Mikel Arteta has told his Arsenal fringe players they have worked their way into contention for Sunday’s clash with Manchester United after a strong Europa League showing in the win over Dundalk.
The Gunners made 11 changes for the game against their Group B opponents as goals from Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe secured a comfortable 3-0 victory.
The wholesale alterations came on the back of two consecutive Premier League defeats as the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Thomas Partey remained on the bench against the Irish champions.
While most of his key men will be expected to return for Sunday’s game at Old Trafford, Arteta insists his squad players have done their chances of being involved against United no harm at all.
‘I’m really pleased with the way we went about the game,’ he said.
‘Our attitude from the beginning was spot on, we attacked and created a lot of situations inside the box.
‘We gave a chance to a lot of players who haven’t played many minutes this season and it is something really positive because they showed they are well-prepared, they are at it, and they are ready when we need them.
‘They are always in the frame to play. It is not if we lose or win, it is what they bring to the team. How they train, what they are showing. Results at the end are consequences of many things, but individually how they do things is what determines whether they have the opportunity to play or not.’
Despite scoring a fine third goal just seconds after the interval, club-record signing Pepe endured what was largely a frustrating evening as he continues to struggle to make a lasting impact.
But Arteta has backed the Ivory Coast winger to come good and once again said the £72million price-tag was not having an adverse effect.
‘Knowing Nico and speaking to him, I don’t think it is something that worries him too much,’ he replied when asked about the record fee weighing heavy on Pepe.
‘It is about him hitting his best every single week. I think this is where he believes he can do better and we have to try to help him.
‘It is nothing to do with his attitude. He is a player who takes risks. He is a very creative player and that is the most difficult thing in football, when they all know what you can do as well, how much they want to prevent space, the overloads that they generate to defend you as well.’
Dundalk head coach Filippo Giovagnoli had compared the tie to a boxing mismatch on the eve of the game – labelling his underdogs as super-lightweights coming up against the heavyweights of Arsenal.
But the Italian was pleased with the fight shown by his players, even if they did become the first team in Europa League history not to commit a single foul.
‘I want to congratulate my team and all the players for the way they collaborated defensively, their focus and everything,’ he said.
‘We had to suffer, we know, but I think we were organised defensively.
‘We didn’t concede one shot until the goal that came from a corner kick rebound between our goalie and defender.
‘A few things went well, we tried on three occasions to build up like we prepared, we tried to high press them when they were playing with the goalie, to go man to man and be really aggressive when their goalie had the ball.’
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