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'The players have my backing' - Arteta defends Arsenal following 'cruel' defeat

00:50 GMT 28/02/2020
Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2019-20
The Gunners were eliminated from Europe after a sucker punch in the final minnute of extra time but their boss said they gave their all

Mikel Arteta insisted the Arsenal players had his backing after they were eliminated in ‘cruel’ fashion by Olympiacos in the Europa League.

The Gunners thought the game was won after a spectacular finish by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but conceded from a set piece with one minute of extra time remaining.

Astonishingly Aubameyang could have stolen the game back but fluffed his lines, leaving himself ‘very, very disappointed’.

The defeat was hard to swallow for the Spanish manager too, but he was still able to sing the praises of his team.

"I don't think [the players were complacent],” he told BT Sport.

“The players knew it would be a difficult game. It is cruel. It is a massive disappointment but at the same time I am very proud of the players.

“It would have been an incredible lift if we had managed to go through the tie. The players have my backing for the way they played but it is painful.

"It hurts a lot. We had a lot of intentions in this competition. It was very important for us. Emotionally it has been a very difficult game.”

Olympiacos were resolute in defense especially after cancelling out Arsenal’s first leg lead through Pape Cisse in the 53rd minute.

That took the tie into extra time when Aubameyang’s intervention looked to have taken Arsenal through before a lapse in concentration at asset piece saw Youssef El-Arabi take the Greek side through.

Arteta said his team had battled hard to break the smothering defence of the Piraeus club, but was rueful they’d been let back into the game.

"We tried and tried and tried, we threw everything at them,” the 38-year-old added. “They defended very deep. We managed to score though and we were through but then we conceded a late corner and it was another set piece.

"To attack against 10 players is a very difficult thing. I felt we created enough chances to win the game comfortably. It didn't happen but we had to manage the game much better in the final five minutes."

Arsenal are ninth in the Premier League and face an uphill battle to qualify for either European competition next season.