Mikel Arteta has given his full backing to his Arsenal team ahead of the FA Cup fifth round clash with Portsmouth at Fratton Park tonight. Head coach Arteta has explained to his charges that he supports them fully as they go into the tie on the south coast with the hangover of the Europa League exit to Olympiakos hanging over them.
The Gunners need to bounce back tonight after the morale-sapping 2-1 defeat in Europe against Olympiakos at the Emirates Stadium last Thursday — a score line that meant the tie ended 2-2 overall and the Greeks progressed on away goals.
Arteta knows it is crucial to lift his stars as they go head to head with an in-form Pompey, bossed by Kenny Jackett. He has steered his team to third in the League One Standings and they are in with a very real chance of promotion to the Championship.
Arteta, who replaced Unai Emery in December after leaving his role as No.2 to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, reinforced the positives within the ranks and spoke of the importance of reacting well, both collectively and individually, as they look to respond. But as well as accentuating the positives he said he was also looking for an upturn in certain aspects of the Arsenal approach.
One selection issue facing Arteta is whether or not he chooses to play Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (leading Premier League scorer alongside Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy on 17 goals) up front to allow him to try to play out the frustration of his last-gasp miss against the Greeks; a miss that had he not made the Gunners would still be in the Europa League. Or does he rest him with the Premier League game at home to West Ham United on Saturday, March 14, looming?
The Spanish coach knows only too well how important the FA Cup is to Arsenal. And the significance of trying to land the trophy is even more important now after the shock loss to Olympiakos — and it being the only honour the Gunners can now win.
Arteta won the competition twice during his playing days with the Gunners — in 2014 with a 3-2 victory over Hull City and a year later with a triumphant return to Wembley with Aston Villa being beaten 4-0 by Arsene Wenger’s men. And he recognises that the competition holds a special place in the history of the club; the Gunners have lifted it more than any other club with 13 wins.
As for Pompey, they go into the game full of confidence after hitting a purple patch with their league form. They still have a chance of gaining automatic promotion and head into the fixture on the back of a convincing 3-0 victory over Rochdale on Friday night at home.
That said, the odds are stacked against them. The magic of the cup awaits.