Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta certain Premier League glory will eventually come for Gunners: ‘This is the level’

Written by on May 20, 2024

LONDON — They came in belief and, for all that the final day might have tested them, they departed with greater certainty than they arrived. That, as Mikel Arteta explained, is the secret sauce round these parts. 

“All of this is happening because you started to believe,” he told the Emirates Stadium in the painful afterglow of title dreams extinguished. That belief is a fragile commodity, particularly in the face of an opponent of Manchester City’s power. The 90 minutes Arsenal supporters had sat through would be enough to test anyone’s conviction: the agonizing wait for their own winner, the false dawns of the second West Ham goal that never came.

And yet this is a club of zealots. A fanbase too. At halftime the title was further out of reach than it had been at the start of the day but still they danced along in celebration of Kai Havertz, still they donned their Tomas Soucek shirts and urged their side on to win no. 28 of the season, goal no. 91. These are numbers to convince you that this faith is not blind.

The true believers seem to be growing in numbers. Come Sunday morning you could scarcely move more than a yard anywhere in the capital (well, perhaps not N17) without seeing a red shirt. Hundreds must have thronged to the pubs and restaurants along the Holloway Road knowing they wouldn’t get a ticket. They just wanted to be there when the moment came.

Even though they knew they shouldn’t, even if many said otherwise, they had come to the capital in belief more than hope. You could tell, the instant that news first trickled through of Phil Foden’s immediate opener at the Etihad. It didn’t take long for the clap of thunder at the Etihad to deliver clouds to north London. A collective gulp you could almost hear. A creeping silence that infected those in red.

There was a more immediate issue to address, however. Jordan Pickford was in international tournament mode a few weeks early, the England No.1 denying Gabriel Martinelli with a firm glove moments after his instinctive elbow had repelled a Seamus Coleman deflection. James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite both delivered crucial tackles when openings came Arsenal’s way.

Everton’s raiding parties discomforted Arsenal in that way that Sean Dyche teams do so well. When fitness allows, Dominic Calvert-Lewin can prove to be a handful even for Gabriel and William Saliba, smashing the post in one half and drawing a smart save from David Raya in the second. It perhaps didn’t help the Arsenal center backs that their midfield shield looks to have lost what little burst he had. Ben White should have done more to deal with Everton’s burst higher up the pitch but Thomas Partey could only get close enough to Dwight McNeil to foul him.

When Idrissa Gana Gueye’s free kick deflected wickedly off the head of Declan Rice, the hero of so many hours on the road to the last one, the Emirates was engulfed with the sense that this would be the cruelest of endings. Then, in an instant, hope was renewed. Takehiro Tomiyasu’s equalizer mingled with news of Mohamed Kudus dragging West Ham back into the contest at the Etihad. Perhaps that news arrived in too staggered a fashion. Whatever the explanation there was a moment where some in the crowd sincerely believed that the Irons had got another.

It would not be the final false dawn of the afternoon. For 44 minutes Arsenal toiled in front of an Everton defense that was blocking more shots than Victor Wembanyama. Then came the cries from the crowd “It’s 3-2.” Arsenal couldn’t just call it a day in the knowledge that a City win was inevitable. Skeptics will rightly complain about the VAR experience for matchday fans but at least the brief delay while Michael Oliver checked Gabriel Jesus’ handball gave the Emirates time to learn of a Stockley Park intervention further north. Tomas Soucek, the boyhood Gooner who had grown up idolizing Tomas Rosicky, might have got a bit carried away with his wrist-first finish.

Arsenal never quite got close enough on Sunday to the club whose fourth straight title may be built on the back of 115 charges of Premier League rule breaking, charges that City dispute. The sheer enormity of what they had been up against seemed to hit their players like an anvil at the final whistle. Kai Havertz was in tears. Oleksandr Zinchenko was on the floor. Gabriel Jesus crouched over him, trying to console one of so many teammates left utterly bereft even in the aftermath of yet another Arsenal win. These two former champions have learned quite cruelly over the last two years what it was like for those in their wake. For a moment it seemed that doing so much — hitting the 89-point mark that City had set for them last season, scoring more, conceding fewer, going on the run of champions through 2024 — to no avail could break players and perhaps even supporters.

Then you discovered how Arteta “shook the tree” with this club in the first place, how he pulled out of what seemed to be a terminal spiral in the winter of 2020 and made Arsenal a more formidable force 12 months on from supposedly “bottling” the title.

“All this is happening because you started believing,” he told the Emirates congregation. “You started to be patient, you started to understand what we were trying to do and all the credit has to go to these amazing players, and the staff that are unbelievable.

“I think now it’s time to have a break, think, reflect and please, keep pushing, keep inspiring this team. Don’t be satisfied because we want much more than that, and we’e going to get it.”

You couldn’t help but buy what he was selling. After all, Pep Guardiola’s assistant knows the standards that kept Manchester City top for a fourth year in a row, a seventh in eight years, better than most. When he speaks of “every performance index being at the highest level that we have seen” he might just be offering a helpful reminder that Arsenal became the first team since year one of the Guardiola project to post a better-expected goal difference than City.

“I was there when we did 100 points,” Arteta said. “I know what it takes. This is the level. Nobody has to explain that to me, I’ve been there for four years, every day. I know what we have to do if we want to reach that.”

For all that knowledge of just what City can be, Arteta is convinced Arsenal can be better. “We will win it. When? I don’t know but if we keep knocking and being that close, at the end it will happen.” 

If days like today can’t shake that conviction, nothing will.

The post Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta certain Premier League glory will eventually come for Gunners: ‘This is the level’ first appeared on CBS Sports.

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