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Slavia Prague vs Arsenal: Senior Gunners stars must step up and lead the charge for Europa League glory

Mikel Arteta has called on his Arsenal players to create “magic moments” against Slavia Prague on Thursday night as they bid to keep their Europa League dream alive.

After drawing the first leg at Emirates Stadium 1-1, Arsenal don’t quite need to pull a rabbit out of the hat in Prague but they do need to conjure something special against a Slavia side who should not be underestimated.

They have already knocked Leicester and Rangers out of the Europa League this season and now they have Arsenal in their sights.

“We’ve shown that in big games, big players have to step in and create the magic moments and you need that. So let’s hope that we can have them,” said Arteta.

“It doesn’t matter who it is but someone has to create when the team needs those moments.

“We have moments in the season where it has been the senior players and then other moments where it has been the young players. It doesn’t really matter.”

Arteta may not care who Arsenal’s hero is on Thursday, as long as there is one. But now more than ever feels like a moment for the Gunners’ senior players to step up.

This season the young players, such as Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, have often provided the spark and they are both fit to play in Prague, which is a major boost for Arsenal.

“His performances are incredible. He’s a top player and he has a top mentality,” goalkeeper Bernd Leno said of Saka.

“I think it’s very unusual for a young player like him because he’s very professional. He feels older than he is because he’s almost leading the team. This is a very good sign.”

In a tie of this magnitude, however, the senior members of Arteta’s squad should be taking the lead.

We have seen flashes of brilliance from Thomas Partey, not least his assist against Sheffield United on Sunday, but now is the time to show why Arsenal paid £45million for him in the summer.

Alexandre Lacazette is another experienced player who needs to come to the fore. The Frenchman was guilty of missing two great chances in the first leg, but his brace at Bramall Lane suggests he is ready to make amends.

Now is the moment to do that, though, because as enjoyable as Arsenal beating Sheffield United was, it will not define their season.

Thursday’s match in Prague will, with defeat leaving Arsenal staring down the barrel of no European football next season for the first time this century.

“When you think of a future without Arsenal in European competition, it doesn’t feel right,” said Leno.

“Our job is to make sure it doesn’t come true. Arsenal belongs to Europe and that’s our target. That’s our job.”

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