While Arsenal may have allowed control of the top four race to slip into the hands of their rivals Tottenham Hotspur, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. They head into the final day of the Premier League season knowing that if they can beat Everton, they’ll put themselves in the best possible position they can to finish fourth and return to the Champions League. Of course, they need Norwich City to do them a huge favour by beating Spurs, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Prior to kick-off, Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta spoke with the media about the challenge that lies ahead on Sunday.
On the season as a whole:
Well, first of all, thank you all. And probably this is the last day that I’m going to see you after tomorrow and then we are going to holiday, so just a quick reflection.
I think it’s been a long journey again and a very challenging one this season, but I think that we have come a long way as a club and as a team, I think we have transformed the energy, the vibe and expectation of this football club again. We’ve done it together, showing incredible unity between the staff, the players, everybody in the club, and especially with our people, which has been incredibly supportive throughout the season, especially in difficult moments.
And now I can sense that I have the hope and expectations to move this club to the place that it deserves. We’ve done it the way we predicted with the project that we set a year ago. With a lot of young players, with the senior players helping and with our crowds again in our stadium and with a real sense of connection around the place.
So we are back in Europe. We don’t know where, it will be decided. Hopefully, it will be Champions League. I believe that we’re going to do what we have to do. We are going to be cheering for Norwich to do what they can do, for sure, and after that, we want to take the club to the next level.
That’s the ambition. In order to do that we have a very clear plan again, how we want to do it and execute it, and there are no secrets. We need resources and we need to increase the quality and the depth of the squad as long we maintain in the same way who we are as a club and the people that we have next to us.
That’s going to be the challenge the following season, but hopefully in front of our people, we can live another great day.
On how he rates the chances of still finishing fourth:
Very possible. And looking back, I’ve been back a few years and seen a few examples of teams that they played in the last game of the season and the things that happened. The closer the game is, I am more hopeful.
On whether fifth place would be progress:
It is because we have created expectations that this club deserves and where this club has to be, and in the last two months, we haven’t been able to fulfil those expectations but overall, looking back where we were, you have to be clear as well with what we have to do, but very clear that this is not where we want to be, that we want to be in a completely different position, challenging really for the top teams and that that’s the aim and that this is not going to stop here. That is another step that was very necessary because it wasn’t only about where we are in the league table. We have had much deeper issues at the club than the league table, in my opinion. Now they have been resolved. Now they look very, very strong and that we have the real strong foundations now to build what we want to do.
On the response to Granit Xhaka’s comments after the Newcastle game:
What we do in the dressing room, we don’t comment on it. The moment you allow a person to be in front of a microphone is to express what their feelings are and Granit is someone who does it in front of the microphone, in front of your eyes and in your face. So there’s nothing different.
On how confident he is of getting the resources needed:
We are going to have certain resources, not unlimited resources, some resources. And with our resources we have to play and do what we have to do in the best possible way. We don’t know what the rest are going to have in terms of resources, which I’m assuming is going to be challenging because now it’s not a top three or top four league. Now it is a top eight or 10 teams that are involved. That’s why we have to find a way to do again what we did last summer.
On how far away we are from challenging from the top four regularly:
There I go back to what the league table is saying, and the league table doesn’t lie after 38 games and the league table says that we are very far away still from the first and second positions, not only on points, but on goal difference and that’s the level that we have to try to aim and reach.
On pitch invasions from fans:
We have to stop it and we have to minimise the risk and exposure of players and staff in this situation because you cannot control it and when you cannot control a situation and there are so many people involved in any event, then it becomes dangers and we have to do something about it.
On taking the positives regardless of where we finish this season:
Well probably tomorrow I can answer that question better because today I am focussed on winning the match and hoping that we can still achieve the Champions League.
On the fans needing perspective if we miss out on Champions League:
We tried to explain this and we did try explain things last year on what we were going to expect and I think it’s very clear and obvious, we are not where we should be as a club, because this club’s history tells us to be the best in this country and we are not there. But we have to get there somehow, and that needs a journey and that needs a certain amount of time and windows as you are not able to do in one window what you want to do in four and that takes time.
On the development of our young players:
Everybody [I am happy with] with the development of our culture at the club, the development of our people and how they live their profession at the club and the connection. We have everybody inside the organisation, players, staff, ownership, board and obviously what is unquestionable is what you see in the atmosphere at home and away with our fans, which people who have been here for 10 years say that they haven’t lived that connection in that period, so I think that’s something to be extremely proud of and that’s credit to everybody involved in the club.
On Everton’s win against Crystal Palace:
I was watching it yesterday and that gives me more encouragement about what can happen on the last day at Norwich because this happens only in this league, and this is what makes this league such an incredible league, because in many other countries, where there is nothing to play for, you don’t see that type of performances, so we are hoping that something special can happen.
On if Everton being safe helps us:
Well, playing the last game against a team that can be relegated obviously mentally is very tough because you know the consequences of the profession, but they are your colleagues and nobody wants to be in that position, so you get a little bit of relief in that sense.
On what he learnt from our defeat against Everton earlier in the season:
Well, there are different things that you learn in every football match. It was obviously a match that we had in some control in some phases and we lost control, obviously, we know where we did it, we analysed it and Sunday hopefully is different.
On how competitive the transfer market will be this summer:
I think the league has never been that competitive. The numbers you could produce six years ago in this league, today you are out of Europe. It’s as simple as that. We know that and the plan we have is to be able to compete with these teams, but we don’t know what resources other teams will have. But we know other teams are starting from a different position, because they are in a different moment but we still need to have the aim to do that, because if you don’t, where do you end up? Just looking back, I don’t want to do that. So we need to find ways to be able to compete with them, like we have done this season, because nobody expected us to do that with the squad we had and the expectation we had.
On how much will be available to spend this summer:
It’s not only about that amount. If you see the wage [bill] that we have and we had, it’s night and day. So it’s not only about spending, it’s about what you have sold. We had 28 players and we ended up with 19 in the squad, so it’s about the total expenditure. Because if not that figure is irrelevant. Because what is the total annual cost of the squad you are building?
On rumours of food poising at Tottenham:
I don’t know anything about that! I have no clue, what can I comment!
On if he regrets our approach to the January transfer window:
On whether we are in a better position because of it:
Everything that we did do, was trying to reach the objectives that we had after January – which was to try to be challenging the top four, and the way we were going to do it. Financially be stable and be in a position that come January or December we could allow ourselves to do certain things and not be completely locked.
On whether he tried in the transfer window to bring players in:
Yeah, if you give me six players I’ll go in the transfer market and bring these six players. In the summer as well if we can do that, we have 25 players to select, the best three strikers in the world. Bring them here! I will coach them! I will be so happy to coach them.
On whether not controlling games is to do with inexperience:
It can be a lot of factors. It’s how we deal with moments when we lose that control and we are able to reset and take the game in the direction we want. And finding different ways to do that. It’s down to that. It’s not about the leadership of the team, it’s about the understanding of certain situations in the game. Not to continue to put the game into that mood. We are always working on it.
On emotion coming into decision-making:
Sometimes it’s emotion, sometimes it’s about the structures, sometimes the first pass that we pick to make to provoke certain things, sometimes it’s about in which territories we want to play the next five minutes. It’s more related to game management. For different reasons, it’s really difficult to just be ‘a thing’.
Quotes via Arsenal.com
Can Arsenal do the unthinkable on Sunday?