Mikel Arteta is convinced Champions League football remains within Arsenal’s grasp and that a strong run of form upon the resumption of their Premier League campaign would reignite their hopes of a return to Europe’s elite.
Arsenal sit 10 points behind the fourth-placed Chelsea and it is some gap to make up over the next 13 games given they have won just twice in the Premier League since 6 October, with their only back-to-back victories coming in the first fortnight of the campaign. Arteta refuses to give up hope.
“At the moment we are far from it, but there are a lot of games to play,” he said. “It is very tight. Everybody is giving points away. It will depend on us. If we are able to put three or four wins in a row, we will be much closer.”
Their cause would be improved, albeit very slightly, with three points at home against Newcastle on Sunday. That match comes after a fortnight off, the past four days of which have been spent training in Dubai. Arteta oversaw nine games in all competitions in a hectic first six weeks after taking control in December and the winter break has presented his first opportunity to work intensively in training with the squad.
“It was like a mini pre-season,” he said, speaking before Arsenal’s return from the Middle East. “I wanted to use it to work on our principles and our styles of play, and as well how we live together. There are things I want to implement together as a group, not just for the players but for the staff as well. It has been really useful.”
Arsenal have lost just once – albeit, perhaps crucially, at home against Chelsea – under Arteta’s charge and, while they have hardly been free-flowing, generally appear more disciplined and focused than in the latter days of Unai Emery’s tenure. Arteta admitted the attitude of his players has taken him aback.
“The biggest surprise and nicest surprise is the input that the players put in. How much they are buying into what we do. The effort they are putting in and the willingness. They seem ready, with the right energy and commitment to move forward.”
Arteta outlined the main areas in which he seeks improvement from Arsenal’s squad, which can expect significant changes in the summer regardless of their fortunes between now and May. “It is our principle, our style of play and how we manage the games, how we manage each section of the pitch and clarity. That the players have clarity when they jump into the football pitch, that they know and they can recognise the scenarios they are facing and they have the tools for the solutions.”
Asked what it would take for Arsenal to be a title-winning side again, Arteta replied: “Make 100 points? Maybe 105 points? We can do it in many different ways. At the moment we are far from it, but we need to go step by step because this club deserves nothing else than that.”