Monday, May 20, 2024

Mikel Arteta confident in Arsenal title chances: ‘My brain tells me we are lifting the Premier League’

The odds, the fixture list, the sheer weight of Manchester City’s recent history might tell him the opposite but Mikel Arteta’s brain insists that in nine days time, his Arsenal side “are lifting the Premier League”. With two games left in their season they must beat both Everton on the final day and before then Manchester United at Old Trafford, a ground where they have not won a in front of supporters for nine years.

That is no easy task in itself, but it isn’t even half the battle for Arsenal. They will also be relying on one of Fulham, Tottenham and West Ham to take points off City. That is three teams who have one win apiece in their last five league games. It would be a stretch to say Fulham are already on the beach, but when the time comes for Marco Silva’s men to decamp at the end of the season they will presumably be trailing kites along the beaches of Dubai and the Maldives.

Still, Arteta believes. “My brain tells me when talking to the players that we are lifting the Premier League,” he said ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. “That’s what my brain is doing at the moment and I want to follow my brain and my gut. This is the way I want everybody to think as well. Hopefully we can achieve it.

“I’m telling you how I’m feeling, the thoughts that come to my head and what is driving my energy and purpose right now. It’s that ambition, that objective that’s so good.”

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Manchester United’s struggles

Perhaps he can see a title triumph so clearly because he knows there is little to fear from his next opponent. Arsenal might have a horrendous record at Old Trafford, but in all their recent visits there they have not faced a team as abject as the one that were thrashed 4-0 by Crystal Palace on Monday. The unstoppable force of the Premier League’s highest scoring attack is flying at an object more than willing to get out of their way if they are in any way inconveniencing Arsenal.

In 2024 Manchester United have allowed 317 shots on their goal, the most in the Premier League by a not inconsiderable margin. That is notable when most of the top flight have played 16 or 17 games. In two fewer, United are giving up shots at a frightening volume. Erik ten Hag would, and frequently does, point to a defense continually struck down by injuries.

There is no easing of the defensive crisis for Arsenal’s visit even if Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay have returned to training. Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof all remain sidelined until perhaps the FA Cup Final. The availability of fellow center back Willy Kambwala is unclear. Luke Shaw has suffered a setback in his recovery while there is no prospect of Tyrell Malacia returning this season. Lisandro Martinez’s pleas that he feature against the league leaders fell on deaf ears.

Fernandes’ presence could test Arsenal. He tends to shine through in these games, dropping deep, evading the press and pinging passes into the space that William Saliba and Gabriel will leave behind them. Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho might not offer as much as they ought to without the ball, but they relish the chance to fly in behind the backline. Had the latter set off half a second later on his visit to the Emirates Stadium then he may well have netted the winner on that crazed September afternoon where Declan Rice and Gabriel Jesus struck at the death.

“We know they are one of the best teams, or probably the best team,” said Ten Hag of Arsenal. “You can discuss about this. Is City the best team or is Arsenal at this moment the best team? Very ball secure, so very good structures and we know we have to play absolutely to our maximum levels to get a result. But we are capable of it.”

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Arsenal’s title chase needs help

Meanwhile Arteta’s visualizations extend to “a really positive context” for his side to take on United, but he knows, even if he doesn’t like to address it, that Arsenal’s fate is tied up with Fulham’s this week  when they take on City. Even though Marco Silva’s side have long since secured survival they have been quietly impressive since the start of the year, taking 20 points from 16 games while putting up the Premier League’s sixth best expected goal difference. They have earned a break to fly kites around after training.

“The power of team bonding,” Arteta said when asked about the hijinks. “Nobody knows what it is, but sometimes you get amazing results with it. I’ve been in teams struggling to win a game and we go out for dinner and then you go on an unbelievable run. I’m positive that that’s what’s gonna happen to Fulham.”

It is easy to see why Arteta is so certain that his affirmations will become reality. This was the man prophesying a bright future for Arsenal when many wondered if he was about to lose his job before Christmas in 2020. His side have responded to last season’s collapse with a few fences to go by pushing City further and harder, even in a more challenging Premier League. Now he finds himself in a spot he would have been more than prepared to settle for at the start of the season.

“I would take that pen and sign it,” he said when asked what he would have made of this scenario had it been offered to him at the start of the season. His faith that the breaks will fall Arsenal’s way seems unshakable. He might be the only Arsenal supporter not hoping for a City slip up. He seems to know it is coming.

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