Defeat to Newcastle may mean Champions League qualification is out of Arsenal’s hands heading into the final game of the season but for all the pain and frustration of Monday’s result, Mikel Arteta believes his players will come to recognise the progress they’ve made this season.
After two years of finishing eighth in the Premier League, the Gunners are guaranteed European football next season and won’t finish lower than fifth in the standings. Given the extensive surgery conducted on the squad last summer, the way the new-look squad has gelled bodes well for the future.
“In a week’s time when we are all on holiday and we look back at what we’ve done, whether we are in the Champions League or the Europa League, I think everybody will agree that we did more than was expected,” he told BBC Football Focus.
Giving Arteta a particular reason for optimism is the squad’s average age. The manager has consistently fielded the youngest starting XI in the Premier League and says the players should be lauded for their efforts against more experienced competition.
“They have shown what it takes [to compete for the Champions League] because what they’ve done, in the last 10 seasons nobody has done it, a club, a team with that age bracket starting XI that we have put on the pitch, it hasn’t been done in this league.
“It’s something they’ve done and that’s credit to the team for what they have delivered. The thing is, where we want to be is not where we are today, we want to be the best and that gap is still really big.”
Alongside progress on the pitch, Arteta believes there’s a growing togetherness behind the scenes and a strengthened bond with supporters. Having identified issues on both fronts when he took over in December 2019, he’s keen to play up the repair work that’s taken place.
“We’ve come a long way in many things, especially who we are as a club and the connection between what we are doing and how our people feel about what we are doing.
“That’s really important as well and it takes a long time to build that trust.”
We’ll hear more from Arteta later this afternoon when he faces the media in his final pre-game press conference of the season.