In his pre-game press conference on Friday morning, Mikel Arteta played down suggestions his Arsenal side would be driven by revenge when they visited Newcastle United.
However, after watching his side register an impressive 2-0 win, he changed his tune, admitting he and his players had “revenge” in their bellies.
Travelling to the North East this time last year, the Gunners needed a win to keep hopes alive of a top-four finish but fell to a bitterly disappointing defeat.
The full extent of Arteta’s rage only became apparent later when Amazon released their ‘All or Nothing’ documentary with the Spaniard’s sweary dressing room tirade taking centre stage in the last episode.
Eager for his squad to remember the regrets they had that night, Arteta made them watch the clip before they left their hotel this afternoon.
“We had to feel it, it wasn’t enough just talking about, we had to feel it, we had to see it, we had to recognise our faces,” said the Spaniard.
“Not only the players but what it meant for the staff as well. That’s football, you can win, lose but that feeling was beyond something that we didn’t do enough on the day. We had to put that right today.
“I was looking at the video, so I didn’t see their faces [today] but you don’t have to be a genius to see how painful it was. The word was pain. And then desire for revenge. They had that today in their bellies, for sure.”
Arsenal’s victory was built on a willingness to be brave on the ball in the heat of battle and to fight for every ball in every area of the pitch. After weathering a fast start by Newcastle, which included them hitting the post and having a penalty overturned by VAR, the Gunners took the lead thanks to Martin Odegaard’s 15th goal of the season.
More close calls at the start of the second half kept Arteta’s players on their toes before an own goal by Fabian Schar put the result beyond doubt.
“I think the word to describe it is pride,” said Arteta when asked for his assessment.
“When you have question marks, you have to resolve them straight away. When you had the emotions that we had last year in that dressing room, you have to make sure that you feel them again.
“To realise how difficult, how nasty and how unpleasant they are, and then you have to find a way to approach the game in a different way, because the manner is going to be higher than last year. The boys did that extremely well so I’m really proud of them.
He added: “It was very different [from last season] that’s for sure yes, it was needed. If not, you do not win here. They are a better team, they are very well coached, the atmosphere they created is incredible, so you know we needed a much better performance than any game we have played this season.
“I said to the players that to win today, you’re all going to have to individually put in the best performance of the season if not, you’re not going to win here.
Today’s victory ensures Arsenal will finish the season in the top two and keeps alive the club’s chances of winning a first title in 19 years. It’s still Manchester City’s to lose – they have a one point advantage and a game in hand – but with three weeks remaining, Arteta promises his team will fight to the end.
“We are there, we want to keep digging,” he said. “The prize is there, not too far and the only thing we can do is keep insisting and don’t turn our backs and lose focus on something else. Be determined every single day, let’s keep going and see what happens.”