Mikel Arteta has hit out at the decision to move Arsenal’s crunch game against Manchester City forward to tomorrow lunchtime, claiming it gives their rivals an unfair advantage.
Arsene Wenger’s men did not arrive back from Naples until around 4am yesterday morning after a demoralising 2-0 defeat that ensured they finished second in their Champions League Group.
City, who are six points behind Arsene Wenger’s men, played Bayern Munich the previous night — a game in which they rested a number of key players — and Arteta is angry that BT Sport have been allowed to change the game to a 12.45pm kick-off.
But the Spaniard, who called referee Viktor Kassai’s decision to send him off in Naples as “a joke”, has challenged his team-mates to prove their title credentials at the Etihad, where City have scored 29 goals while winning every one of their seven home Premier League games this season.
“I don’t understand why we played Sunday afternoon [against Everton], then in Naples on Wednesday, getting back at four o’clock in the morning, and then we play on Saturday morning in Manchester,” said the Spaniard.
“It is not ideal. We will have a late warm-down on Thursday then try to get our legs back on Friday, when we also travel and get as best prepared as we can. They will be ready for us as they rested several players for their European game on Tuesday night.
“There is not much we can do, so we just have to prepare well and be ready for it. There can be no excuses, we have to be ready, we want to win there and have to be prepared.
“We know it can be a big statement if we get a good result there so that is what we want. We have to keep going. It is a really tough team coming up and we need to get ready and win the next game.”
While Arsenal and Arteta are focused on domestic duties, they know they let an opportunity slip in Naples. A draw would have given them top spot but defeat — coupled with Borussia Dortmund’s late winner in Marseille — means they will be drawn against one of Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint Germain or Real Madrid in the last 16. But Arteta believes those big guns will be desperate not to be drawn against Arsenal — while he was also furious at his second yellow card, which was given for a foul on Jose Callejon.
“It [the sending-off] was a joke,” said Arteta. “The second one, he was on the floor before I got there, so I am very disappointed I will now miss the next game. You do not want to miss any games and put your team in a difficult position. I thought it was very harsh and unfair.
“If someone had said before that you are going to be through we would have been happy, but with the position we were in, we wanted to finish first. We know we will face really difficult opposition in the next round, but at least we are through and can take some positives because it was areally tough group.
“You are looking at the top teams who have won their group, so it’s tough. I am sure, though, that they will not be happy to play against us as well, that is for sure. It does not matter who we play against because it will be tough, but I am sure they will be thinking the same thing.
“On our day we have shown we can compete with any team in Europe, but you are making it tougher for yourself. If we had finished first, it would have been a different story, but we have to take it on the chin.”
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