Mikel Arteta will be desperate to see a reaction from his players when Arsenal line up against Slavia Prague in the Europa League quarter-finals following Saturday’s humbling at the hands of Liverpool.
The Gunners are currently tenth in the Premier League, ten points off the top four and have already lost 12 games this season, the same number they have won. Their latest loss came in a 3-0 beating at home to the Reds and Arteta believes the ‘big slap in the face’ might have been needed.
Arteta insisted his players are putting in the hard yards but admitted such a ‘shock to the system’ against Liverpool may be the jolt needed to have a successful end to a faltering season.
It seems Arsenal’s best chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League is by winning the Europa League and so they will have to be ready for the challenge of Czech champions Slavia Prague who have already dispatched of Leicester and Rangers in this season’s tournament.
“Sometimes a punch or a big slap in the face is a good thing to go back to reality,” he said. “I cannot criticise the hard work or the ethic of my players. I have never done it. Whether we are more efficient or not, whether we win enough duels or not.
“It’s not about they don’t want to run or they don’t want to try. There are areas where we have limitations, there are areas where we’re inconsistent but there are areas where we can do really, really well.
“My demands is just to be hitting those goals and to achieve our best level every single day. Whether it’s in training or in a football game and in the last two days again, I’ve seen that.
“I didn’t see anything different [ahead of the Liverpool game]. That’s why it was a big shock to the system, what happened against Liverpool.”
Arsenal’s malaise was summed up by club legend Emmanuel Petit this week when he told the Evening Standard that the current squad is average. The Gunners are used to winning silverware in the Premier League era, and being stuck in mid-table is certainly new.
However, Petit, who won the title with Arsenal in 1998, believes the club needs to move on a host of players and admitted he rates four players, Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe.
"When I look at the older players in Arsenal's team, it's like they think it's a retreat football club, somewhere you just go for a vacation," he claimed.
"They have ambition, but I don't really expect them to win big games anymore.
"If you took away the name 'Arsenal' and looked at that group of players... average. At the end of the season, if I'm Arsenal, if I'm Arteta, if I'm on the board, to be honest with you, I think my main concern is getting half of the dressing room out. Honestly.”
The Europa League is a real chance of redemption for a disastrous campaign and Arteta will be hoping the ‘big slap in the face’ from Liverpool has a positive effect on his team.