Arsenal don’t have the experience but do have ‘full belief’, says Mikel Arteta

By Sports Desk February 20, 2024

Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal’s Champions League history is irrelevant and challenged his side to prove they belong at the tournament’s business end as they prepare to face Porto in the last 16.

The Gunners are back in Europe’s elite club competition for the first time in seven years but have failed to progress past this stage since 2010.

Arsenal will be firm favourites at the Estadio do Dragao on Wednesday night as Arteta looks to go further in the Champions League than he ever managed as a player at the club.

“They (the players) know that we have not been in the competition for seven years,” the Spaniard said.

“Obviously some of them were here and they know the story and they know that what happened in the past is irrelevant, it is the challenge and ambition that we have now to go through.”

Asked if he felt it was a mental block that caused Arsene Wenger’s side to fall at the last-16 hurdle so many times, Arteta replied: “Someone called (Lionel) Messi was another obstacle as well!

“And Bayern Munich that we faced twice. This competition is what it is. Individual quality is extremely important. It comes down to details and you need your players at your best when the occasion arises.”

Arteta’s young squad had very little Champions League experience heading into a group stage they dominated, winning four games and progressing as winners with a fixture to spare.

Now the knockout stages present another chance for both manager and team to prove they belong at this level.

“We don’t have the experience, that’s the reality – 95 per cent of these players haven’t played this competition, they haven’t played the last 16.

“I haven’t (managed at this stage). But they have so much energy and enthusiasm to play well and that’s our desire and how we’re going to play the game.

“It’s great. We have earned the right to be here. It’s been seven years since we’ve been at the top table for these kind of matches and 14 years since we were able to go to the next stage.

“That’s the challenge. We know what is ahead of us, but we are very excited to face it and to go for it with full belief, that’s for sure.”

An extra incentive for Arsenal to banish past ghosts is the prospect of going all the way to just their second Champions League final, with Wembley playing host to the showpiece event this year.

“It should be incredible to have that feeling to lift that cup, in London, the first of June. It is there,” added Arteta.

“It is in our minds. It is a dream, but there are a lot of things you have to earn the right to do before that and tomorrow we have a big obstacle ahead of us. We are really looking forward to it.”

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