Mikel Arteta has urged his Arsenal players to improve their game management as they prepare to head to Sheffield United on Sunday in search of their first win in five games.
The Gunners conceded a stoppage-time equaliser at home to Slavia Prague on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final, just minutes after Nicolas Pepe had given them a late lead in a game they controlled.
Thursday’s disappointing result came just days after Arsenal were humbled at home by Liverpool. The 3-3 draw at West Ham and 1-0 defeat to Olympiakos before the international break means it is nearly a month since their last win.
Arsenal’s failure to see out the win on Thursday – as well as their profligacy in front of goal – frustrated Arteta. When asked why his side are four games without a win, he said: “It’s clear why but it’s how to prevent what is happening – that’s a different story.
“In a pretty big amount of games we haven’t managed to do that, for different reasons. Last night was a clear example. In the Europa League you’re not going to create 10 or 15 clear chances. We created three, four or five really big chances and you have to put them in the net.
“Then you have some margin for things like what happened in the 94th minute, when you can concede a set piece. It can happen. But what cannot happen is the way we managed the last four or five minutes.
“In last night’s game it was crucial not to concede, and then we do from a set piece at the end of the match.
“It’s not the amount of chances we are conceding but the way we are conceding the goals. It’s pretty clear and is the probably the biggest thing we have to improve defensively.”
Arteta made the decision to start his captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench for the game against Slavia after the 31-year-old had failed to score in his last five games.
Aubameyang has been criticised by Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville for his recent performances, but Arteta says he was pleased with the forward’s reaction on Thursday.
“Yes because we talked before – in the Europa League everybody has contributed in different ways. The whole squad has been involved, and yesterday’s role for him was to start on the bench and to make an impact.
“He had that impact – he assisted Nico (Pepe) and he should have scored a tap-in with his left foot. That’s what players have to do when they come in.”
Arteta also rejected Carragher’s suggestion Aubameyang’s underwhelming performances since he signed a new three-year contract at the start of the season could lead to another “Mesut Ozil situation”, saying: “I am always positive about the future.
“I don’t want to think about things that happened in the past or compare different situations and different personalities.”
Despite their poor recent form, Arsenal will head to Brammall Lane on Sunday as strong favourites, with Sheffield United enduring a torrid season that looks destined to end in relegation.
But despite the Blades being 15 points from safety with just eight games remaining, Arteta is expecting another tough game, particularly with it coming just three days after Arsenal’s Europa League exertions.
Asked what he expected from Paul Heckingbottom’s side, he said: “What they do every week; a team that has big pride, big commitment and big fight in every single game, which is not easy for the opponent.
“The way I see them every game, the way they compete every game is to win football matches. I don’t see any difference from the Sheffield of a few weeks ago under Chris (Wilder). We’ll go there to win it.
“We are going to face a difficult game again. We have no time to recover or prepare the game, so we know what we’re facing.”
Merson says: Arsenal have become also-rans
Paul Merson insists Arsenal have become also-rans, saying they lack any sort of plan to get the club back on the right track.
In what has been an extremely difficult season for Mikel Arteta and his side, the Gunners sit 10th and are struggling to secure European football for next season, unless they can win the Europa League.
Merson is unimpressed with what he has seen from his former club this campaign, saying: “The club have become also-rans. You are buying a season ticket at Arsenal next season for what? A good cup run.
“Do you see them getting in the top four next season? I don’t. Barring a Europa league win there is unlikely to be European football at the club next season.
“I just don’t see a plan at Arsenal at the moment. All I see is an aim to get through the next season and we’ll see how it goes along the way, and something might change, and we’ll get lucky along the way.
“That’s what it feels like at the moment, but I don’t see change coming.
“I just see the same old, same old from Arsenal, and it is such a shame. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s an unbelievable football club.”