Race for the top 4 is a ‘beautiful’ test, says Arsenal boss

Arteta stays upbeat, despite back-to-back defeats

Thursday, 14th April — By Steve Barnett

Mikel Arteta IMG_7781 (1)

MIKEL Arteta has urged his Arsenal players to embrace “the beautiful challenge” that lies ahead, and not dwell on the back-to-back defeats threatening to derail the club’s long-awaited return to Champions League football.

Two weeks ago the Gunners looked primed and ready to waltz back into Europe’s premier club competition. They sat fourth in the Premier League, three points ahead of north London rivals Tottenham and with two games in hand.

But Saturday’s shock 2-1 defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium – arriving hot on the heels of the 3-0 loss away to Crystal Palace – has thrown a spanner in the works. Arsenal now find themselves fifth, three points behind a Spurs side suddenly boasting a superior goal difference.

Arsenal do still have a game in hand, but with the tougher fixtures ahead it feels like the Europa League may be calling – a competition that brings a mixed reaction from supporters.

One thing that is for sure, however, is that playing again on Thursday nights will be a bitter pill to swallow if it comes with Spurs playing in the Champions League.

Quizzed on what he must do to help his side bounce back ahead of this Saturday’s trip to Southampton, Arteta said: “What happens is, we criticise ourselves a lot, get slapped again, because we were really poor in the first half on Saturday, and then we lift ourselves back up.

“We have everything to play for in the last eight games. We have to have that level of energy and visualising the challenge, the beautiful challenge that we have ahead, and not sit back.”

In the dressing room the players share Arteta’s frustration. Aaron Ramsdale is among those demanding more at St Mary’s this weekend after being left in a sombre mood by the defeats.

“It’s not good enough,” the goalkeeper told Arsenal.com. “Two games on the spin where the first 45 minutes has got away from us. You make it an uphill battle against any team in the Premier League if you’re losing at half-time. It was a really poor performance on Saturday. One-nil down is tough enough, two-nil down in the Premier League is even harder.

“This was supposed to be the reaction game [after losing at Crystal Palace] but it wasn’t.

“We’ve lost and not managed to pick up any points and now this Saturday’s game is even bigger.

“I think we just need to go out there and be free and play our game, you know? We just need to go out there, trust what the manager and the coaching staff are saying, and play our football, which we’ve done all season.”

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