PORTSMOUTH, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) – Mikel Arteta admitted he took a risk by making nine changes for Arsenals 2-0 win over Portsmouth in the FA Cup fifth round but insisted he had no choice because some of his stars were still shell-shocked after their Europa League exit.
Artetas side reached the FA Cup quarter-finals thanks to goals from Sokratis Papastathopoulos in first-half injury time and Eddie Nketiah six minutes after the break at Fratton Park on Monday (March 2).
It was a much-needed boost for Arsenal, who crashed out of the Europe League in a painful last-gasp defeat against Olympiakos on Thursday.
Arteta conceded that fielding such an inexperienced line-up – only David Luiz and Bukayo Saka retained their places – could have put Arsenals only chance of silverware this season in jeopardy.
“They fully deserve the chance and I know it is risky to play them in this competition but they are worth a risk,” Arteta said of his young side.
Arsenal's record 13 FA Cup triumphs featured two with Arteta in the team in 2014 and 2015.
The 37-year-old would love to end his first season in charge with another victory lap around Wembley, especially given their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League are hanging in the balance.
Arsenal hadn't been knocked out of the FA Cup by a team outside the top two divisions since losing to Wrexham in 1992.
A repeat of that embarrassment would have been a huge blow, so it seemed something of a gamble when Arteta made nine changes against a Portsmouth side who had won 21 of their previous 27 fixtures in all competitions.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil were absent, while Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe were on the bench.
Pablo Mari made his debut at centre-back after joining on loan from Flamengo in January and David Luiz, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were among the starters.
“I assessed the team and physically some of them were knackered, some of them had issues, some of them mentally were hanging on what happened that day.
“So I tried to pick the right team knowing how they were and I made the most of it. If you win, it is okay but if we had lost obviously it would have been the wrong decision.
“The energy, the focus and the willingness and desire to play in this competition is really important.”
One sour note for Arsenal came when Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira was taken off injured on a stretcher just 15 minutes into the game and left Fratton Park on crutches.
“He was in a lot of pain, he is in a brace at the moment,” said Arteta.