Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal’s biggest success this season has been maintaining unity and remove those who are “trying to hurt the club”, while insisting winning the Champions League has to be the Gunners’ ultimate long-term aim.
It has been a challenging campaign for Arsenal, who can still finish seventh by winning their final Premier League game against Brighton and Hove Albion.
But there have been 13 top-flight defeats this term for a side sitting ninth heading into Sunday’s finale, and their Europa League quest – and last route back to Europe’s top table next term – was ended by Villarreal at the semi-final stage.
Things on the pitch may not have always been how Arteta envisaged for his first full season in charge, but for the Spaniard ensuring the squad stayed together when he felt internal and external sources were trying to create a rift has been the most crucial aspect of the campaign.
“The best thing has been to keep a team, a staff, employees and everybody together,” Arteta said.
“In those circumstances when you are not winning and when there are so many people, some inside and some outside, that are trying to hurt [you].
“And to keep them together and block that and be so strong, I think that is some achievement. As normally when that happens [makes a cracking sound], that cracks and everything falls, and it didn’t.”
The likes of Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac were among those to depart Arsenal in January as Arteta significantly trimmed an inflated squad, though he did not point the finger of blame at any former player.
However, when asked if anyone on the inside he felt was trying to cause damage was still at the club, he replied: “No.”
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 21, 2021
Arsenal are eight points adrift of the top-four spots, and need Tottenham and Everton to drop points to play in the inaugural Europa Conference League.
Despite their struggles, Arteta still has lofty long-term ambitions for the Gunners including conquering Europe’s greatest prize.
“There cannot be any other ambition at this football club, it cannot be. If you don’t have that you can’t achieve it,” he added.
“There is only one winner in the Champions League and there is only one winner in the Premier League. The rest of the teams have failed. For any of the other teams finishing second or third is not a big achievement.
“Now the perception is different, now it’s an achievement to be third or fourth in this league. Would the fans agree with that? Probably no, but for the people internally that are working every day and knows the standards that have been set it’s so different.
“Last year with 61, 62 points you were fifth in the league and almost in the Champions League.
“This season you won’t be there and next season you won’t be there because the level is increasing all of the time.”
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