Wednesday night sees us return to the Champions League after six years away, and Mikel Arteta believes it is the stage a club of our stature should be on every season.
Before our recent exile from the largest club competition in European football, we had qualified for the tournament for 19 consecutive seasons. Now that we have brought the big midweek nights back to north London, the manager claims he feels a sense of pride before his management debut in the competition.
He is now exhorting our players to capitalize on the chance to shine in the brightest of spotlights, beginning with our match against PSV Eindhoven.
Before the game began, Mikel expressed his feelings by saying: “Proud and excited. We haven’t participated in the competition for a very long time as a club, and this will be my first time as manager, so I’m really looking forward to it.We’ve been pursuing it and battling for it, and now that we have it, we must capitalize on it to the fullest. It all begins at home, and I have no doubt that our supporters will be really enthusiastic about it. Managing that and relishing the challenge is what it’s all about.
“I felt it every time I watched it and we weren’t there. I believe you overwork yourselves. The Champions League must include this team. When I have the job that I do, it’s my duty to work to advance the club to the largest stages and competitions and then to fight for them there. Although it took time to get here, we must now take advantage of the situation.
Mikel will have wanted the biggest games to return to north London more than anyone because he represented the club as a player in the competition, particularly during some historic matches like our victories at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund in 2013, when he captained the team.
But now, he is heading his young team—many of whom have never played in a tournament—into our first encounter since 2016–17. He believed that the slow progress we have made since his hiring has eventually been worthwhile because he wants to make us regulars in the tournament year after year.
He continued, thinking back on the previous several seasons, “I think it’s a learning process. You must learn some lessons from that if you want to succeed. I believe we did that, improved as a team, and took the proper actions to advance the group. We are now in this position, and in my opinion, we totally merit it.
“You have something to prove every day. I have to demonstrate tomorrow that we have made the greatest preparations possible and that we are providing the players the best chance to play their best for us to win the game. That is the sport’s reality.
“Some of our players have won it after competing for us over a long period of time. Combining that knowledge with the decision to make your debut properly will enable you to perform to your absolute best.