Mikel Arteta could not hide the pain of Arsenal’s agonising Europa League defeat to Olympiakos, which removes their most likely to route to Champions League football and stalls the momentum that had been built up by a 10-match unbeaten run.

Youssef El Arabi’s goal, a minute from the end of extra time, put the Greek Super League leaders through and it came just moments after Arsenal thought they had won the game themselves. Arteta and his staff had celebrated wildly when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang put them ahead in the tie with an overhead kick but the subsequent sting in the tail was visibly devastating.

“It hurts, big time,” Arteta said. “We had a lot of hope in this competition. It was a great way for us to be able to go to Europe and it is a very beautiful competition to try to win. I think we did a lot of positive things in the game; I think we created enough chances to win, but if you concede two set-pieces again in a tie like this you put yourself in big trouble.”

In truth Arsenal were sluggish throughout, but the outcome comes as a major shock after their first-leg win in Piraeus. Arteta now faces a challenge to lift his players for Monday’s FA Cup tie with Portsmouth and, perhaps more importantly, the final 11 games of a Premier League campaign. They are seven points behind the top four.

“I’ve seen all the boys and I know how much they wanted this competition,” he said. “I’ve seen today the way they fight and the way we try to play, and it’s a difficult one to digest as a team and as a club.

“This is football and sometimes it is very cruel when the emotions are right here [raises hand high], then in another moment they’re somewhere else [lowers hand]. You have to able to handle that if you want to be in this industry so now it’s up to us, and up to me, to bring this place back in and move forward.”

The scale of that task is not beyond him but Arteta retains hope Arsenal can gather themselves to bridge that domestic gap.

“[It will be] very hard because we’re still far from the objectives that we all have, but we’ve been far all season from it and we have to keep fighting,” he said. “The most important thing now is that the dressing room has to be strong and we have to keep going and react.”



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