Mikel Arteta insisted Arsenal can use the loss to Liverpool as a platform to build on as he called for improvements against Burnley.

A Diogo Jota double eliminated the Gunners from the EFL Cup at the semi-final stage on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp's side ran out 2-0 victors across the two-legged tie.

Arteta's side rarely troubled the Liverpool goal, bar an early Alexandre Lacazette free-kick hitting the crossbar, and their focus is now solely on the league as they are out of every other competition.

But the Spaniard believes his team can utilise their outing against the Reds to develop upon on Sunday against Burnley, who they have lost just one of their last 18 league games against.

"I will show them what they have done against Liverpool and demand more of ourselves as well," he told reporters at his pre-match news conference.

"We did a lot of good things but it is not enough to win the tie across two games against them, and this is the level of excellence we have to look for."

Burnley are winless in their last 11 Premier League away games, drawing four and losing seven, but have not played in the top flight since January 2 due to various coronavirus-enforced postponements.

The Clarets will be without the in-form Maxwel Cornet for the trip to Emirates Stadium as well, but Arteta expects a tough task against Sean Dyche's relegation battlers.

"They are a competitive team and Sean always puts them out there for a difficult game," he added.

"For us, it is a massive game after the defeat and disappointment – we have to get back on track and get winning."

Burnley did win 1-0 on their last league visit to Arsenal and are looking for consecutive such victories for just the third time, after doing so in 1950 and 1960.

While aware of his side's need to regain their form, Arteta insisted Arsenal are not feeling the heat of the top-four race as they sit in sixth – two points behind fourth-placed West Ham having played two games fewer.

However, north London rivals Tottenham are fourth, a point ahead of the Gunners, while boasting a one-game advantage over their neighbours.

"We are here to win football matches and that is the pressure, we know the amount of matches we have to win if we want to be up there," Arteta continued.

"We can't look too far ahead, there has been a lot happening in recent weeks and it has been extremely difficult to manage the squad and the team.

"We have lost a lot of players and we have to reunite, win on Sunday and move from there. Then we have a window to hopefully get some players back."

Diogo Jota was "on fire" against Arsenal and Jurgen Klopp took it as evidence he has become a "world-class" attacker at Liverpool. 

Liverpool spent £41million to sign Jota from Wolves in September 2020 and he has provided stiff competition for Roberto Firmino. 

The Portugal international took his tally for the Reds to 27 in 57 appearances with a double in the EFL Cup semi-final second leg against the Gunners on Thursday, clinching a 2-0 aggregate win that set up a meeting with Chelsea at Wembley in February. 

Despite only playing two games for Liverpool at Emirates Stadium he is already the club's top scorer at the ground with four goals, while he has five in his past four appearances against Arsenal in all competitions. 

Jota stepped up to play a decisive role with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, but it came as no surprise for Klopp. 

"The mood in the dressing room is that we are over the moon. It was a difficult game, difficult time in general … but what the boys did tonight against this really strong Arsenal side was absolutely exceptional," Klopp told Sky Sports. 

"First half, Arsenal were pretty lively, then we calmed it down, played good football and created not plenty but quality efforts were not so easy. The second half was pretty similar. 

"We scored two wonderful goals, I have to say. Wow, Diogo Jota on fire. But the passes were – on the first goal it was super play and the second one, I don't think a lot of people in the stadium saw Diogo in that position but Trent saw it, which was helpful. Then he finished it off. Absolutely outstanding. 

"We were completely convinced when he arrived at the club that he would help us massively. Nowadays you can watch 100 games if you want [before signing a player], so we were really comfortable. 

"Since he is here, he has made another step. It's helpful. He has just turned into a really world-class striker." 

Arsenal hit the bar through Alexandre Lacazette in the opening period and the France international missed a great chance to work Caoimhin Kelleher early in the second half. 

The Gunners' were left with a bitter taste when Thomas Partey picked up two bookings in three minutes after returning from AFCON duty earlier in the day.

Arsenal have had a player sent off in three of their past four games – none of which have ended in victory – and have received a total of 14 red cards in all competitions since Mikel Arteta took over in December 2019. No other Premier League side has received more than eight.

"We are really disappointed but we played against a top side. We had big moments in both halves and we have to score," said Arteta. 

"We had chances and were pushing for the game but we have to convert if we were to beat a team like Liverpool. 

"I have no regrets [about sending Partey on]. I cannot use him now, so it is what it is. He made the effort to come ... we had to make a decision and we decided to use him and unfortunately that happened.

"We have played the last three games with 10 men and at this level it is extremely difficult to win like that. I am proud of the boys and how committed they were without any training sessions." 

Mikel Arteta has urged his Arsenal players to do their talking on the field against Liverpool after accusing unnamed parties of "lying" about the reasons behind Sunday's north London derby postponement.

The Gunners had a request to call off the match against fierce rivals Tottenham accepted by the Premier League on Saturday due to having a lack of players available to choose from.

However, Arteta's side were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules for a game to be postponed, with the majority of their players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

Arsenal had only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

Speaking on Tuesday, Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange".

But Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics in response to Conte's remarks and added: "We're not going to let anybody damage our name or try to spread lies."

Doubling down on those comments, Arteta said: "We have to defend ourselves. The best way to do that is demonstrate who we are, and the best way to do that is on the pitch.

"Whoever is saying we are trying to do something we are not, that's a lie. We have all the evidence we have to provide. 

"You have to provide evidence individually, all the MRIs, all the COVID cases that you have, you have to put it on the table, you have to explain it, you have to answer more questions and you have to go again and do it. We've done all the right things."

As the fallout from Sunday's derby cancellation continues, Arsenal have a crucial EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Liverpool to prepare for on Thursday.

The tie is delicately poised following last week's goalless draw at Anfield, where Arsenal held on with 10 men for more than an hour after Granit Xhaka's sending off.

And for Arteta, the match at Emirates Stadium represents a chance for his young squad to continue their development by reaching a major final.

"I can sense the excitement when they're training. They're really looking forward to it. The majority of them have not experienced [a semi-final]," he said.

"It's why you play football, it's why you want to play for this club, to win trophies. We want to go through and then go and win it, which is the best memory you can have."

Arsenal confirmed on Thursday that defender Pablo Mari has completed his loan move to Serie A side Udinese.

Mari, who has made 22 appearances for the Gunners in all competitions, will remain at the Dacia Arena for the remainder of the season. 

Liverpool assistant manager Pep Lijnders has expressed his excitement at Harvey Elliott's return to full training, saying that the youngster "didn't lose his football brain."

Elliott has been out of action since September, having dislocated his ankle in a 3-0 Leeds United. The teenager had played in all four of Liverpool's previous games this season.

The 18-year-old returned to full training earlier this week and Lijnders smiled as he was asked about the former Fulham player at a news conference ahead of Liverpool's EFL Cup semi-final second leg at Arsenal.

"Let me say it like this, he didn't lose his football brain," Lijnders said, though he did not put a timescale on Elliott's return to match action.

"He shows immediately what he's about. It would be a crime if you would not play him if he trains like this, but we know it's just the start of the team training. He needs time and we go step by step, of course.

"Some players they never knock on the door, they run through it – and he's one of them."

Elliott, the youngest ever Premier League player, returned to Merseyside at the end of last season having enjoyed a productive loan spell at Championship side Blackburn Rovers, where he registered the joint-third most assists in the division (11), behind only Emiliano Buendia (16) and Michael Olise (12), who is now playing a starring role for Crystal Palace.

He was also the only player in the Championship to register as many as three second assists – which Opta defines as a pass/cross that is instrumental in creating a goal-scoring opportunity – and was eighth overall for successful passes into the final third (519), ahead of the likes of Olise (495), Leicester City's Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall (478 while on loan at Luton Town) and Tottenham's Oliver Skipp (441 while on loan at Norwich City).

In his three Premier League starts and one substitute appearance this season before his injury, Elliott created five chances, more than team-mate Curtis Jones (three) has in his four starts and three appearances from the bench, and won possession in the middle third of the pitch (17) more often than Jones (11) and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (12) despite the former Arsenal man making 15 league appearances, seven of which have been starts.

Lijnders also had words of praise for Liverpool's opponents on Thursday, crediting the work that Mikel Arteta has done since taking charge of Arsenal just over two years ago and noting how well the Gunners played in the goalless first leg at Anfield despite going down to 10 men in the first half when Granit Xhaka was sent off.

Arteta, too, has been happy to utilise younger players as he continues to freshen up Arsenal's squad.

"First of all, Arsenal always had really good players but, for me, they have a really good team at this moment," Lijnders added. "I think credit to Mikel, they matured.

"You see many games where the team with 10 men plays better than the 11 – not play better but they give just this extra step, they give this extra [bit] more because they know they have one player less. What happens many times with the 11 players is that they do one thing less because they know they have one player more. That's exactly what happened.

"Anyway, what I like about the Arsenal game is that we wanted to surprise them with our intensity and that's what we did until Xhaka went off.

"I really think that in football the only advantage exists if you go to the last minute of the game, to be honest. Before that, it's quite even. I think Mikel did an unbelievable job. The team is a proper team.

"They were struggling as well with injuries and, how you said, COVID cases and they had to change as well in the last minute, but if you can play with 10 men like that then you have a mature and good team."

Mikel Arteta hit back at Arsenal's critics following the postponement of Sunday's north London derby as he insisted "we did the right thing."

The Gunners were due to make the short trip to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for a showdown with their fierce rivals, but the game was called off due to a lack of players available to Arteta.

Arsenal were accused of exploiting the Premier League's rules, with the majority of players absent due to injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

The club only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of lodging an application to get the derby called off, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players – 13 outfielders and a goalkeeper – despite their Under-23s having a squad of 16 for a game on Friday.

Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte felt the decision to postpone the match was "very, very strange."

Arsenal manager Arteta hit back on the eve of Thursday's EFL Cup semi-final second leg at home to Liverpool, which he expects to go ahead despite "issues that have not been resolved" in his squad.

Asked what he thought about people saying Arsenal could have played the game, the Spaniard said: "We played against Forest [in the FA Cup] when we had 10 players out and we went to Liverpool and we had many players out.

"We have done that and we have played with academy players when we already have the youngest squad in the league.

"Tomorrow if we have everybody available as I suspect we will play the match because we want to play football."

He added: "I think more than hate [being directed towards Arsenal] there is a lot of respect for Arsenal and that comes from the history of the club, how it's always acted and how it has always conducted itself.

"We know we did the right thing. We worked with the Premier League and the FA to make that decision. If anything we've been very honest at least."

Arteta stressed that it was "100 per cent guaranteed" that Arsenal did not have enough players to face Spurs.

Asked if the criticism of the club could be used as a fuel to drive his team, Arteta said: "We will defend our club tooth and nail. We're not going to get anybody damaging our name or trying to spread lies."

Arteta revealed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is back in London and has undergone tests after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations for medical reasons without playing a game.

The Gabon striker had tested positive for COVID-19 on January 6 and was subsequently diagnosed with "heart lesions".

Arteta said: "He's in London and going through some examinations because we haven't had any clarity from Gabon about why he came back.

"So it's our obligation to make sure he's safe and in good condition. So far historically with what we've done with the player that's never been an issue."

Aubameyang has not featured for Arsenal since December 6, having been stripped of the captaincy due to a breach of club rules.

Arsenal and Liverpool played out a goalless draw in the first leg of their EFL Cup tie at Anfield, with Granit Xhaka seeing red in the first half.

Antonio Conte is set to take charge of his first north London derby on Sunday.

We say "is set to" rather than "will" because there does appear to be the possibility of the game being postponed due to Arsenal's growing list of absences, with the club reportedly requesting for it to be called off.

The Gunners were without as many as nine first-team players for Thursday's EFL Cup semi-final first-leg draw with Liverpool, and Mikel Arteta intimated they have further issues as a result of that match.

But, for the moment, the game is planned to go ahead as normal and Conte will surely be eager for it to do so, with Arsenal's predicament seemingly giving him the best possible chance to right some previous wrongs…

CONTE'S ARSENAL HOODOO

When you consider how good Conte's Chelsea were, it seems quite remarkable he could have such a poor record against any team.

But during his time at Stamford Bridge, Conte won just one of eight games against the Gunners, or 12.5 per cent.

Among the clubs he has faced at least five times across his managerial career, Conte does not have a worse win rate against anyone.

Spurs can perhaps take solace in the fact they have not lost yet under the Italian in the Premier League, though if they do lose on Sunday, Conte will be the first Tottenham manager to suffer his first top-flight defeat in a north London derby since Ossie Ardiles in August 1993.

KEY MEN RELISH A DERBY

In Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, Tottenham have two players with a track record of impacting north London derbies.

Son has had a hand in five goals across his previous four meetings with Arsenal (three goals, two assists), while Kane is, of course, this fixture's all-time leading scorer with 11 strikes in 16 games.

Nevertheless, Arsenal may have some confidence in keeping Kane at bay at least given he has not scored in his past two derbies – failure again will make it his worst drought in the fixture.

Further to that, Kane's record of 0.35 non-penalty expected goals (xG) per 90 minutes is bettered by as many as 15 players this season (minimum 500 minutes played) and he is under-performing that in terms of non-penalty goals (0.19 per 90 mins), suggesting he may not be the Mr. Reliable he once was.

YOUNG GUNS MADE OF THE WRIGHT STUFF?

While Arsenal's squad may have a little less derby pedigree, it would be fair to say they have a greater presence of youthful exuberance, with young players playing a prominent role for Arteta.

Arguably chief among them are Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, who were both on the scoresheet when Arsenal beat Spurs 3-1 earlier this season.

No English player has scored in both north London derbies for Arsenal in the same year since, remarkably, Ian Wright in 1993-94.

Given the form of both players, there is a strong chance that run could end.

SAKA BACK ON TRACK

After dazzling at Euro 2020, some might have expected Saka to truly light up the Premier League this season. He perhaps has not quite reached that level, though his recent form has been excellent.

He has been involved in at least one goal in each of his previous five Premier League games, netting four and setting up a couple.

Should he continue that streak against Spurs – or whoever they play next if the game is postponed – he will be the youngest player in the competition's history to have a hand in a goal in six successive Premier League games.

Mikel Arteta suggested it is still too early to determine whether Sunday's north London derby with Tottenham will be able to go ahead as planned.

Arsenal were without nine first-team players for their goalless EFL Cup semi-final first-leg draw with Liverpool on Thursday.

They had four players away on international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, another four injured and Martin Odegaard tested positive for COVID-19 prior to the game.

But despite the club having only one known coronavirus case prior to Friday's testing, there appears to be a real danger of the clash being postponed.

Media reports claim the club have not yet submitted a request to the Premier League for the fixture to be called off, but it would seem they only need a few more players to become unavailable for a postponement to be likely.

In order for the encounter to not go ahead, Arsenal will need to prove they do not have 13 eligible outfield players and a goalkeeper among their first-team squad or "appropriately experienced Under-21 players", and Arteta suggested Thursday's game did bring further fitness problems.

Speaking on Friday, Arteta said: "We had concerns already before the match against Liverpool, and after the game we had some more issues.

"We haven't been able to assess the squad yet because we couldn't fly last night, so we just arrived to the training ground and all the boys are being looked after. So we don't know."

Centre-backs Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes were two of those able to play the full 90 minutes on Thursday, and both have been praised for their performances this season.

Since the former's pre-season arrival from Brighton and Hove Albion, the defenders have formed a good understanding at the heart of the Gunners' defence.

They have started 18 games together this season across all competitions, with Arsenal losing just four of those and winning 11 (61.1 per cent).

Arsenal have suffered as many defeats from matches in which one of them has not started, despite there being only eight games that qualify in that regard.

From those matches in question, Arsenal's win rate drops to 50 per cent, while their average goals conceded per 90 minutes increases to 1.4 from 0.9.

After a somewhat shaky start, White appears to have settled and Arteta can already see a strong partnership forming, with the Spaniard praising him for being one of those to stand up the challenge posed by facing Liverpool a man light for much of the match following Granit Xhaka's red card.

"He is one of them that I would certainly apply the words that I've just mentioned to his performance," Arteta continued.

"He's not Tony [Adams] and he cannot be Tony. He's just moved to our club and he's just been here just for a few months, but he has something and he wants to do it.

"He's very demanding with himself, he's really willing to learn and improve his game and he's in the right place.

"In terms of the qualities that I saw in [White] and what is required for us to try to recruit somebody like him with his qualities, it was clear [he could play with Gabriel].

"Then those personalities as well, that chemistry has to exist. We can see they really enjoy playing together, you can see that, that chemistry is there and that's a massive extra when you are looking to build something at the back."

Mikel Arteta lauded the spirit of his Arsenal side after the Gunners battled to a goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield.

Granit Xhaka was sent off midway through the first half in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final on Thursday, having lunged in high on Diogo Jota.

It is the fifth time Xhaka has been sent off since he made his Arsenal debut in 2016-17, more than any other Premier League player in that time.

Yet without key men Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, who are with Senegal and Egypt respectively at the Africa Cup of Nations, Liverpool faltered in front of goal and failed to make their numerical advantage count.

Curtis Jones' stoppage-time effort was the Reds' only shot on target, with that attempt coming after Aaron Ramsdale had gifted Takumi Minamino (who had six attempts in total) a golden chance, only for the Japan forward to blaze it high over a gaping goal.

Based on Opta's expected goals (xG) model, Minamino's chance was the second best opportunity of the match – an xG value of 0.384 (a 38.4 per cent likelihood of scoring) – though Bukayo Saka had the best sighting of goal when his close-range effort (0.402 xG) was smothered by Alisson.

 

Arsenal, who were without regulars Emile Smith Rowe, Martin Odegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Thomas Partey, now head into next week's second leg on level pegging, with a place in the final against Chelsea on the line at Emirates Stadium.

"They showed great fight, determination, attitude, brotherhood," Arteta told Sky Sports.

"You could see the determination with which they were playing, they never gave up, it's extremely difficult in this situation against this opponent. Great credit to the boys.

"I don't know if it [the sending off] inspired them, but they certainly took the fight and I said to them before the game that you have to have a certain attitude to play in this ground, in difficult moments you have to act, you cannot be reactive because then it gets really complicated and I think the boys adapted really well in certain moments.

"We played the game that we had to play, not the game we wanted to play but the game we had to."

Arsenal performed well against Manchester City on New Year's Day, only to go down to Rodri's late winner in a game in which the Gunners were again reduced to 10 men – Gabriel Magalhaes sent off on that occasion. Since Arteta took charge in December 2019, his side have received 13 red cards in all competitions, five more than any other Premier League side in this period. 

The Gunners then slumped out of the FA Cup on Sunday, losing to Championship side Nottingham Forest 1-0, but Arteta suggested inconsistency was merely a symptom of a largely inexperienced side.

He said: "It's really difficult to explain, you see the performance against City where we probably deserved more, we played with 10 men then we play Forest and it was completely different.

"Today we got the level back and did what we had to do. It's an extremely young team, sometimes that inconsistency is going to happen."

Arsenal have now avoided defeat in four of their last eight away games in which they have been shown a red card in all competitions, though injuries to Bukayo Saka and Cedric Soares further complicated matters ahead of Sunday's north London derby clash with Tottenham.

"The motivation to play a derby brings the energy when you don’t have it, no excuses we're going to play the game now in the best possible way," Arteta added.

 

Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal still have the pulling power to attract the world's biggest names, but refused to be drawn on speculation linking his side with Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic.

The Gunners have been tipped to move for the in-demand Serbia international, who matched Cristiano Ronaldo's 21st century record for the most Serie A goals in a single calendar year in 2021 with 33.

Vlahovic has also been touted as a target for Juventus, Manchester City and Manchester United, though Arsenal are said to be willing to spend big to land the 21-year-old, who has 18 months to run on his contract.

However, according to fresh reports on Wednesday, Vlahovic will only consider joining the north London club should they qualify for next season's Champions League after a five-year absence.

Arsenal have not placed higher than fifth in the Premier League since then and have finished eighth in back-to-back campaigns, but Arteta does not believe the Gunners' plight will put players off moving to Emirates Stadium.

"Historically this club has always been targeting the best players in the world and they were always interested to come here," he said at a news conference on Wednesday. "I can say that hasn't changed. 

"Every time I've spoken to a player they were so willing to come. That's a big advantage for us."

Vlahovic has 16 goals in 20 Serie A games for Fiorentina this season alone, making him the joint-fourth highest goalscorer in Europe's top five leagues behind Karim Benzema, Patrik Schick (both 17) and Robert Lewandowski (20).

Fiorentina are reportedly holding out for a €70million (£58m) fee, but Arteta would not comment specifically on his side's interest in the young attacker.

"I'm really sorry to disappoint you but you know I'm not going to be discussing any transfer rumours," he said when asked about the latest on Vlahovic.

"What I really want this month is that we have as many players fit and healthy and we do as much as possible with these players. After that we have a strategy and we will do that when possible."

Arsenal suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round on Sunday and will be looking to hit back when they take on Liverpool on Thursday in a rescheduled EFL Cup semi-final first leg.

Last week's fixture was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak forced Liverpool to shut their training ground, but Jurgen Klopp has since revealed a number of the cases were false positives.

The first leg will now take place at Anfield, with the return fixture set for Emirates Stadium next week, and Arteta will also have one eye on Sunday's Premier League trip to Tottenham.

"The dynamics have changed because the timing of the games becomes different," the Spaniard said. "It's completely uncertain but it's what it is.

"Last week's game being called off is something that is not in our control. The EFL is responsible to check every player's status and make the decision whether to play or not.

"You can never guarantee anything because you know that this changes dramatically in 10 seconds. Our willingness is always to play."

Arsenal, who will find out on Wednesday whether Granit Xhaka is clear to play after recently testing positive for coronavirus, have won just one of their last eight EFL Cup games against Liverpool at Anfield.

This is the third successive season the sides have met in the competition, while the last five meetings have produced a total of 28 goals.

Mikel Arteta was unable to provide excuses on Sunday, after Arsenal crashed out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.

"We are out of the competition and we have to apologise."

Arsenal have won the FA Cup a record 14 times, with their last triumph coming in Arteta's first half-season in charge. But while they will lament being on the end of a giant-killing, they have the chance to bounce back from only their second third-round exit in the past 26 seasons when they face Liverpool at Anfield on Thursday in the first leg of a semi-final in England's other major domestic cup competition.

Initially, the Anfield fixture of this EFL Cup tie was due to be played second but Liverpool's coronavirus crisis, which Jurgen Klopp revealed was ultimately down to several false-positives within the squad, led to the postponement of the first leg at Emirates Stadium, originally set to be played on January 6.

The Gunners lost 4-0 at the home of the Reds in November's Premier League meeting, as Arteta's men were dealt a harsh dose of reality after a 10-match unbeaten run across all competitions.

A further 10 games have passed since then, with Arsenal losing four and winning six.

With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang having been stripped of the captaincy and ostracised before travelling away for the Africa Cup of Nations, Arteta has once again turned mostly to youth as he looks to continue to grow a new "culture" at Arsenal, who sit fourth in the league.

Claiming some measure of revenge at Anfield could just prove Arteta's plan is the solution for long-term success, and four players seem crucial to that blueprint.

Super-sub Smith Rowe

Aubameyang's omission for a breach of club rules brought unnecessary noise in December, though results were not immediately impacted. With the 32-year-old not playing since December 6, Alexandre Lacazette has stepped in to spearhead Arsenal's attack, but behind him Arteta has an abundance of talent to choose from.

Emile Smith Rowe started the season brilliantly, though has only started one league game since November. That has not stopped the 21-year-old from being effective, however, with three of his eight league goals this season coming from the bench in recent wins over West Ham, Leeds United and Norwich City.

Smith Rowe has only played 63 league minutes since featuring for 70 in the December 2 loss to Manchester United, meaning he averages a goal every 21 minutes in that period. 

Asked about Smith Rowe's game time before the defeat to Forest, which the midfielder missed altogether, Arteta explained he had been carrying an injury, one which also means he is a doubt for Thursday's clash.

"The only reason that changed the dynamic was that [injury], and obviously now there are others who are doing well and have been performing well. That changed the situation, but I am very happy with him," Arteta told reporters, before adding that competition for places can only be positive.

"This is why we need that, we raise the level. Each player raises the level of the player next to him, and this is how you evolve as a team, how you create a culture around the team."

Few could say Smith Rowe isn't embracing that "culture", with his recent hot streak off the bench reflecting a commendable attitude.

 

Martin the maestro

One of the "others" Arteta was referring to will surely be Martin Odegaard, who signed permanently from Real Madrid following a bright loan spell last season. Given the Norway international burst onto the scene at the age of 15 in 2014, becoming the youngest footballer ever to play in his homeland's top tier, it would be easy to forget he has only just turned 23.

Only Bukayo Saka (38) has created more chances than Odegaard (34) in Arsenal's squad in all competitions this season, with the midfielder topping that metric per 90 minutes when it comes to players to have featured over two times, producing 2.1 opportunities on average.

His eight direct goal contributions ranks him fifth in the squad while his shot conversion rate of 18.2 is good for a midfielder. Indeed, only the outstanding Smith Rowe, who has converted 32.1 per cent (nine goals) of his 28 attempts can boast better among Arsenal's midfield contingent.

Yet with Smith Rowe's recent spell as an impact player, Odegaard has started behind the striker in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1, his eye for a pass and knack of finding space on the edge of the area a key facet to some slick attacking play.

That playmaking ability was on show in the 5-0 thrashing of Norwich on Boxing Day, with Odegaard providing the assists for Arsenal's opening two goals and a key role in their final strike.

While Odegaard (33) has had fewer touches in the opposition box than left-back Nuno Tavares (35) and completed just 10 dribbles compared to Smith Rowe's 23 and the team-leading Saka's 27, no Arsenal player has attempted more passes in the opposition half than Odegaard (523), with 80.9 per cent (423) proving successful.

Odegaard's ability to keep Arsenal in possession with neat and incisive passing has been crucial for the Gunners. Indeed, only centre-backs Ben White (933) and Gabriel Magalhaes (822) have found a team-mate on more occasions than the playmaker (703).

 

Wing wizards

Flanking Odegaard (or Smith Rowe), Saka and Gabriel Martinelli both head to Anfield in superb form. While Saka scored the opener in the 2-1 defeat to City on New Year's Day, Martinelli has directly contributed to six goals from 18 appearances.

Martinelli's devastating turn of pace was on show in a 4-1 rout of Leeds United last month, though the Brazilian flyer missed a golden chance to put Arsenal back in front in their defeat to City, slicing wide of an open goal – if we're being generous, perhaps he was put off by the referee. Still, he should have scored.

Nevertheless, his four goals have come from an xG value of 4.2, putting him just about on par based on the quality of chances he has been provided with, though that is in contrast to Saka.

The England winger's tally of seven goals is second only to Smith Rowe (nine), yet they have come from 4.6 xG, suggesting the 20-year-old is finishing chances the average player wouldn't ordinarily be expected to convert.

For example, his swept effort low into the corner against City was only the seventh-best chance of the game, while a wonderful solo strike at Norwich (his second goal of the game) registered an xG of just 0.03 – essentially, this translates to a three per cent likelihood of scoring.

 

Saka also leads the way for big chances created (defined by Opta as an opportunity from which a player would reasonably be expected to score) with eight, three more than any of his club-mates, and only Nicolas Pepe has provided more assists (five to four).

Not only is Saka already a proven creator of opportunities, but he is now putting them away with unerring accuracy.

Arsenal were dealt a harsh lesson on their last visit to Anfield, but with a second leg at home to look forward to and with Liverpool missing key duo Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, Thursday could see Arteta's counter-attacking youngsters thrive, with a north London derby against Tottenham up after that.

Even if it again proves a step too far, there's no doubt the future is bright.

Mikel Arteta slammed Arsenal's performance in their 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest, convinced they were "nowhere near the standard required".

The loss meant Arsenal were eliminated at the third-round stage of the competition for only the second time in 26 seasons.

Arteta was back on the bench after a bout of coronavirus forced him to miss arguably their best performance of the season in the 2-1 defeat to Manchester City last weekend.

But he was not happy with what he saw at the City Ground, with substitute Lewis Grabban getting the winner for Forest, who were also the last team to beat Arsenal at this stage of the FA Cup.

Speaking after the game, Arteta told ITV Sport: "We are out of the competition and we have to apologise.

"When you have nine players out, that's a big explanation, but still I don't want to use excuses.

"The team we put out, I expected them to play better and to compete better than we did.

"When you don't do that in a cup against any opponent, you're out.

"What we've done today is nowhere near the standard required."

The 34th-minute withdrawal of left-back Nuno Tavares after a very sloppy start was the first indicator of potential frustration on Arteta's part.

Yet he opted against criticising the youngster, putting it down to a desire to simply change the level of the team.

Asked if it summed up his frustration, Arteta added: "No, it was a decision you have to make in certain moments to try improve the performance of the team, and that's what I did."

Arsenal will look to get this defeat out of their system as soon as possible, with an EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Liverpool and a north London derby trip to Tottenham on the horizon.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has suggested that the Gunners will look to sign at least one midfielder in the January transfer window after being left short of options.

With Ainsley Maitland-Niles having completed a loan move to Jose Mourinho's Roma and Mohamed Elneny away on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Egypt, Arteta's squad is running thin on central midfielders heading into the second half of the season.

The former Rangers and Everton midfielder was asked at a news conference ahead of Sunday's FA Cup third-round trip to Nottingham Forest about letting Maitland-Niles leave, with the Spaniard insisting that the player was entitled to move to Italy, but also raising concerns about his lack of options in the middle of the park.

"Ainsley came to me and explained the reasons why he thought the best thing for him in his career right now was to move away," Arteta told reporters. 

"He felt the opportunity to go to Rome and work with Jose was a good one. Being fair with the amount of minutes that he’s played he was entitled to that opportunity. We wish him the best.

"We are very, very short at the moment. But on a player this cannot be the only argument to keep a player. He was very straight with me and I understood the situation.

"We are going to move and we are going to look for options because we are very short there."

The Gunners boss missed Saturday's controversial 2-1 home defeat to Manchester City after testing positive for COVID-19, and insisted that while he is feeling better, he was left frustrated by the loss to the Premier League leaders.

"I feel good. I had a few rough days but I feel in top form. I was so happy to leave my house after seven or eight days," he said.

"I was extremely upset at how we lost the [City] game at the end but at the same time extremely proud for the performance. The support from our fans and the atmosphere it was incredible.

"If I have to rate the decisions that were made in that game [by referee Stuart Attwell] I have to be extremely disappointed because it was completely inconsistent and affected the result in a big way."

Arsenal, like many other clubs, are set to be without several first-team players this weekend due to a mixture of COVID-19 and injuries, with Arteta saying: "I don't want to give anything away as you can imagine.

"We are really short with numbers. We want to play and that's how we are approaching every game."

The 39-year-old was also asked about Arsenal's No More Red campaign, which is part of an initiative to combat youth knife crime in London. Arsenal will wear a special white kit for the game at Forest.

"Obviously we've been really involved as a club over the years with knife crime and we have the capacity to give exposure to that issue in London," he added. "Everyone at the club has been extremely supportive."

Pep Guardiola believes Arsenal will be missing their "most important player" on Saturday in the forced absence of head coach Mikel Arteta, who he believes has the Gunners in the best shape since even before Arsene Wenger retired.

Club great Wenger left Arsenal in 2018 after 22 years in charge, during which time he presided over some glorious times but then also saw the club fall behind the Premier League's leading lights towards the end.

Unai Emery replaced Wenger but only lasted 18 months before eventually seeing fellow Basque coach Arteta succeed him, the former Arsenal captain leaving his role as Guardiola's assistant at City in order to take up the job.

Arteta's win percentage (55.1 per cent) may be no better than Emery's (55.1 per cent) but he recently celebrated his two-year anniversary in charge and the club appear on course for a largely positive season after an early wobble.

Saturday's visit of Premier League leaders City comes three days after Arteta tested positive for coronavirus, however.

Guardiola believes it could be a massive blow for the Gunners.

"I would say Mikel maybe is the most important player they have," the City boss told reporters. "I know his charisma, his ideas and especially the personality to do what he believes to do for the best, for the team or for the best for the club.

"So, no doubt about that. The most important thing we want is for him to stay well, that the symptoms are low as everything is under control and recovering after the protocols, and come back soon.

"And then the place that you love is on the touchline, in the training sessions, but I know exactly which Arsenal is going to play, with Mikel or without Mikel."

Arsenal are averaging exactly two goals per game this season, the best they have recorded since Wenger left, while their 1.6 expected goals (xG) is also a high over that period.

It was initially thought Arteta would attempt to implement a Guardiola-inspired possession-based system at the club, though their average passing figures have decreased from 523.7 each game in Emery's only full campaign to 476.3 this season, with Arsenal more willing to relinquish the ball and spring fast breaks.

While their 15 fast breaks may only rank as the eighth-highest in the Premier League this season, their frequency has more than doubled to 0.65 such occasions per game from 0.32 in each of the past two campaigns under Arteta, highlighting a shift in mentality.

Arsenal's record against City is dreadful as they have lost each of their past nine league meetings with them – including the 5-0 hammering suffered in August – making it the club's longest ever losing run against a single opponent.

Yet Arteta has overseen a five-match winning streak as well as a run of five successive home league victories, keeping a clean sheet in last four – not since 1999 have they won five in a row at home without conceding in the top flight.

As such, Arsenal are up to fourth with a four-point cushion over West Ham and Manchester United, leaving Guardiola under no illusion as to the level Arsenal are currently playing at.

Asked if Arsenal are at their best since Arteta took over, Guardiola replied: "Absolutely, but not just since Mikel took over as manager. I think it is the best Arsenal for the last four or five years.

"So, it's no secret they are now top four. The energy they are playing with the good ideas that Mikel has, and the end result is that this is an example that to sell something, you need time.

"I had the feeling, not just the club, or the team, it is obvious that he has changed the club. I'm pretty sure he felt for many things that when he started at Arsenal, maybe it wasn't good and he took it step by step.

"Maybe right now we are going to face one of the one or two best teams in the Premier League right now, in the best form with incredible young players that are dynamic.

"They are playing with the same back four which is stable and the physicality they have, the pace they have, the quality means there are more spaces. So it will be a real, real tough game.

"So, as I said, since I arrived here this is the best Arsenal I've ever seen, and it is already six seasons [since he moved to England]."

Mikel Arteta says he is doing "much better" after some "rough days" suffering from coronavirus, though he is still set to be absent for Arsenal's clash with Manchester City on New Year's Day.

Arsenal confirmed on Wednesday that Arteta had tested positive for COVID-19, thus ensuring he would be unavailable to attend their first match of 2022.

The Spaniard was the first major Premier League figure to get the virus at the start of the pandemic back in March 2020, which coincidentally led to Arsenal's game with City being postponed at the time.

The Gunners head into the game against the Premier League leaders in good form having won each of their past four top-flight games, including a 5-0 thrashing of Norwich City on Boxing Day.

As such, the absence of Arteta for a big game is a blow, but his condition has seemingly improved significantly and he still expects to be able to have some impact on the contest, while his illness does not appear to have been passed on to any of his players.

"I'm feeling much better today," he told reporters. "I had a couple of rough days but obviously I have experienced this before, so not bad at all [now].

"The rest of the squad is in a good place. We tested the players; we don't have any other news other than the ones before.

"We try to communicate with them as much as possible, and we rely on the rest of the players and staff and I trust them 100 per cent."

Elaborating on how it will work without him on Saturday, Arteta added: "Albert [Stuivenberg, Arsenal assistant] will be in charge with the rest of the team and depending who of the coaches are available, because we've had issues in that department recently, everybody will be there trying to help as much as possible.

"We will be in touch but as well I want to give them the responsibility and the freedom to make decisions on the pitch and to express themselves, because it's completely different being on the touchline and close to the players than at home.

"I’m going to be here to support and help in certain moments but they have to get the momentum of the game and communication with the players themselves.

"I never experienced this before. It is what it is. It won't be easy, I'm frustrated and with a lack of options as I'm not in training so can't prepare as I would like, put [out] the messages I want, have the players feeling you are next to them, but you have to adapt, and we've tried our best to get prepared.

"[It's] very strange. I think I will need a big room so I can walk and move a little bit. It's a really frustrating thing not to be able to there, helping the team, but I will do my best from here with everything I can do.

"We've prepared for every scenario possible. They know what they have to do, then it will be down to the players to execute as much as possible what we want to do."

One player who certainly will not be present against City, however, is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The striker was stripped of the captaincy this month, reportedly after returning late from a trip abroad, and Arteta has left him out ever since.

He has been allowed to link up with the Gabon national team early ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations, with Arteta confirming that request was granted because Aubameyang was not going to be selected to face City.

"We had a letter from the national team asking for permission to get the player," Arteta revealed.

"He wasn't going to be involved [on Saturday], so for his fitness and to keep him competing, it was the right thing to do."

It was put to Arteta that Arsenal players had shown their backing to him and his decision to take the armband off Aubameyang with their recent performances, though he dismissed the importance of this.

"For me it's not about being right or wrong, it's about making the decisions that you believe are a consequence of what you're asking them to do. As I said, we'll go game by game," he said.

As for Aubameyang's future at the club, Arteta once again refused to commit either way, adding: "At the moment he's gone. He needs to focus on the national team. We had the conversation, that was the best way to do it. As I said before, we'll address it game by game."

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the Gunners' game with Manchester City on New Year's Day.

Arteta was the first major Premier League figure to test positive for COVID-19 back in March 2020, which coincidentally led to Arsenal's game with Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium being postponed at the time.

The north London side have won their last four games in the Premier League, including a 5-0 win at Norwich City on Boxing Day.

A statement on Arsenal's official website said: "Mikel Arteta will miss our match against Manchester City on New Year’s Day after testing positive for COVID-19.

"Mikel is isolating in line with Government guidelines and we wish him well."

City, where Arteta previously served as assistant coach to Pep Guardiola before moving to the Gunners in 2019, have won the last nine meetings between the sides.

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