Arteta: Arsenal’s round-of-16 history ‘irrelevant’

Mikel Arteta called Arsenal’s history of failure in the Champions League knockout stages “irrelevant” and challenged his players to create their own dream final at Wembley.

The Gunners face FC Porto at Estadio do Dragao in Tuesday’s round-of-16, first-leg clash, aiming to reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.

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Arsenal were beaten at the last-16 stage on seven consecutive occasions between 2011 and 2017 — with Arteta playing at the club for five of those exits, which featured three defeats to Bayern Munich and two to Barcelona — and did not even qualify for the competition again until this season.

Only Mohamed Elneny remains from the squad that lost 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern in 2017 and Arteta said: “The players know that we have not been in the competition for seven years, obviously as some of them were here and they know the story.

“And they know that what happened in the past is irrelevant. It is the challenge and ambition that we have now to go through. Someone called [Lionel] Messi was another obstacle as well [in those years] and Bayern Munich, that we faced three times.

“This competition is what it is. Individual quality is extremely important. It comes down to details and you need your players at your best when the occasion arises. Tomorrow for sure we’ll need that.

“We don’t have the experience that’s the reality. Ninety-five percent of these players haven’t played this competition, they haven’t played the last-16, I haven’t [managed in this stage]. But they have so much energy and enthusiasm to play well and that’s our desire and how we’re going to play the game.”

Arsenal topped Group B after winning four of their six matches and despite their inexperience, the Gunners are favourites to progress against a Porto side which lost home and away to Barcelona in their group campaign.

Asked whether winning the competition should be considered the pinnacle of the European club game, Arteta referenced the possibility of playing in this year’s final, due to be staged in London.

“I don’t know if it is the best [competition],” he said. “But it should be incredible to have that feeling to lift that cup, in London — the first of June.

“It is there. It is in our minds. It is a dream but there are a lot of things you have to earn the right to do before that and tomorrow we have a big obstacle ahead of us. We are really looking forward to it.”

Thomas Partey, Gabriel Jesus, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Takehiro Tomiyasu have all stayed back in London, but Fabio Vieira has been included in the travelling party as he nears a return following groin surgery in November.

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