Arsenal are back in action tonight in what might be the biggest game of their season so far.
With the Gunners‘ hopes of qualifying for Europe through the Premier League all-but dead in the water, Mikel Arteta‘s men must win the Europa League to salvage their chances of playing on the continent next season.
And there may be even more than that at stake with some pundits claiming there could be ramifications for Mikel Arteta and Martin Odegaard if Arsenal cannot see off Slavia Prague this evening, prior to tonight’s game.
The Gunners are currently behind on away goals as they head to the Czech Republic, and they will have to score to find a way through to the semi-finals.
But if they don’t, Arsenal legend Martin Keown believes Arteta’s future could hang on European qualification.
“Hugely disappointing and really it’s going to be difficult now for Arteta,” Keown told BT Sport after the Slavia first-leg draw.
“He’s made a lot of changes at the football club, a lot of people have been allowed to go, and this is his team now, essentially.
“He’s in charge now, and he’s not quite getting the reaction out of the team. He’s encouraging people to play, then at the end when he doesn’t want them to play, it’s a mixed message, isn’t it?”
And former Spurs striker Darren Bent agreed, having previously said: “When Arsenal were looking for a manager there were two people up for grabs: Arteta and [Carlo] Ancelotti,” Bent told talkSPORT. “I thought Ancelotti should have been the one to go to Arsenal and Arteta to go to Everton.
“The early signs were really good in terms of look how quickly he [Arteta] picked up a trophy. Yes, this season has been really inconsistent but I don’t want Arsenal to turn into a club where they keep sacking managers – at some stage you’ve got to give someone a little bit of time.
“The FA Cup papers over a lot of cracks and if Arsenal go out of the Europa League and finish tenth or eleventh, I think he could be out of a job.”
Meanwhile, Paul Merson’s warning was quite the opposite, suggesting winning the Europa League could have a negative impact, or at least specifically when it comes to their hopes of keeping loan star Odegaard.
“Martin Odegaard looks a really good player and I hope Arsenal have a chance of signing him permanently,” he wrote in his Star Sport column at the back end of last month.
“Because if they don’t have a chance of making his loan permanent next season, why is he playing?
“If they know he doesn’t want to stay, he shouldn’t be playing because he’s taking opportunities away from people like Emile Smith Rowe.
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“I hope Arsenal have done their homework and know what the situation is – I’d be disappointed if they haven’t already made a bid to be honest!
“It took him a while to adjust but you have to give him the ball. He gets into lots of good positions, and to start with his team-mates weren’t seeing him.
“They weren’t giving him the ball. But now he’s getting it more often and he’s making things happen. He can hurt opposing teams.
“It’s almost a free role and for someone so young to be trusted with such a difficult position at such a young age is a big deal.
“But if he’s okay after his injury and he helps Arsenal win the Europa League, Real Madrid will probably want him back – or add a lot more money to his asking price.”