“Extraordinarily challenging, incredibly stimulating then I’d say, three dots, big opportunity coming up.”
That was Mikel Arteta’s assessment of the season when asked for a short description ahead of Sunday’s final game against Brighton.
While there’s no doubt that Arsenal have underperformed this year, it’s pretty clear the Spaniard will be in the dugout come the first game of next season. But what makes him so confident that the Gunners are well-placed to do big things?
“Because of the potential that we have, the people that we have around the club and what we want to do,” he says.
“It’s a huge challenge again because of the expectations that we have. But I see an opportunity to do what we want to do and it has to be now.
“There’s already a lot that’s happened in the last three or four seasons and now we have to break the line and aim for something different. I think the context is going to help to do that. That’s why I see it as an opportunity.”
While Covid-19 and our failure to secure Champions League has taken a big toll on our financial muscle, Arteta has hinted the club’s owners will help him strengthen the squad this summer. He maintains it’s the only option if Arsenal are going to close the gap on their rivals.
Asked whether he’s worried about a big club snapping up Harry Kane from Sp*rs, he replied: “This is the level and this is the competition in this country.
“The other top teams are going to go big in the summer because they are frustrated that they’ve not won the title that everybody is supposed to think that they have to.
“They are going to invest, they are going to improve their squads and they’re not going to stop where they are.”
Arsenal will need to beat Brighton tomorrow and hope that Sp*rs and Everton drop points if we’re to maintain our record of qualifying for Europe every season since 1996. Even if we do snatch a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, there’s an argument to be made that participation in UEFA’s newly created, third-tier Europa Conference League will be an unnecessary distraction from domestic matters.
It’s all a far cry from competing regularly for the Champions League; a competition we’ve been divorced from for four years. All the same, Arteta maintains that Arsenal must continue to shoot for the stars – even if they seem further away than ever – while also noting that measures of success are changing across the board.
“There cannot be any other ambition of this football club,” he said. “If you don’t have that, we won’t reach it. There’s only one winner of the Champions League and only one winner of the Premier League, the rest of the teams have failed. For any of the other teams, finishing second or third is not a big achievement.
“Now the perception is different. Now it’s an achievement to be third or fourth in this league but do the fans agree with that, probably not, but internally people who are working every day and knows the standards that have been set, it’s different.
“Last year with 61 or 62 points you were fifth in the league, almost in the Champions League. This season you won’t be there. And next season, you won’t be there because the level is increasing all the time.”