Mikel Arteta has conceded that failure to qualify for the Champions League would be a missed opportunity for Arsenal given that, for long periods of the run-in, they had their destiny in their own hands.
Arsenal will have to settle for Europa League football in 2022-23 unless they beat Everton on Sunday and, improbably, Tottenham are defeated at relegated Norwich. Fifth place and a return to continental competition would still count as laudable progress but Arteta’s team were in control of fourth place until chastening defeats at Spurs and Newcastle in the last nine days. A generally positive season could also go down as a chance spurned.
“It will be for sure because we were there, mathematically it was possible and it was in our hands,” Arteta said. “That feeling could be there if it happens, and it will take some time to take away, but that is part of football. You cannot take notice of what happened a week or two weeks ago, whether it was positive or negative, because it’s not going to have an impact on anything.”
Arsenal have lost 13 games this season, six of those coming in their past 11, and Arteta accepted that correcting that statistic is “the challenge we have in front of us”. They are 24 points behind leaders Manchester City, having finished last season 25 off the pace, and the deficit needs to narrow if his long-term plans are to be realised.
“A big gap,” he said. “The league doesn’t lie and you have to be very realistic in the way you want to recruit and the way you’re going to move forward, because that’s the level [the title chasers] have set. We’ve lost many games, we’ve lost four games playing with 10 men, which those teams don’t do. So there is a lot to learn.”
Once Arsenal know their fate, Arteta will talk to Gareth Southgate about how best to handle Bukayo Saka during England’s four Nations League games in June. Saka is Arsenal’s top scorer but has looked tired in recent weeks and Arteta hopes common sense will be applied in the way he is deployed.
“He needs a break, that is for sure,” he said. “He’s played a lot of minutes this season and he played a lot of minutes last season. You expect your important players to do so, but obviously you have to bear in mind that at some stage he needs a rest. That is something we really need to think about: the plans for him in the summer.
“We are going to [talk to Southgate]. We are going to talk to every manager that is responsible for our players. Everything has to be connected and related to the aim of protecting the player and getting the best out of the player.”