Mikel Arteta says his players are not good enough to relax and thinks they will have learned a lesson from the first half schooling dished out to them by Leeds United.
A much-improved showing in the second half saw the Gunners claim a gritty 1-0 win but Arteta admitted afterwards that he had to get angry in the dressing room to provoke a reaction.
It sounds as though the Spaniard threw the gauntlet down to his underperforming side, despite knowing that many are fatigued after an intense few weeks of festive football and new ideas to take onboard.
Asked if he was surprised by his side’s poor first half, Arteta told his post-game press conference: “To be fair, it didn’t. I think it was a big release for them when they won against Manchester United and they took a little bit of that pressure off. And then your body and your mind tries to relax a little bit for one or two days.
“Now, we are not in a position to relax because we are not good enough to relax. If we don’t play at that level, we are not good enough.
He added: “That’s why we had to react. We changed some things. The biggest change was how we approached the second half, the mentality, how aggressive we are, how intense we are.
“We started to win every duel, every 50:50, we were playing in the opponent’s half and making passes forward and runs forward and being positive on the ball. It was different.”
Arteta went on to admit that it’s his responsibility to get his side playing high-intensity football every time they take to the pitch, not just for short spells in games.
“That’s the job, that’s what I have to find out with these players. But I have to recognise, I played those type of games and in recent months we played against teams that go man-to-man and it’s very uncomfortable.
“For the players, they’re not used to it and it becomes a battle, it becomes a transition game. When you win the ball, you attack. When you lose the ball, it’s a counter-attack. I think they had to experience that as well.”
Consistency is also something he’s looking for. “Absolutely, because they haven’t done it for many, many months,” he said.
“So it has to be a process, but that’s why I think tonight is a really good lesson for them. So they can live their profession and suffer on the pitch like they did for 30 or 35 minutes, or they can enjoy and feel proud of what they do if they play like they did in the second half. It’s their choice.”