Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has challenged his players to win the next five games and keep their season alive.

The Gunners travel to Greece to face Olympiakos in the first leg of their round of 16 Europa League tie on Thursday night.

A 1-1 draw at Burnley last time out leaves them 10th in the Premier League table and 12 points outside the top four.

Winning the Europa League therefore appears to offer Arsenal the best route into continental football next season – with a Champions League place up for grabs.

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But Arteta, whose side take on Tottenham in the north London derby on Sky Sports on Sunday before the return leg against the Greek champions, wants Arsenal to put together a run that could yet spark their season into life.

“I don’t want to think that way at all,” he replied when asked if losing to Olympiakos would mean the season would be a disaster.

“I am always very positive, I think there is still a lot to play for and what we need is to put four or five wins in a row, if we are able to do that then things are going to look very different in two or three weeks time.

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“If we don’t, obviously we don’t have a chance because when we have had an opportunity to do it we haven’t done it consistently enough.

“So it is completely down to us but I want to think there is still a lot to play for and we have to be with that mindset because if not it is completely impossible.”

Arsenal were knocked out on away goals by Olympiakos at the round of 32 stage last season – losing in extra-time just days before Arteta then tested positive for Covid, essentially starting the process which saw English football grind to a halt for three months.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta during the Premier League match at Turf Moor, Burnley. Picture date: Saturday March 6, 2021.

“Obviously it was a really tough one to swallow,” he said of the narrow defeat a year ago.

“The way it happened at the end, it was really cruel… but we moved on. We have some feelings towards that team and we want to put it right in the next round.

“We have the two games to look at and everything that happened in those two games. The disappointment that we had to digest, and it took some time to do that because it was a hard one, and we had a lot of faith and enthusiasm in the competition, and we were knocked out.

“Now we have another opportunity. It’s the beauty of this game. It’s a completely different context but the reality is the same that we have to beat them twice to go through in the competition and we have to be better than them.”

Arsenal Head Coach Mikel Arteta with defender Sokratis during a training session at London Colney on January 26, 2020 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arteta described Sokratis as “very popular” during his time as an Arsenal player

While most of the Olympiakos players will be familiar to Arsenal following their previous clash, one is particularly well-known.

Defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos joined Olympiakos in January after having his contract at the Emirates Stadium terminated and Arteta is looking forward to coming up against the Greece international.

“Papa is such a good character and a very popular player here,” he added.

“He was liked and loved by everybody and it was a pleasure to work with him. He’s such a pro and he knows what we try to do, but there isn’t a magic formula and I’m sure he will try to do his best. We will do the same.”

Partey: Arsenal belong in Champions League

Arsenal now face the prospect of a fifth season out of the Champions League – but Thomas Partey believes they remain a club who should be playing in Europe’s elite club competition.

“We know it is a club that is supposed to be in the Champions League,” he said.

Arsenal's Thomas Partey
Thomas Partey says Champions League football is where Arsenal belongs

“It is a bad situation that we are in now, but it depends on us. We are the ones playing, we have this opportunity, we have to try and make this season better.

“Before we can get to where we want, we have to try and be able to win all the games.”

The Ghana midfielder is targeting Europa League success in his first season at the club.

“It is very important,” he replied when asked how vital winning the Europa League has become.

“It (Champions League football) attracts a lot of good players, it shows your profile also to the world, what you can do outside of the league.

“And I think it is very important for the club, for the supporters, for all the people that are in the club – because this club belongs to the Champions League.

Thomas Partey has recovered from a thigh injury which he suffered during Arsenal's north London derby defeat to Tottenham

“We have to do our best, all that we can, to fight to get where we want.”

After being injury-free for almost his entire five-year stint in Madrid, Partey’s start to life at Arsenal has been hindered by niggles and knocks.

The 27-year-old has started just 11 games since his move to London and says fans have yet to see the best of him.

“I think this is just the start,” he added.

“I’m starting to get used to how my mates play, how the Premier League goes and with time everything will be good. I will do my best and will do my work to try to make sure I will be at my best.

“I had a few games, against Man United and against Wolves, I was able to show what I can do. Due to less games and less training, I have to keep working and have to keep trying to get back to that level of performance.”

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