Returning from the winter break, securing European football for Arsenal next season remains one of Mikel Arteta’s key aims.
Whether it be in the Champions League or Europa League, the Spaniard has stressed the importance of the Gunners having a presence on the continent and how vital the rest of this season will be to that.
“If Arsenal are not in Europe it is a big concern for everybody of course,” he said in January.
“I don’t look at next season at all just look at what we can do to get better and what is going to happen next season is only going to be a consequence of what we are going to be able to do this season.
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“What I think is going to be very useful is to get a lot of information about what we have, where we are, what we need to improve and how can we do it?
“For that analysis, these months are going to be very useful and we cannot waste these four months doing that and just thinking about next season because the hurry of a big football club is now, not in the summer.”
A push for Champions League football may be ambitions through the Premier League as the Gunners sit 10 points off the top four. Qualifying for the Europa League appears more manageable being six points off sixth.
During his time playing at Arsenal, Arteta was frequently involved in end-of-season races for European football. Thankfully in his case, the races were always to get into the Champions League – which he always managed to secure.
In fact one of the most satisfying ends to a top four race came against this weekend’s opponents, Newcastle United, and as ever, the Spaniard was involved. Looking back, his contributions on the day mirror the strict approach he has taken in his first two months as Arsenal head coach.
Yet to officially be named club captain, he was the player to lead Arsenal out at St. James’ Park on the final day of the 2012/13 season. Heading into the game the job was clear – win or hand their Champions League place to a Gareth Bale-inspired Tottenham Hotspur.
Starting in a double-pivot with Aaron Ramsey, Arteta was beginning to set the pace of the game (completing 11 of the 13 passes he made in the middle/attacking thirds with just one going backward). An aerial clash with his midfield partner and Papiss Cisse left him hobbling on 25 minutes, however.
Immediately, he signalled to referee Howard Webb but play went on.
Rather than sulk, Arteta followed the play. Newcastle had started an attack down Arsenal’s right and recognising this, the Spaniard began to drop quickly into the space left by Per Mertesacker who was being stretched by Cisse. The striker got by the German and on he went into the Arsenal box before trying to clip the ball to Yoan Gouffran.
To the Gunners’ pleasure…