Mikel Arteta says Wednesday’s 4-1 defeat Manchester City was a timely “reality check” for his players but he’s been pleased with their reaction and the fact they are hungry to achieve more despite securing a place in the Champions League.
The Gunners had been targeting a win at the Etihad that would keep their title hopes in their own hands heading into the final five matches of the season but couldn’t keep pace with an experienced outfit that took advantage of a raucous home atmosphere to race to an unassailable lead before half time.
Despite a humbling night for his side, Arteta said there were positives to be taken, not least an understanding of how well his players have done to keep pace with Pep Guardiola’s side for 10 months of the season.
“It is difficult but in sport, you have to accept the reality,” said the Spaniard when he was asked how he refocuses his players after such a difficult night.
“When a team is able to take the game to a different level and you’re not able to to step [up] to that, you have to recognise there is still work to do and don’t get confused and be very humble. Recognise what our strengths are or what our weaknesses are to be better.
“And the reality as well is that for 247 days, we’ve been with them. And tomorrow can be another day when we are still there. And it’s five games to go. So there are a lot of things that we’ve done very well for 10 months, I think.”
While City’s 2-1 win at Fulham on Sunday saw them go top of the table, Arteta is not giving up on there being more twists and turns in the next four weeks.
Asked why he still believes his former club could slip up, he said: “[Because of] how tough it is to win every single game. It’s not something that I saw last week but what I’ve seen for nine months. If not, they would have won every Premier League game and they haven’t.”
Arteta said his mission this week has been “keeping that fire in the belly for tomorrow” but that he’s seen enough from his players to suggest they won’t settle for second best.
“Win tomorrow, that’s what we have to do,” he said.
“And then the disappointment and the spirit around it, there are two things; the first one is recognise what a lot of people have done at the club to get us back into the Champions League which was already a difficult thing to achieve, and not a lot of people was very optimistic that we had the ability to do that at the start of the season.
“So first of all, recognise all the good work that other people have done to achieve that. And the second thing, and what I like the most, is that even achieving that with six games to go, which I don’t think has happened in more than a decade at this club, we’re still not satisfied.
“We’re still upset, and we want more. If we want to be the club that we want to be and to be consistently with the best, that’s the mentality that we need. And that’s when I love more than [anything] in the last few days.”