A 4-3 win on aggregate against Benfica, which kept Arsenal afloat in the Europa League on Thursday night, could act as a lifeline for coach Mikel Arteta.
The Gunners, who are 11th in the Premier League and out of FA Cup, rode on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 87th-minute strike which earned them a 3-2 win on the night in Athens and a 4-3 aggregate victory.
“Well certainly it keeps the season going in a much better way,” the Spaniard coach said. “This competition is going to help the Premier League for sure, to maintain everybody together, to have something to play for.
“Today it would have been really harsh with what has happened in the two legs to be out of the competition. So I’m extremely happy to be through.” Aubameyang had put Arsenal ahead from Bukayo Saka’s pass but Benfica levelled through Diogo Goncalvez’s superb free kick.
Ceballos gifted Benfica their second goal but Kieran Tierney’s reply and Aubameyang’s header, from another Saka assist, saved the day.
“I’m especially happy for Dani because he’s a player that lives this profession like it’s the most important thing in his life and when he made that mistake if that had cost the team to be out it would have been mentally really tough,” Arteta said.
“So, that’s when you need players in the team like we have like with Auba with Bukayo creating the situations, with Kieran Tierney scoring the goal to save him. Out of a difficult situation we created a really bright moment.”
Elsewhere, Leicester coach Brendan Rodgers shouldered the blame for his side’s shock exit from the league after Thursday’s 2-0 home loss to Slavia Prague but said the competition was never his top priority.
With the score tied at 0-0 from the first leg in Prague, Lukas Provod and Abdallah Sima scored in the second half at the King Power Stadium to put the Czech side into the last-16.
It’s my responsibility. I pick the team to try to get the result and that clearly didn’t work as well as I would have liked
Rodgers made a number of changes to the side that beat Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday, with Harvey Barnes, Timothy Castagne and Ricardo Pereira dropping to the bench, while Youri Tielemans was deployed in a more advanced position.
Rodgers said his team selection had backfired. “It’s my responsibility. I pick the team to try to get the result and that clearly didn’t work as well as I would have liked,” Rodgers said.
“We’ve changed the team often because we’ve carried injuries all year ... we had to find a way to freshen up the team. I would still expect us to do better but when you’re missing the players we are, that’s going to affect the quality of your game.
“There are no excuses ...It wasn’t to be. The best team won.” Rodgers said his players would now shift focus to the Premier League and FA Cup.
“If we had to prioritise, those would be the two we would want to succeed in,” he said. “The Europa League was one we wanted to do well in, it wasn’t to be, but now we can go all-in in the league and FA Cup.” Leicester, who are third in the Premier League on 49 points, host Arsenal on Sunday.
- With inputs from agencies