Mikel Arteta wouldn’t be drawn on whether he agrees with Arsene Wenger’s statement that finishing fourth in the Premier League is akin to winning a trophy but he does admit qualification for the Champions League is “extremely important” to Arsenal.
Between 1998–99 and 2016–17, the Gunners qualified 19 times in a row for Uefa’s premier competition – an English record – but haven’t participated in it since the Frenchman’s penultimate season in the dugout.
Wenger was roundly mocked a decade ago when he first started giving weight to Champions League qualification, however, many managers have come round to his thinking in recent years because of the financial riches the competition offers.
On his former boss’ assessment, Arteta said: “I have heard that quote now many times from many different managers and I think Arsene was the first one who said it because he could probably see what was happening in this league and the difficulty of achieving that.
“It was the way he described it and it was the way that he felt, and I feel that for the club it would be extremely important.”
Having started the season with a trio of defeats, there were many critics who didn’t think Arteta would last the course this season, let alone lead Arsenal to the brink of Uefa’s promised land. It would be a huge reward for a roller-coaster season.
“This is football,” said Arteta about bouncing back. “Things turn around really quickly, both ways, and just be surrounded by good people, make sure you believe in what you do, be consistent with it and then, I think with time, things happened in the way that they have to happen, but in football, sometimes they don’t.
“So you need that element of luck as well, you need the element of support and you need that ball to get in the net at the right moment when it needs to be.”
He also says that criticism alone has not been the driving force behind his side’s improvement.
“You have to be prepared for that,” he noted. “This club is built on the history and tells you that you have to be the best in the country and you have to win every competition you’re involved with, and we have to deal with that pressure, and when you’re not delivering results it’s part of the job.”