Monday, May 15, 2023

Mikel Arteta sends six word transfer message to Josh Kroenke as Arsenal title hopes are ended

Those who have been to the Emirates Stadium this season will have noticed a curious phenomenon. Each time Arsenal have conceded, rather than the discontented murmurs that were common place in the late Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery eras, there has been a groundswell of support. Each set back is greeted with a roar of “come on” as the Gunners faithful seek to pull their team up by their bootstraps. On Sunday though as Julio Enciso headed home Brighton’s opener, there was instead a quiet resignation.

The Emirates, so often at a cauldronous boil this season, could barely muster a simmer throughout. Perhaps they had been cooled by Manchester City overcoming what was probably their biggest hurdle en route to a now inevitable fifth Premier League trophy in six years. The Arsenal display, and stop-start nature of the match certainly didn’t help to raise any temperatures.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. After last week’s defiant victory at Newcastle Arsenal looked set to push City all the way. As it turns out they now almost certainly won’t. Given the behemoth of opposition they’re up against, and the relative inexperience of this squad, most fans will probably be able to make peace with that. Mikel Arteta though, felt differently.

The Spaniard appeared was seething as he came in to face the media after his side’s heaviest home defeat of the season. In the past after defeats he has spoken about how he loves his players even more after losses and has even implied critics should aim their fire at him instead. This time he was not so willing to act as a bulletproof vest.

“We fought really hard to be in the position that we are in and today we were in a critical moment to keeping hoping and digging for that dream,” he said in his post-match press conference. “When you have to play in these moments you cannot do what we did in the second half. Then we have to look. If a team is capable of doing that when it comes to the biggest stage, there’s a lot of things to analyse and think about because it cannot happen.”

Perhaps with time the Spaniard will be able to take stock of what he has achieved this season. Few thought Arsenal would finish in the top four let alone challenge for the title. But as he prepares for next season, and the demands of Champions League football, Arteta seems immediately aware of what needs to change.

“With the level that is required for the Premier League and to fight for the Champions League, the way we have to fight for the Champions League, there’s a lot to think about,” he said. Those final six words feel like a thinly veiled message to the watching Josh Kroenke and the Arsenal board. If Arteta is to close the gap to City and his former mentor Pep Guardiola, then he is going to need reinforcements.

It’s hard to disagree based on the evidence of this season. There have been few games where Arsenal’s tactical plan has been bettered by the opposition. What has been their undoing instead has been their inability to sustain it. The gap in quality from first team to second team remains too big for the Gunners to bridge in some areas of the squad. If they are to build on what they have achieved this season then they must find a way to close it.

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