how everybody is today and after training, how they react for tomorrow’s game.”

Arsenal’s players are well aware of the pressure on them to deliver in Prague.

Goalkeeper Bernd Leno said: “When you think about the future without Arsenal in European competition, it doesn’t feel right.

“Our job is to [make that] not come true, because Arsenal belongs to Europe and that’s our target. That’s our job.

“We know what we can expect. It will be a very tough game, especially away. We also know that it is a dangerous result for us, but also for them. Once we score one goal, they are under big pressure.”

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