Mikel Arteta praised Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s response to recent “difficult moments” as he highlighted a moment on the Arsenal training ground which proved his captain’s desire to down Benfica.
Aubameyang’s late header saw the Gunners advance into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday night – a 3-2 victory enough to see off Benfica, who had been heading through on away goals until that point.
The Gabon striker had opened the scoring only for a Diogo Goncalves to level with a fine free-kick and Rafa Silva to put Benfica ahead following an error from Dani Ceballos.
Arsenal needed to score twice to progress into the next round and pulled one back through a low Kieran Tierney strike before Bukayo Saka stood up a cross to the far post, where Aubameyang was on hand to head in a dramatic 87th-minute winner.
His goals came 364 days after he was guilty of spurning a sitter as Arsenal crashed out at this stage of the competition at the hands of Olympiacos last season.
Aubameyang also missed a number of clear chances in the first leg with Benfica in a game which finished 1-1.
That came on the back of his first Premier League hat-trick against Leeds, his first start since missing three games after leaving Arsenal’s coronavirus-secure bubble to visit his ill mother.
Arteta has been pleased with Aubameyang’s response to his recent tribulations and – ahead of Sunday’s Premier League trip to Leicester – revealed a training ground miss showed how hungry the forward remains.
“Sometimes when you go through difficult moments, you can have those difficult moments and get into a sad mode,” Arteta said of his skipper.
“I think that’s the worst thing you can do because nobody has to feel sorry for themselves when you’re having those moments.
“What you have to do is get upset, get angry, work harder and approach the situation and face it.
“Face the challenge in a way that creates more motivation and more hunger to do it and I think in recent weeks I’ve seen that reaction.
“For example, in a training session before we played here, he missed a penalty and he was really upset.
“Instead of going sad, he got upset and I said to the coaching staff that I like that and that he would be fine tomorrow (against Benfica). When you have that mentality, I think that’s the right way to approach it.”
Arteta will be hoping he can rely on Aubameyang again this weekend as he takes his side to Leicester.
The Foxes were eliminated from the Europa League after losing 2-0 at home to Slavia Prague – but they are flying high in the Premier League and sit third, eight places and 15 points ahead of Arsenal.
While Manchester City continue to lead the way, Arteta admits Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers will have to be in the running for manager of the year as he continues to defy the odds.
“Obviously what Manchester City are achieving at the moment is phenomenal,” he added.
“It’s unprecedented and that has to be rewarded but as I mentioned before, what Leicester have done in recent years, what they have already achieved this season, with the level of consistency that they’ve shown in the Premier League, I think (Rodgers winning the award) is something to consider.”
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