Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta has fiercely defended his team selection after his side's 2-1 Europa League semi-final first leg defeat away to Villarreal on Thursday.

Arteta fielded Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka at left-back while he also started without a recognised striker, with Emile Smith Rowe in the most advanced role and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming off the bench.

The Gunners went behind 2-0 after half an hour and were reduced to 10 men after Dani Ceballos' 57th minute sending off.

But Arsenal pulled a goal back from Nicolas Pepe's 73rd minute spotkick after Bukayo Saka was tripped inside the box claiming a precious away goal.

"It's the way we prepared for the game," the Spaniard said at the post-game press conference about his selection decisions.

"It's the decision that I made, thinking that it was the best way to play, but the game was conditioned after four minutes so it was difficult to assess whether it would work or not.

"Conceding from the set piece as well also changed it and after, we had to approach it in a different way."

He added: "Obviously when you lose you always get [selection] wrong.

"When we won 4-0 away from home against Slavia Prague, they didn’t lose a home game in three years and Granit played so well, he was incredible playing there but I know that when it doesn’t happen, it’s always going to point there."

Arsenal will host Villarreal in London next Thursday with a spot in the decider on the line, against either Manchester United or Roma, with Arteta delighted with their away goal after their early deficit.

"It changes completely the tie obviously, and it makes a huge difference and we know that we have to be better than we were for 95 minutes," Arteta said.

"If we don’t do that then we won’t have the chance to be in the final."

He added: "After the story of the game, I think we have to take it because in the tie we are alive and in the circumstances that developed during the game, it put the game and the tie in real danger at some stages."

Arsenal rising stars Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe face late fitness tests and David Luiz has been ruled out of the clash with Liverpool on Saturday evening.

Brazilian centre-back David Luiz must miss the Premier League game at Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal stating the 33-year-old has encountered "discomfort" in his right knee.

How serious that discomfort proves to be remains to be seen, with Arsenal saying the problem would continue to be examined.

Arsenal have a 36.8 per cent win rate in the 19 Premier League games that have featured David Luiz this season, compared with 50 per cent in the 10 games for which he has been absent.

They have collected an average of 1.4 points when he has played and 1.6 when he has not, with Arsenal heading into the weekend in ninth place, four points adrift of Liverpool who sit seventh.

In an injury update issued on the club website, Arsenal indicated winger Saka's right hamstring problem remained under observation.

The injury forced Saka out of England's three World Cup qualifiers in the past fortnight and although Arsenal posted a picture on Twitter of the 19-year-old in training, they said he "will be assessed ahead of Saturday's match regarding his availability".

The same applies for Smith Rowe, who suffered tightness in his right quad on England Under-21 duty, with Arsenal prepared to leave final decisions until closer to the game.

Manager Mikel Arteta faces a further wait to learn whether former captain Granit Xhaka is ready for the game, with the Swiss midfielder having missed training on Friday due to feeling unwell on his return from international duty.

Willian is available to Arteta, however, with the former Chelsea midfielder fully recovered from a left calf injury.

The 32-year-old has had the most assists (7) of all Arsenal players this season, across all competitions, with Smith Rowe and Saka (both 6) just behind the Brazilian.

Arsenal have lost just two of their last 20 Premier League home games against Liverpool (D9 W9).

Matteo Guendouzi insists his Arsenal career is not over and he wants to fight his way back into Mikel Arteta's plans next season.

Guendouzi, 21, has been on loan with Hertha Berlin since last October where he has made 19 appearances for the Bundesliga club.

The French midfielder was a regular starter with the Gunners under previous boss Unai Emery but failed to make an appearance for Arteta's side in the opening weeks of the season prior to securing a temporary move away.

When asked if his Arsenal career was over due to an apparently strained relationship with Arteta, Guendouzi was emphatic in his response.

"No, not at all," he told France Football.

"I am focused on my season at Hertha Berlin. Then, we will make a point with my agent and the people of the club to sit down and discuss the future. I am still an Arsenal player."

Guendouzi joined Arsenal from Lorient in 2018 and has made 57 Premier League appearances for the Gunners, registering just one assist and no goals in the competition.

In those games he attempted a total of 75 tackles, the third-most among Arsenal players across 2018-19 and 2019-20, while his 263 duel wins over the same period was only bettered by four of his team-mates.

His contract with Arsenal expires at the end of next season and he acknowledged his long-term future will be at stake when he returns to the Gunners.

"This summer will be a decisive moment," he added.

"Could I come back to the club with Mikel Arteta on the bench as coach? Yes, of course. I will be with Arsenal for another year.

"I am here to move forward. When I played for Arsenal, I have always given everything for this club, for these fans, for the team, for the staff. I will work hard for the jersey as usual."

David Alaba has appeared set to swap Bayern Munich for Real Madrid.

Alaba is keen for a new challenge following a successful partnership with Bundesliga and Champions League holders Bayern.

But three of Europe's elite are still reportedly eyeing Alaba.

 

TOP STORY – TRIO NOT GIVING UP ON ALABA

Liverpool, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are still trying to sign wantaway Bayern Munich star David Alaba, according to Fabrizio Romano's Benchwarmers column.

Alaba will leave Bundesliga champions Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season and he has been tipped to join LaLiga holders Real Madrid.

However, Liverpool, Chelsea and PSG are still pursuing the Austria international.

 

ROUND-UP

- RAC1 suggests Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is one of Barcelona presidential candidate Joan Laporta's targets if Ronald Koeman does not remain at Camp Nou beyond 2020-21.

Madrid are interested in Manchester United target and Borussia Dortmund star Jadon Sancho, reports the Daily Star. Sancho was wanted by United at the start of the season but a big-money move did not materialise.

- Mundo Deportivo claims Atletico Madrid are tracking Lyon midfielder Bruno Guimaraes, who is valued at around €25million.

Manchester United and Premier League rivals Leeds United are eyeing Torino defender Nicolas Nkoulou, according to Tuttosport. The 30-year-old is set to become a free agent at season's end.

- L'Equipe says Mauro Icardi is free to leave PSG if a suitable offer arrives amid links to Juventus. Icardi is contracted to the Ligue 1 champions until 2024, but PSG are focused on re-signing Kylian Mbappe and making Moise Kean's loan deal from Everton permanent. If Mbappe departs for Madrid, PSG will look to raise funds by selling Icardi as they dream of Tottenham's Harry Kane and Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland.

Mikel Arteta appreciates the pressure is always on at Arsenal as he prepares his squad for a pivotal game against Benfica that will shape the remainder of their season.

Arsenal go into the second leg against their Portuguese opponents with the Europa League last-32 tie delicately balanced following a 1-1 draw in Rome. 

The English club did grab an away goal in the first meeting, though are without the benefit of home advantage for the return fixture. Due to coronavirus travel restrictions, the game is to be played in Greece. 

Out of both domestic cups and languishing down in 10th place in the Premier League, Europe offers the Gunners their last chance of success in Arteta's first full season in charge. 

"I always feel that it (pressure) is [on me], every time you're playing in a competition and you can go out you know the consequences and with this club [the aim] is always to win the competition that you are in, so that doesn't really change much," Arteta said.

"It's a big season and a really important [game], mentally and confidence-wise.  

"It's going to dictate if we're in another competition or not for a few more weeks. This is really what we need. It's a really tough opponent.  

"It's a Champions League team who have been playing in these types of games for many years with a manager with huge experience. For us, it's a final."

With an 11-point gap to fourth-placed West Ham and just 13 games remaining, it seems improbable that Arsenal can qualify for next season's Champions League through the domestic route. 

The Europa League, therefore, takes on added importance. They have won on each of their previous two visits to Greece as well, albeit both against Olympiacos, including a victory in this same competition a year ago. 

"I think while mathematically everything is possible, in football you have to try so hard," Arteta said. "We're going to do that in the league for sure.

"It's true that the Europa League gives you a completely different route and is a competition that we want to carry on playing, and try to win it.  

"Tomorrow is another opportunity to make a step forward. The better we are in the Europa League, the better we're going to be performing in the league and vice-versa. We need to be alive in both competitions."

Arteta revealed Thomas Partey is "very close" to a return from a hamstring injury, meaning the midfielder could feature against Benfica. Rob Holding, however, is ruled out due concussion protocols. 

Martin Odegaard has the character and intelligence to be a true leader for Arsenal, according to manager Mikel Arteta.

The 22-year-old has made four appearances since joining on loan from Real Madrid, where he struggled for starts, in the January transfer window.

He caught the eye in Thursday's 1-1 draw against Benfica in the Europa League, with no Arsenal player creating more big chances (two) than the midfielder, level with Hector Bellerin.

Odegaard also led the way for passes in the opposition half (29) and tackles (three), highlighting two different aspects to the Norway international's game.

Arteta has been impressed by what he has seen so far and has backed the loanee to grow in stature over the coming weeks.

"On the pitch he is showing a lot of character and intelligence - ingredients any leader should have," Arteta said. "He's been here a very short time but has adapted really quickly.

"He's gaining more and more respect from the players and staff. I think his weight on the team will increase week in week out."

Odegaard, who has previously spent time on loan with Heerenveen, Vitesse and Real Sociedad, is due to return to Madrid at the end of the campaign.

There has been talk of Arsenal signing the Stromsgodset player permanently, but Arteta remains unsure if Madrid will agree to a transfer.

"We've got him for a few months. We have to maximise this time with him to bring all his qualities to the team," the Spaniard said.

"At the end of the season we will see together if we can take this relationship forward. But at the moment that doesn't just depend on us."

Odegaard is in line to start Arsenal's clash against Manchester City on Sunday, with the Gunners seeking to end a seven-match Premier League losing run in this fixture.

The game will see Arteta reunite with Pep Guardiola, who he worked under as City's assistant boss for three and a half years before switching to Arsenal in December 2019.

Although Arteta acknowledged he shares many coaching similarities with Guardiola, the Arsenal boss intends to do things his own way at Emirates Stadium.

"You can share some values and ideas. The way we've been raised and educated in football is similar because we have the same background and worked together," Arteta said.

"But what do you do to make it work the way you need? You sometimes need investment, sometimes you have players who can already provide what you want. 

"You have to keep evolving and finding a way. There's not just one formula that works. If you try to do that you will fail."

Arsenal have won just three of their last 18 league games against the side starting the day in top spot, which is the position occupied by City heading into Sunday's match.

William Saliba has cast further doubt on his time at Arsenal by claiming he was judged by manager Mikel Arteta after just two-and-a-half matches before being loaned to Nice.

The 19-year-old joined Arsenal from Saint-Etienne in July 2019 for a reported £27million (€29.7m) fee and remained with the Ligue 1 side for the 2019-20 season.

He returned to Emirates Stadium ahead of this season but was surprisingly left out of Arsenal's Europa League squad and did not make a single appearance in other competitions.

Saliba departed for Nice on loan last month for the remainder of the campaign and last week admitted to being "hurt" over his lack of playing time with Arsenal.

And the centre-back, who was brought to north London during Unai Emery's time in charge, has now taken another apparent swipe at Arteta.

"It is clear that so much has changed in the last year," Saliba told RMC. "When I saw that the coach changed, a lot changed for me too. In this year there has been a lot of change. He judged me on two-and-a-half matches. 

"I would have liked for him to play me more. But he told me I wasn't ready. I was waiting for him to give me a chance, but football is like that. 

"When I initially came to Arsenal the league looked very good so I showed up to training and wanted to train on my own to show the coach I was ready.

"I am happy now, I want to play for Nice. The idea when you're part of a team is a better feeling for me."

Saliba has impressed during his short time back in France and was last week named Nice's Player of the Month for January.

The France Under-20s international has started seven Ligue 1 games since joining last month, including the full 90 minutes of Sunday's 3-0 win over Angers.

He led the way for Nice in that game for total passes (64), successful passes (58) and touches (82), while no player on the pitch cleared the ball more often (eight times).

Indeed, since making his Nice debut on January 6, only Jose Fonte (439), Steven Nzonzi (472), Sven Botman (487) and Marco Verratti (489) have completed more Ligue 1 passes than Saliba's 437.

Mikel Arteta questioned the decision to send off David Luiz after the defender was one of two Arsenal players to be dismissed in a 2-1 defeat at Wolves.

Arsenal appeared set to go in at half-time deservedly ahead following Nicolas Pepe's opener, only for David Luiz to concede a penalty following a challenge on Willian Jose.

The Brazilian centre-back was shown a red card by referee Craig Pawson following a VAR check, though Arteta insisted he could not see any contact after studying replays of the incident.

Ruben Neves converted from the spot before Joao Moutinho's long-range strike put the hosts ahead shortly after the break, with any hopes of a fightback disappearing for Arsenal when goalkeeper Bernd Leno was given his marching orders for handling the ball outside the area.

For Arteta, though, it was the David Luiz call that left him frustrated, particularly after his side had played so well up until that crucial moment in the contest.

"First of all, I have to say that I'm proud of my team, the way we played and the way we dominated the first half," Arteta told the media.

"We should have been 3-0 or 4-0 up. We didn't do that, though, and we put ourselves in a really difficult position by conceding the goal and going a man down. 

"I have seen the replay 10 times from five different angles and I cannot see any contact. I would like to see if VAR has a different angle. I'm expecting to see something and I'm not seeing anything. 

"We were really animated at half-time because we really wanted to win the game. The boys were so convinced to go out there and have a real go. 

"We didn't concede any chances but Moutinho scores a worldie and it's 2-1. Then, when Bernd comes out and hits the ball with his hand, we're down to nine men and almost impossible to win the game."

Since making his league debut for Arsenal in August 2019, David Luiz has picked up three red cards and conceded six penalties, more than any other player in the competition in both categories.

Arteta - who has seen his team shown nine Premier League red cards since taking charge, six more than any other top-flight team - admitted the result was tough to take.

"The way we lost the game really hurts. It's painful," he said. 

"I have to take the positives as well, which is the way we played against this team that is very difficult to attack, the amount of chances we created. But we leave the ground and have zero points and have lost two important players. 

"It's hard enough to win football games in this league. There's nothing we can change. It was a big decision, if they got it right and can justify they got it right, I'll put my hand up and apologise. 

"The only thing I'm saying is that I’m sitting here and I cannot see any contact. That's really, really frustrating, because it's a big, big moment in the game."

Asked if Arsenal may issue an appeal against the red card for David Luiz, Arteta replied: "Where I’m standing now, I'd say yes – let's go straight away. But I don't know, we will have to speak to the legal team at the club and decide if it is the best thing."

Runar Alex Runarsson came on to take over from Leno in goal, with recent recruit Mat Ryan ruled out with a muscle issue. Arteta revealed he is hopeful the Australia international can be fit in time for Saturday's trip to Aston Villa.

Arsenal defender William Saliba admits he was "hurt" after not being given first-team opportunities following his move from Saint-Etienne. 

The 19-year-old arrived at the Emirates Stadium in July 2019 for a reported £27million (€29.7m) fee and was loaned back to Saint-Etienne for the 2019-20 campaign.

He returned to the Gunners ahead of this season and was expected to become part of manager Mikel Arteta's plans after a possible second loan back to Saint-Etienne failed to materialise in October.

However, the France youth international did not make a senior appearance for the Premier League club and was loaned to Nice earlier this month.

Saliba made his fifth appearance for the Ligue 1 outfit in Sunday's 1-0 defeat to his former club Saint-Etienne. 

Despite the result he had an impact at the heart of the backline, making more successful passes (58) and clearances (five) than any other Nice player.

He also gained possession seven times, the joint second-highest of any player on the pitch.

Saliba has opened up on his frustration with life at Arsenal and feels strongly he should have been given a chance to impress in the first team.

"I really, really, really didn't think that I would be transferred for almost €30m," he told TF1.

"To think that I would arrive, where people were expecting a lot from me, the fans were excited about me and you find yourself in the reserves, playing zero – nothing in the Europa League or the Premier League.

"I was in the squad once in the EFL Cup. It hurt me, it affected me. I don't think I left too early. When you feel ready you have to go. These things happen. I believe in myself."

While Saliba is enjoying playing first-team football again at Nice, he insists he is not thinking about where he will be next season.

"I have learned now that it is better not to look too far in the future," he added. "I am focused on just these six months to try to give absolutely everything and for the rest we will see.

"For me, the best decision was to join Nice because there is a good project, a good team, a good level of ambition and they like to play in a certain way.

"It feels good to play and to have consistent game time. I am young, I am 19, and it is by playing matches like this that you improve.

"You see what mistakes you make and you correct them for the next match."

Mikel Arteta is adamant Martin Odegaard's arrival does not have to negatively impact Emile Smith Rowe's form, with the Arsenal manager convinced they can play together.

Arsenal completed the loan signing of Odegaard from Real Madrid on Wednesday, the Norwegian adding creativity to a squad that had not included Mesut Ozil at all this season prior to his move to Fenerbahce.

The 22-year-old Odegaard had struggled at Real Madrid this term, making just three LaLiga starts for Zinedine Zidane after returning from an impressive temporary spell at Real Sociedad.

But there is great hope that he could make a real impact for the Gunners if he is able to rediscover the form he displayed with La Real, for whom he created a team-high 62 chances and provided six assists in 2019-20.

Despite some expressing doubts over his compatibility with Smith Rowe, Arteta believes the two can play together, while Odegaard's signing will alleviate some of the creative burden.

"Of course, they can play together, and it is not about pushing somebody else [out of the team]," Arteta told reporters ahead of Saturday's clash with Manchester United.

"Emile has earned his right to play the way he is performing - and Martin has to earn that.

"Emile cannot play every single game, as we knew the other day. For example, in the FA Cup he was injured, he could not play.

"The other day [against Southampton on Tuesday], he could only play certain minutes because he was struggling for the last minutes.

"It has been a massive step for him from what he was doing three, four months ago and what he is doing right now. We need options."

DOUBLE THREAT

Smith Rowe has enjoyed a sudden rise to prominence with the Gunners – before Christmas he was exclusively used in cup competitions, but he has started six Premier League matches in a row since.

The first of those was the 3-1 win over Chelsea on Boxing Day, a result that ended a run of seven games without a league victory and began to ease the pressure on Arteta. The Gunners are unbeaten with Smith Rowe in the side in the league this season.

His three assists from open play across the same period is more than anyone else has managed in the Premier League, so concern for Smith Rowe's momentum was an understanding by-product of the initial links to Odegaard.

But, Opta data lends credence to Arteta's assessment they can play together.

 

None of Smith Rowe's key passes or assists have come from the central third of the attacking half, with all of them coming from wider positions.

While Odegaard operated predominantly from the right at Real Sociedad last term, the highest proportion (31.2 per cent) of his assists and key passes came from the central zone directly outside the penalty area.

 

Creativity in this zone has been a weak point of Arsenal's this season, with most of their threat coming down the left – Odegaard's arrival might just offer the Gunners a little more balance.

Martin Odegaard was always fighting a "lost battle" with comparisons to Lionel Messi but has the characteristics needed to flourish at Arsenal, says Mikel Arteta. 

The Gunners completed a deal to take Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season on Wednesday, handing the attacking midfielder the number 11 shirt that was worn by Mesut Ozil when he joined the club. 

Odegaard was signed by Los Blancos from Stromsgodset as a prodigious teenager and has had loan spells in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen and Vitesse before impressing in a temporary stint with Real Sociedad last term. 

Madrid opted to recall him for the 2020-21 campaign, though the 22-year-old struggled to nail down a regular spot in Zinedine Zidane's team. 

Arteta is excited by Odegaard's qualities but did urge caution, saying comparisons to Barcelona great Messi are unhelpful. 

"I wouldn't even get close to that name you just mentioned [Messi] because it's a lost battle in my opinion. Martin is Martin," Arteta said when previewing Saturday's clash with Manchester United. 

"In the last few seasons he's progressed and developed in the right way. I follow him very closely because he played for Real Sociedad which is my hometown and I know him really well. 

"He's such a talent. He needs the right environment, a little bit of time, but he's got the qualities to be a success for us. He's a specialist to playing in the pockets, to be in the number eight, number 10 positions. 

"He can play on the sides, a really creative player, really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, the capacity to create chances, to score goals. 

"Something he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well. It's another option to give us more creativity in the final third."

Last season, Odegaard topped Sociedad's squad for chances created in LaLiga, crafting 62 opportunities in total as he provided six assists from 31 appearances. He also boasted an impressive passing accuracy of 84.74 per cent. 

This term he has been afforded just three LaLiga starts by Zidane, albeit Arteta made clear several factors will determine whether a permanent deal will be struck. 

"He has certainly all the qualities and characteristics that we are looking for," he added. 

"Then it would be down to two things – first of all, how well he adapts here and how much of an impact he can have in our team, and second, what Real Madrid and the player thinks about it because he's owned by Real Madrid and the player has a big say on that. 

"I just wanted to give him a clear picture of who we are as a club, what we are trying to do, what we expect from him, just try to transmit the passion and excitement that we had to bring him in. 

"I wanted to show him the project, how he fits and just try to persuade him that this is the right place for him and try to make things work." 

Arsenal are on a six-match unbeaten run in the Premier League to improve their previously precarious top-flight standing to ninth. 

They welcome a Manchester United side who saw their own 13-match unbeaten league run surprisingly ended by rock-bottom Sheffield United on Wednesday. 

"It's not a surprise because to beat any team in this league is extremely difficult and it's not taken for granted," Arteta said when asked about that game.  

"Sheffield United are a really good threat and you see that. They've lost games they didn't deserve to lose." 

Arsenal were the last side to beat United in the league before the Blades' unlikely triumph, while they have not lost to the Red Devils since an FA Cup defeat in January 2019. 

Still, Arteta says there is nothing to be gleaned from a decent recent record against United. 

"I think every game is completely different, they have the capacity and the quality to beat any side in the world, we know we’re going to have to be at our best," he said. 

"The games are huge, we need to be better than what we were on Tuesday [a 3-1 win at Southampton] to beat them. 

"They've been in top form. They've been top of the table playing really well. We know they are a real threat. We have to be at our best to beat them on Saturday."

Martin Odegaard was always fighting a "lost battle" with comparisons to Lionel Messi but has the characteristics needed to flourish at Arsenal, says Mikel Arteta. 

The Gunners completed a deal to take Odegaard on loan from Real Madrid until the end of the season on Wednesday, handing the attacking midfielder the number 11 shirt that was worn by Mesut Ozil when he joined the club. 

Odegaard was signed by Los Blancos from Stromsgodset as a prodigious teenager and has had loan spells in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen and Vitesse before impressing in a temporary stint with Real Sociedad last term. 

Madrid opted to recall him for the 2020-21 campaign, though the 22-year-old struggled to nail down a regular spot in Zinedine Zidane's team. 

Arteta is excited by Odegaard's qualities but did urge caution, saying comparisons to Barcelona great Messi are unhelpful. 

"I wouldn't even get close to that name you just mentioned [Messi] because it's a lost battle in my opinion. Martin is Martin," Arteta said when previewing Saturday's clash with Manchester United. 

"In the last few seasons he's progressed and developed in the right way. I follow him very closely because he played for Real Sociedad which is my hometown and I know him really well. 

"He's such a talent. He needs the right environment, a little bit of time, but he's got the qualities to be a success for us. He's a specialist to playing in the pockets, to be in the number eight, number 10 positions. 

"He can play on the sides, a really creative player, really comfortable on the ball in tight spaces, the capacity to create chances, to score goals. 

"Something he has improved a lot is his work rate without the ball as well. It's another option to give us more creativity in the final third."

Last season, Odegaard topped Sociedad's squad for chances created in LaLiga, crafting 62 opportunities in total as he provided six assists from 31 appearances. He also boasted an impressive passing accuracy of 84.74 per cent. 

This term he has been afforded just three LaLiga starts by Zidane, albeit Arteta made clear several factors will determine whether a permanent deal will be struck. 

"He has certainly all the qualities and characteristics that we are looking for," he added. 

"Then it would be down to two things – first of all, how well he adapts here and how much of an impact he can have in our team, and second, what Real Madrid and the player thinks about it because he's owned by Real Madrid and the player has a big say on that. 

"I just wanted to give him a clear picture of who we are as a club, what we are trying to do, what we expect from him, just try to transmit the passion and excitement that we had to bring him in. 

"I wanted to show him the project, how he fits and just try to persuade him that this is the right place for him and try to make things work." 

Arsenal are on a six-match unbeaten run in the Premier League to improve their previously precarious top-flight standing to ninth. 

They welcome a Manchester United side who saw their own 13-match unbeaten league run surprisingly ended by rock-bottom Sheffield United on Wednesday. 

"It's not a surprise because to beat any team in this league is extremely difficult and it's not taken for granted," Arteta said when asked about that game.  

"Sheffield United are a really good threat and you see that. They've lost games they didn't deserve to lose." 

Arsenal were the last side to beat United in the league before the Blades' unlikely triumph, while they have not lost to the Red Devils since an FA Cup defeat in January 2019. 

Still, Arteta says there is nothing to be gleaned from a decent recent record against United. 

"I think every game is completely different, they have the capacity and the quality to beat any side in the world, we know we’re going to have to be at our best," he said. 

"The games are huge, we need to be better than what we were on Tuesday [a 3-1 win at Southampton] to beat them. 

"They've been in top form. They've been top of the table playing really well. We know they are a real threat. We have to be at our best to beat them on Saturday."

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang thanked fans for their support after explaining he had missed recent matches after his mother took ill.

The forward sat out consecutive trips to Southampton - a 1-0 FA Cup defeat and a 3-1 Premier League win - with what the club described as "personal issues".

Manager Mikel Arteta had admitted he was unsure when the Gabon international would be able to return, with the Gunners now preparing for league games against Manchester United and Wolves over the next six days.

Aubameyang suggested he could be back soon as he confirmed his mother was recovering.

"Thank you so much for all the messages and calls over the last few days," he wrote on social media on Wednesday.

"My mother is going through some health issues and I had to be there for her. She's already much better now and I will be back home tonight. I'm more than grateful to the doctors and nurses helping her get through this.

"And of course, thanks to my Arsenal fam for the love yesterday! I'm more determined than ever to keep our momentum going!

"Thank you all again – I really am beyond blessed to receive this level of support and love from all of you and I can't wait to be back."

Team-mates Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette dedicated goals in Tuesday's win at Southampton to Aubameyang, who has scored five times in 17 league games this season.

The Gunners' win moved them into eighth place in the league, five points behind West Ham in fourth, although many of the surrounding sides in the table have games in hand.

Martin Odegaard's Real Madrid career was being set up to fail right from the start, when he joined the club just over a month after his 16th birthday back in January 2015.

The fact he remains their player six years on is testament to the Norwegian's talent, persistence and level-headed attitude, as his first couple of years at the club seemingly had people willing him to fade into obscurity.

From unnecessary speculation relating to his wages and exaggerated suggestions that his presence threatened the future of Madrid's academy, to murmurings that his arrival upset the harmony of Real Madrid Castilla's squad – life wasn't made easy for him early on.

For the most part he has managed to keep his career on track and has shown why he was so highly rated as a 15-year-old bursting on to the scene at Stromsgodset, impressing in a series of loan spells, but Odegaard now has another challenge in front of him.

He joins Arsenal on loan for the rest of the season in a move that will surely shape the next major step he takes in his career, whether that is kicking on at Real Madrid or moving elsewhere permanently.

While first-team football has been difficult to come by at Madrid this term, it's easy to see why Arsenal made their move for the attacking midfielder.

A REAL GEM

If there are any Arsenal fans questioning why they have moved for a player who has made just three starts for a – let's be frank – unspectacular Madrid side this season, it's worth recalling the amount of talent Zinedine Zidane has struggled to incorporate and subsequently discarded in recent years.

Marcos Llorente, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Reguilon, Theo Hernandez, James Rodriguez – you could potentially even add Isco to that list in the not-too-distant future. All are fine players generally thriving elsewhere, but Zidane was seemingly unconvinced by them.

Injuries haven't helped Odegaard's cause this term, but his form with Real Sociedad on loan last season demonstrated just how impressive he is when given consistent opportunities – and it was revealed in July that he had been suffering with a chronic knee issue for most of 2019-20.

The 22-year-old created 62 chances in LaLiga last term, a tally only beaten by five other players, one of which was predictably Lionel Messi. 

 

That gave him a key pass frequency just under 0.5 every 90 minutes, which again ranked very highly among players with more than 30 chances created – six had better records, though his 6.8 xA (expected assists) rating was third only to Messi and Jesus Navas.

He also offers a great threat from set-pieces, with 27 of his key passes coming from dead-ball situations. This is an area Arsenal have struggled, as their 20 chances created from set plays is the fourth-fewest in the Premier League this term.

Odegaard was a major catalyst for La Real's largely impressive campaign, as they reached the Copa del Rey final – which is still due to be contested later this year – and finished sixth in LaLiga.

Arsenal fans will hope he can have a similar impact in the second half of the 2020-21 season, particularly given their lack of creativity at times this term.

WHERE WILL HE STRENGTHEN ARSENAL?

At La Real, Odegaard was often deployed from the right side of the attack in a 4-3-3, but given he is most comfortable on his left foot, he would routinely cut inside and wreak havoc in the middle.

 

While he spent more time on the right flank, with 38.3 per cent of his touches occurring in the right third of the pitch between the halfway line and the edge of the opposing area, much of his best work was carried out more centrally.

Indeed, 31.1 per cent of his key passes and assists came from the middle third of the pitch just outside the box.

 

Arsenal have been much less active centrally and on the right flank, with just under 12 per cent of their assists and chances created stemming from play in the middle of the attacking half. They aren't much more effective on the right, which will likely not come as a surprise to Gunners fans given the largely underwhelming form of Willian and Nicolas Pepe.

 

Odegaard's display in the September 2019 defeat at Sevilla was something of a microcosm of much of what he was good at last season, with his late assist for Portu seeing him come in off the right and play a disguised pass into the right side of the box for his team-mate to finish. Earlier on, he had taken up possession in a central area and sliced open the Sevilla backline only for Willian Jose to skew wide.

In both situations he showed great poise, a trait he has combined with his wonderful ability on the ball, as demonstrated by the fact he played 19 key passes after ball carries – Messi (30) had the most and was one of only five players to better the Norwegian in this area.

 

THE RISK OF SHORT-TERM LOANS

The addition of Odegaard will add some welcome creativity to Mikel Arteta's squad, the Gunners having managed 23 goals from 230 attempts (excluding penalties) - slightly below their 25.2 xG - so far in what has been a topsy-turvy 2020-21 season. 

Arsenal players have collectively created 26 Opta-defined "big chances", well adrift of the league-high 43 recorded by Manchester City in 2020-21. While this only includes shots that have been specifically assisted by a pass, it does highlight a creative deficiency.

 

Emile Smith Rowe has impressed of late, contributing three assists in open play, but no individual has created more chances for them in the Premier League than Bukayo Saka, his total of 23 putting him one above Kieran Tierney. It is clear they need greater threat in central areas, and Odegaard should offer that.

But, while he is undoubtedly a fine talent, Arsenal fans should be wary and patient – Odegaard hasn't featured regularly this season so cannot be expected to be sharp, and this move is another instance of upheaval in a fairly short period of time after leaving La Real for a return to Madrid. It would unfair to assume he will find his stride immediately.

Short-term loans in the second half of a season are often risky and Odegaard will likely take a little while to get up to speed. If he adapts quickly, his arrival could be a masterstroke – but if he doesn't it could be a wasted few months for both parties.

Arsenal will hope he's not another Denis Suarez.

Martin Odegaard says "top manager" Mikel Arteta played a "crucial" role in his decision to join Arsenal on loan for the rest of the season. 

Odegaard sealed another temporary exit from Real Madrid on Wednesday and will now showcase his talents in the Premier League for the first time. 

The 22-year-old attacking midfielder revealed Arteta convinced him a switch to north London was the right option at this stage of his career, having featured sparingly for Madrid this term.

"I spoke to him before coming here, of course," Odegaard told Arsenal.com. "That was very important for me and he seems like a top manager and I liked his ideas, the way he sees football and also the way he is.  

"He gave me a great feeling and that was important for me to come here. He was crucial. 

"I think every time you go to a new place, you want to make sure that it feels good and that there is a plan. But I think everything here just seems good.  

"I like the club and I always liked the way that the club wants to play. Everything about the club and now how the manager wants to play, I think it's a club that really suits me well. So I think it's a good match."

Odegaard thrived during his time on loan with Real Sociedad last season, scoring seven times in all competitions and providing six assists.

He created 62 opportunities in the Spanish top flight, more than any of his team-mates, while also recording a passing accuracy of 84.74 per cent. 

Madrid cut short Odegaard's planned two-year loan at La Real, but the playmaker is on the move again after struggling for playing time in Zinedine Zidane's side.

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