RC Lens ‘are going to cause us problems,’ insists Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta

The Gunners welcome Franck Haise’s RC Lens side to the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday, with the aims of progressing and avenging MD2’s defeat in France.

The importance of a positive result against RC Lens wasn’t lost on Mikel Arteta, as he spoke to the press on Tuesday afternoon at Arsenal’s London Colney training centre. Preparations were so extensive on the practice pitches that the boss was nearly an hour late.

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He began proceedings with a look at his squad that could push the Gunners through with a game in Eindhoven to spare.

‘We’ve got a problem with [Fabio Vieira]. He’s been having some discomfort. We tried to do some training but he wasn’t improving, so we sent him to a specialist to get an operation done on his groin.’

‘[Ben White] trained the day before the Brentford game and he was feeling good. I think he’s available. That’s very good news for us.’

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Before questions returned to the Champions League matter at hand, there were still more absences to address. Thomas Partey and Emile Smith-Rowe were brought into question as to whether they’d be back before January’s break.

‘It is a possibility, but it will depend on how they evolve. Emile has already been on the pitch doing some jogging. I don’t know how long he’s going to take, he’s a quick healer. Thomas is the same. But when they come back, we have to make sure that they are at their best. We don’t want to rush them.’

‘We have the right motivation’

A draw is effectively all Arsenal require to go through, yet Arteta insists he would prefer to pick up the three points against a side who have handed the Emirates residents their sole defeat of the competition so far.

‘We want to win the game, that’s for sure. The opportunity is there for us against a team that we know are going to cause us problems and we have experienced a defeat against them – we have the right motivation to put that right tomorrow.

‘We have to win at home and we have to win the group if we can, and that’s the mentality of the team.’

Bukayo Saka ‘is remarkable at his age’

A big part of any Arsenal success is homegrown favourite Bukayo Saka. The day of Lens’ visit to North London coincides with the five year anniversary of the exciting winger’s first team debut. His Spanish manager cut a proud figure as he talked about the Three Lions regular, and how Lens had previously locked on to him.

‘He’s targeted because he’s one of our more dangerous players and the team know that. They tried to stop our strength, that’s for sure. What he’s done in those five years is remarkable at his age. You look at his stats and how consistent he’s been, it’s very rare to see that at his age – especially in those positions at top clubs.’

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‘He’s a huge part of both teams [England and Arsenal] and you can see the impact that he has on games. He’s crucial for us. To get us where we want to be, Bukayo has to be a main part of that.’ 

‘Getting to the top is one thing, staying is something else. He’s done it for five years, and I’m glad you can see that. He’s got the right mentality, the right family, the right people around him. He’s still so humble. He has the right advice around him and that’s what makes him special. He wants more because there is much more to come.’

Coaching in the UEFA Champions League is ‘a great feeling’

Arteta, as a young manager, is quite comparable to his young catalyst in the way that there’s more to come. The Lens matchup comes as the San Sebastian native’s fifth UEFA Champions League game. He was asked how he had found things up to this point.

‘I am enjoying it, it’s a great feeling. It makes you proud. It makes you feel that, that’s the level the club should be at and we’re competing really well. Let’s continue to do so.’

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Adding to this, and considering the struggles both Manchester United and Newcastle have experienced in their respective groups, Arteta responded to whether topping the table was overlooked as an achievement.

‘You have to sweat and dig in a lot, and play well and deserve a lot in games to win. We play against really top opponents – like PSV, I think they’ve won every game in their league and they lost against us.’

‘It’s not that we have to prove, it’s that we have to come back to Europe and be that club we want to be, and have that presence and the results that tell ‘we are back’ in a strong way. We haven’t done that yet, that has to be done.’