Mikel Arteta tells Arsenal’s Champions League debutants: ‘Don’t be scared like I was’

Mikel Arteta tells Arsenal’s Champions League debutants: ‘Don’t be scared like I was’

Mikel Arteta has warned his young Arsenal squad not to be overawed by the occasion tonight, when many of his players will make their Champions League debuts.

The Gunners are hosting Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in their first appearance in the competition for six years.

Only 11 of the squad have played Champions League football before, with Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice set to make their competition bows. Arteta was in their position as a teenager, playing for Paris Saint-Germain against AC Milan at the San Siro.

He said: “I went from playing in the second division [in Spain] and a week later I was playing with PSG in the San Siro, looking at [Paolo] Maldini, [Alessandro] Costacurta — and I was scared.

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“I was in the tunnel looking at them, they all looked immaculate and I was just a 17-year-old boy [thinking], ‘I don’t know if I am ready for this!’

“The lesson probably is that you feel like this, [but] once you are on the pitch, just do what you do every single day and treat it in a natural way. Go for it, like we always do.”

Striker Gabriel Jesus is one of those in the Arsenal squad who has played in the Champions League, scoring 20 goals in the competition during his time at Manchester City.

The Brazilian suffered heartbreak in the final with City in 2021, losing 1-0 against Chelsea, courtesy of a goal by his now Arsenal team-mate Kai Havertz, and he believes Arsenal should be aiming to go all the way.

“All the competitions, all the trophies, we go to win — and the Champions League is the same,” said Jesus. “If we think opposite, we are wrong, because we are playing for Arsenal.

We have to believe, trust team-mates, the manager, the club and then go for it. It is very difficult [to compete in the Champions League and Premier League]. They [Manchester City] did it last season, so it’s not impossible - but it is not easy.

“We are talking about the toughest league in the world and toughest competition in the world, so it is not easy. But, obviously we can do it. Like I said we have to believe, and go for it.”

Arsenal are favourites going into tonight’s game and they are also expected to top a group that contains Lens and Sevilla. Arteta, however, is wary about underestimating PSV, who beat the Gunners last season in the Europa League.

“They haven’t lost a game [this season] and they have won the majority of them,” he said. “And they are used to winning like every other team that’s in the Champions League. It will be a really tough test, I’m sure about that.

“We are used to playing top opposition every week in the Premier League and again we’re going to have a top side fighting against us. It’s a really big thing to be qualifying in this Premier League for the Champions League.

“We earned it last year and this season we’re going to have fight really, really hard to try to earn it again, that’s for sure. We don’t want to stop here — that is for sure. That is the aim, to continue to be better.”