‘Arsenal best yet to come’

Mikel Arteta’s suspension means he will be confined to the director’s box at Villa Park on Saturday but he is focusing on the positives. “A really nice view,” he smiles. Besides, there isn’t much he would change about those delirious scenes against Luton.

“I think you get more from winning it in the way we did it,” he tells Sky Sports of the 4-3 victory at Kenilworth Road. “First of all, because you get to experience all that emotion and that feeling amongst the team. That is unique and that is the beauty of sport.

“And as well because you can take learnings from it, big learnings from what we did well and also the things we have to improve, to make sure we do not get into that position again.”

It helps, though, to know that, even if they do, this Arsenal side are capable of finding a way. Declan Rice’s header was one of several crucial late goals this season and another example of the winning mentality being carefully nurtured by their manager.

“It’s just about injecting that desire to win and understanding that the game is going to take you through certain phases and certain moments that you have to overcome,” says Arteta

“When you are not at your best in certain areas, especially in your own box, you have to be excellent in other areas to earn the right to win it. Even at half-time, I felt the desire of the team to go out and do that in a really tricky and great atmosphere.”

An even more testing assignment now awaits against Aston Villa. Unai Emery’s side won a 14th consecutive home game with their dismantling of Manchester City on Wednesday night.

But Arsenal are in a good place too, top of the Premier League and fuelled by the pain of falling short last season. Arteta nods ruefully when asked if it still hurts. But lessons have been learned.

“One of them is that when you get to March, April, you need 24 players fully ready, all fit, at their best, because that is when the title is going to be decided,” he says. “We didn’t have that. We had some key injuries there that really affected the team.

“Then, it’s about grinding in certain moments, maintaining momentum when you have it and not giving anything away. To do that, you probably have to have the experience we had last year, to learn from it.

“It’s like a reference point but you have to look forward and that is the beauty of sport. You have it there, you can look at it from time to time, but it has to drive you even harder and in an even more convincing way that you can actually achieve what you want.”

Arteta has adjusted his side’s approach to maximise their chances, placing a greater emphasis on resilience and defensive solidity. Is this a more controlled Arsenal? He prefers a different word.

“More than control, I want dominance,” says Arteta. “Dominance in the right area and not allowing the opponent to breathe. This is what we do. Control in certain areas of the pitch, I’m not interested at all in that, because we can get in trouble by trying to do that.

“We want to dominate, we want to be a threat and we want the opponent to feel under pressure at all times.”

Arsenal have certainly succeeded on that front lately. The win over Luton, although an anomaly in its openness, made it six in a row in all competitions, during which they have scored 18 goals. There is a sense of a balance being struck between defence and attack.


UNI Agric Markurdi
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