Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta knew his side needed a miraculous turnaround in fortunes to make the Champions League, but that does not stop the failure hurting him.
The Gunners defeated Everton 5-1 at Emirates Stadium on Sunday, yet the result merely capped off what will ultimately prove a frustrating season.
Arsenal lost their opening three Premier League matches of the season but enjoyed a resurgence, with the emergence of young talents such as Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah helping them push on for a top-four place.
Arteta’s team were firmly in the driving seat before taking on Tottenham in the north London derby on May 12, yet a heavy defeat to their rivals, followed by a 2-0 reverse at Newcastle United on Monday, left Arsenal needing Spurs to slip up against already relegated Norwich City on the final day of the season.
And while Arsenal did their bit against a much-changed Everton side – Frank Lampard’s team had secured safety with a draining 3-2 comeback win against Crystal Palace on Thursday – Spurs romped to a 5-0 victory at Carrow Road, ensuring they would be the ones to take the final Champions League spot.
Arsenal must settle for fifth and a place in the Europa League, a fact that leaves Arteta hugely frustrated.
He told a news conference “We did what we had to do. We needed a miracle, it didn’t occur. That’s it.
“At the end of the season the table doesn’t lie. It’s true, last season Chelsea were in the Champions League with 67 points. We have 69 and we are out of it. But that’s the level and the demands that this league has now.
“I cannot assess the season, I’m still in a lot of pain after what happened on Monday and I would like to have a fair assessment on what we’ve done.
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“What I can guarantee you is we have tried to squeeze the lemon, to every single bit of juice that would come, and we have reached the point where we have reached.
“You see what we have on the pitch, we know where we have to go. We have generated the expectations that I wanted for this football club. In the end we came short and that feeling of guilt is painful.”
Arsenal had gone unbeaten in their final league game in each of the last 16 seasons and that record never looked in danger of not being extended against Everton, who have lost their final league game in five of the last six campaigns.
Gabriel Martinelli’s penalty and Eddie Nketiah’s header put Arsenal 2-0 up inside 31 minutes, with second-half strikes from Cedric Soares, Gabriel Magalhaes and Martin Odegaard rendering Donny van de Beek’s goal a consolation.
Nketiah, who has scored five league goals this season, is one of three players soon to be out of contract at Arsenal, and he was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette midway through the second half – the Frenchman’s deal is also up at the end of June.
Mohamed Elneny played the full 90 minutes on what could also be his final Gunners appearance, and Arteta revealed the decisions have been made on the trio’s future, though it was unclear whether any of them would be staying on.
“It’s been decided, but it’s very difficult to communicate it,” he said.
“What they deserve is to have a little bit of what they had today, but to do it earlier with three situations like that is very awkward and could effect the team.
“Those players know their situation, when it is going to be communicated and those players will know face to face, which is what they deserve.”
Only in 1993-94 (22) have Everton lost more games in a Premier League season than the 21 defeats they have suffered in the competition this term, but having achieved his goal of keeping them up, Lampard is now eager to look to the future.
He told reporters: “We want to improve in a lot of ways. The way we played in the past month has been fantastic.
“You can never stand still and relax in this game. The reasons why we were in a relegation fight was very real and we need to improve.”
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