Mikel Arteta has insisted Arsenal have exceeded expectations this season despite seeing their hopes of a top-four Premier League finish crushed.
The Gunners appeared on track to clinch a Champions League return next season, however damaging defeats to bitter rivals Tottenham in last Thursday’s North London derby and Newcastle on Monday night, a matter of weeks after three successive losses to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton, have seen Arteta’s side hand Spurs the advantage.
Arsenal now find themselves two points adrift of their North London foes heading into their final day clash with Everton, and have been left to pray already-relegated Norwich can pull off an unlikely upset over Tottenham to revive their European dream. However, despite their recent setback, Arteta claims the Gunners have surpassed expectations this season.
Speaking to the BBC, the Spaniard said: “In a week’s time when we are on our holidays and we look back, whether we are in the Champions League or the Europa League, when we look back on what we’ve done, I think everybody will agree that we did more than was expected, for sure.”
It is understood a fifth-placed Premier League finish and subsequent qualification for next season’s Europa League was the target at the start of the current campaign, however, the Gunners have been widely condemned for failing to produce when it mattered and go one better by securing a spot in Europe’s elite club competition instead. With just three games of the season remaining, Arsenal held a four-point advantage over Spurs.
Two defeats on the bounce, including a 3-0 drubbing to Antonio Conte’s men in last week’s North London derby, coupled with Tottenham’s 1-0 win over Burnley, have since seen the Gunners leapfrogged by their fierce rivals. Prior to Arsenal’s collapse, many had praised Arteta for having lead a young and small group to the cusp of the Champions League.
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When probed on the inexperience of his squad, said to boast the youngest average age of any in the Premier League, the Gunners boss asserted that his players had “come a long way” while insisting his side still have some way to go to closing the “really big” gap to the league’s elite. He said: “Well they have shown [they have] what it takes because they have done, in the last 10 seasons, nobody has done it.
“A club, a team, with that age bracket and the starting 11 that we have put on that pitch, it hasn’t been done in this league, so it’s something that they’ve done.
“That’s credit to the team for what they have delivered. The thing is, where we want to be is not where we are today; we want to be the best and that gap is still really big.
“We’ve come a long way in many, many things, especially where we are as a club now and the connection between what we are doing and what our people feel about what we are doing and that’s really, really important as well. It takes a long time to build that trust again.”
Arsenal last featured in the Champions League back in the 2016-17 season, but saw their European adventure comprehensively ended by Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. The Gunners then spent the next four campaigns in the Europa League, however, an eighth-placed finish last season meant the term would be their first without European football in a quarter of a century.
The impending failure to secure Champions League football has now led to fears the club’s transfer plans for the summer have been compromised. However, it is thought Arsenal remain optimistic over signing their top targets as Arteta is still set to receive a sizeable budget.