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Mikel Arteta believes Europa League tie with Olympiacos is crucial for Arsenal

Burnley v Arsenal – Premier League – Turf Moor
(Image credit: Peter Powell)

Mikel Arteta admitted Thursday’s Europa League tie with Olympiacos is now a “massive game” for his side in the wake of Saturday’s frustrating draw at Burnley.

Granit Xhaka’s bizarre error late in the first half gifted Burnley an equaliser after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s early opener, leading to more dropped points as Arsenal remain stuck down in 10th place.

Arteta – who defended both Xhaka and the tactics of playing from the back – admitted after the match it is now “really complicated” for the Gunners to secure European football via the Premier League, putting the focus on their last 16 first leg in Piraeus this week.

“We have the pressure of representing this club and what it means in any competition that we play is we have to win, regardless of what we are doing in any other competition,” Arteta said.

“Obviously, we know that Thursday is a massive game for us.”

Arsenal had bossed the game before Xhaka inexplicably kicked the ball against Chris Wood and in, but did not recover from the incident until a late flurry in which they saw one penalty claim denied, another awarded but then overturned by VAR, and Dani Ceballos hit the post in stoppage time.

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Though VAR Kevin Friend was undeniably right to say Nicolas Pepe’s shot had struck Erik Pieters’ shoulder and not his arm as he deflected it on to the crossbar, overturning a penalty and a red card, Arteta was incensed his side did not get a spot-kick for the first handball claim against Pieters.

It looked a case of ball-to-hand as Pepe’s touch struck the Dutchman from close range, but Arteta left Turf Moor feeling key decisions had gone against his side. It remains to be seen how much that might cost his side down the line.

“When you come here fighting with the top teams, you have to win the game,” he said. “We haven’t done it because (we didn’t take) chances, we gave a goal to the opponents, and we needed some decisions and we didn’t get those.”

Burnley said on Sunday that Pieters was subjected to abuse on social media following the game.

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A club statement read: “We are aware of online abuse directed at Erik Pieters following yesterday’s game. Thanks to all who have highlighted it. We are in contact with all relevant parties and offering our support to Erik and his family.”

Though the match ended with Arsenal pushing for a winner, things could have got worse with Burnley having a number of second-half chances to go in front, the best of them falling to Wood who fired straight at Bernd Leno after linking up with Matej Vydra.

Dyche admitted his side had looked “jaded” in the first half as a result of their intensive schedule, but was happy with the way they improved.

Sean Dyche

Sean Dyche flt his side looked tired in the first half (Clive Brunskill/PA)

“I want them to be bold, to want to play at the top end of the pitch and be aggressive within it,” he said.

“(The first half) was a soft performance but it wasn’t a bad one. In the second half we had a bit more purpose and created the best chance of the game. It was great play from Woody and Vyds and he’s not done a lot wrong, he’s hit it low and hard and it’s a good save.”

Dyche admitted that Pope would be disappointed with the way Aubameyang’s sixth-minute shot had beaten him at the near post despite getting a strong hand to it, but said he had no complaints with the England goalkeeper.

“Popey is top level and he will question himself so it doesn’t need me to question him,” he said. “He’s so honest. He’s top, top level. There’s no two ways about it when at this level, he’ll think he could have got a stronger hand on it.”