Mikel Arteta has told his Arsenal players to make “beautiful memories” on their return to the Champions League after a six-year absence.
Arteta’s side face PSV Eindhoven in their opening Group B match at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
It will be the Gunners’ first game in Europe’s elite club competition since they were thrashed by Bayern Munich in the last 16 in 2017.
The long-awaited return has stirred Arteta’s soul as the Arsenal manager recalls his own playing days with the north London club in the Champions League.
On the eve of his first match as a boss in the Champions League, the Spaniard issued a passionate rallying cry to his team.
“Proud and excited. We’ve been fighting for it and now we’ve got it,” Arteta told reporters on Tuesday.
“I’ve played in a few for the club and I have beautiful memories about them. We have to make the most out of it.”
Arsenal have made an unbeaten start to the Premier League season as they bid to make amends for the late collapse that gifted Manchester City the title last term.
But the chance to advance to the latter stages of the Champions League — a competition they have never won — is a major incentive for Arsenal this season.
“It’s been a long time for the club since we have been in the competition and obviously it’s the first time for me as a manager, so I’m really looking forward to it,” Arteta said.
“Every time I watched it and we weren’t there, I felt it. I think you put pressure on yourself. This club has to be in the Champions League.
“When I have the job that I have, I have the responsibility to try to bring the club to the biggest stages, to the biggest tournament and then be fighting for them.”
While Arsenal are not among the favourites to win the competition given the lack of Champions League experience among the likes of Declan Rice, Bukayo Saka and William Saliba, the Gunners boss wants his players to learn quickly.
“I think it’s a learning process. When you’re looking to achieve, you have to take some lessons from that. I think we did that and we got better as a team and we did the right things as well to improve the squad,” he said.
Arteta refused to reveal who will start in goal for Arsenal on Wednesday after he surprisingly dropped England’s Aaron Ramsdale for Sunday’s win at Everton, giving David Raya his first appearance since his loan move from Brentford.
“I understand the questions and I understand what happened, but for me there is nothing different,” Arteta said.
“It’s my job to have to answer the questions in the best possible way and the most honest way.
“As a manager it is my job to do as I feel and what I feel always is the best for the team and the club.”
Asked if Ramsdale had complained about being axed, Arteta added: “Honestly I don’t want to talk about the response of every single player in the squad whether they play or not.”
Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus scored 14 times in 22 Champions League appearances for Manchester City, a goal spree that reflected his boyhood love of the tournament.
“I remember the times I watched at home, the times I missed school to watch and my mum got crazy. As a kid, you do things you don’t control!” Jesus said.
“It starts from there. It was different to hear the music, to see the best clubs.”