Asked to sum up Arsenal’s season in one word, Mikel Arteta took a few moments to think before settling on “connection”.
It’s a great shout. All the more so given he was put on the spot with the cameras rolling at his final pre-game press conference of the campaign.
Thanks to the Spaniard’s vision and hard work, Arsenal have been a club reborn this season not only on the pitch but also on the terraces and behind the scenes.
“I think the team has connected, I think the club has connected,” he explained.
“The departments at the clubs have connected with each other in a really powerful way. The crowd has connected with the team, the club, the ownership and the rest of the world.
“And I think we have connected again with our DNA, who we are, our way of doing things, and we have to move forward.”
Just days before Arteta took over as head coach in December 2019, he sat next to Pep Guardiola on the Manchester City bench and watched the Blues dismantle the Gunners with embarrassing ease in front of an apathetic crowd. It was an evening that underlined the challenge awaiting him.
While it’s not been plain-sailing, the quality of his players’ performances and the atmosphere at home games have come on leaps and bounds since. But he’s still targeting more.
“It’s very close to the dream I had,” he said. “Two days before I sat down in the managerial position I was on the other bench, looking at that picture that I wasn’t really happy with.
“I had a very similar position in my head of some of the experiences we’ve had this year. Something important is missing – lifting the cup with everybody together. That’s what we have to try to do now.”
Arteta and his staff are already reviewing the season to identify areas for improvement.
In coming second, the Gunners arguably overperformed this year – something Edu has hinted at previously – but if we don’t keep progressing he knows we won’t stand a chance of catching City next year.
“We are reflecting on that [the season] and there are a lot of things that have been done really well across the club, across the first team, staff and around the players.
“But in this league, it is not enough, we have to look and dig in really deeply. What can we do better? What the players are going to need, what the club is going to need next season so we can provide the best possible chance for those players to get the best out of them for 10-and-a-half-months in a really exciting season.
“That is the thought process, and we have to go again and nail it.”
Looking ahead to a busy summer transfer window, he added: “We have to nail everything that we do and we have to seek excellence in everything that we touch and participate in, to have a big impact at the club.
“I think the competition is going to be even harder than this season. In my opinion, it’s been the hardest of the 22 years that I’ve been in this league.
“In order to do that, we have a really promising plan. We may have to reflect a little bit, take a step back, make sure this is the right one and go again with more determination and hunger in the tummies to do even better.”