When Arsenal missed out on qualification for the Europa Nonsense League on the final day of last season, most supporters shrugged their shoulders and focused on the positives; fewer fixtures in 21/22 will mean more time on the training ground and a chance to iron out the myriad kinks that have contributed to two years of poor performances.
Mikel Arteta seemed more frustrated than most, possibly down to personal embarrassment. After a 25 year run playing midweek continental football, the ball was dropped on his watch.
It seems he’s still coming to terms with the situation. Every time Manchester City fans boo the Champions League anthem or Sp*rs visit some mystical land to play a team of Wes Anderson characters, he reaches for the remote control.
Quizzed on whether he’s enjoying the spare time that comes with not playing in Europe, he said: “I’m still struggling to see it that way because every time there’s a European week, I don’t really enjoy watching it.
“It’s the situation that we have, we have to make the most out of it and hopefully, we can benefit from that by maximising the time and exposure we can have with the players to get our ideas across, to spend more time together and compete better when we have the opportunities.”
It’s still very early in the season and there are sure to be further bumps in the road, but at this particular moment, things are looking more positive for Arteta. Unbeaten for a couple of months, it feels like a new chapter in his hectic two years in charge has begun.
While tomorrow’s match with Watford will be his 100th game in the Arsenal dugout, he’s determined only to focus on the challenges ahead.
“What we have to do today is the next game and that’s it,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey to experience everything we’ve been through together in this time.
“My only focus here is about finding and building the unity that I start to sense right now around the club. The rest is going to come. I have no doubt the team is going to play well, compete and perform. The rest will be a consequence.
“When I see happy faces around us every day, that’s for me the biggest compliment, that people are happy to work in this organisation and feel a sense of belonging, which is really important for people to give their best and drive the club where we want.”
He added: “The level of expectation we have all the time are to be the best and that’s related to our history. In our closest history with Arsene, what he did, he is going to live with us forever.
“It’s very necessary and positive for us because these are the demands and standards that we have to seek to achieve. We are on that route.”