Mikel Arteta has spoken of his pride in leading Arsenal into their first Champions League campaign since 2016. Their meeting with PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday marks a return from the wilderness and is a visible indicator of the progress they are making have achieved since Arteta took over. almost four years ago.
Although Arteta must overhaul his attack after Gabriel Martinelli picked up a hamstring victory in the 1-0 win at Everton on Sunday, there was clear momentum around Arsenal’s training center. They face last season’s Eredivisie runners-up, managed by former Ajax and Borussia Dortmund coach Peter Bosz, and Arteta was happy to dwell on the significance of the occasion.
“Proud and excited,” he said when asked to describe his feelings. “It’s been a long time for the club since we’ve been in the competition and it’s the first time for me as a coach, so I’m really looking forward to it.” We chased it and fought for it and now that we have it, we have to make the most of it.
Arsenal’s return to Europe’s flagship competition, in which they finished second in 2006 but never won, follows five seasons of Europa League football and a 2021-22 campaign confined to the domestic stage . Mohamed Elneny, who is injured, is the only player remaining from their previous Champions League encounter.
Arteta reflected on the journey involved and explained that their belief never wavered. “We had some big situations to go through,” he said. “We did it together and in a very powerful way as a club. We always believed we were going to reach (the Champions League), but there is (another thing) about trying to plan and then doing it. We don’t want to stop there. The goal is to continue to be better.
PSV, against whom Arsenal had a win and a loss in the Europa League group stage last season, form a third of a relatively friendly group of opponents in Group B. They are joined by Sevilla and Lens, but Arteta spoke of the new challenge of a group who have yet to play together at this level.
“Europe is different,” he said. “The pace of the game is different, the quality of the opposition. Culturally, you find a game that requires different things. The way the law is applied by arbitrators is different. The need to score a certain number of points in the group stage makes the game different because sometimes you just have to hold on for a draw, whereas in the Premier League you would never do that. There are a lot of little rules that significantly change the context of the game.”
Gabriel Jesus is a rarity among Arsenal players to have significant Champions League experience, scoring 20 times in 38 appearances for Manchester City. The Brazilian recalled missing school to attend competition matches. “My mother went crazy,” he said. “It starts from there. It was different to hear the music, to see the best clubs.
Arteta did not take the bait when it was suggested that English clubs should win the Champions League given the growing disparity in resources between them and their rivals, preferring to point out that 14-time winners Real Madrid should be named favorite every year. Nor would he accept the invitation to declare that Arsenal could win it.
He was no more willing to shed light on his decision to replace Aaron Ramsdale with recent signing David Raya in goal at Goodison Park, although it would not be surprising if Ramsdale returned to face PSV.