Mikel Arteta denies trying to manufacture a “them against us” culture inside the Arsenal dressing room as they look to secure the two wins that would guarantee a return to Champions League football, and claims he offered no complaints about the refereeing calls made during Thursday’s damaging derby defeat to Spurs.
Arsenal’s result at Newcastle on Monday night will determine whether they enter the final day of the season with their fate in their own hands. A win will mean three points against Everton secure a place among the elite; anything else will hand Spurs a similar advantage when they travel to Norwich.
Arteta was seething after the 3-0 north London derby loss, making perfectly clear his belief Paul Tierney’s first-half decisions to award Tottenham a penalty and dismiss Rob Holding were incorrect and had cost Arsenal the game; it seemed an attempt to foster a bunker mentality, at least to some extent, but he claims excuses are not his style.
“What I have tried to do in [two and a half] years here is not make any complaints,” he said. “I have no complaint and I didn’t complain on Thursday. I just said I could not give a clear assessment on what I thought about the game, and that’s it.” In reality Arteta’s post-match comments at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – “If I say what I think I am suspended for six months” – said more than enough and there is a sense in some quarters that Arsenal are at times too happy to linger on perceived injustices.
“Whatever we do, we will try to defend the club in the right way, like we have always tried to do,” he said. “The other night I tried to do it as well … I was being clear and honest. I think that is my job and my responsibility, when I talk on behalf of the club, to express how we feel. And if I cannot do it, I prefer not to.”
Arsenal will wait nervously on the fitness of their first-choice centre-backs, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhães. White seems likely to start after making the bench at Spurs, having recovered from a hamstring problem; Gabriel hobbled off late on and his involvement will be a late call.
Europa League football is at least guaranteed for next season and, after a year away from continental competition, fifth place would still constitute good progress for Arteta’s side. However, he would not countenance celebrating such an outcome. “No, we want to be playing in the Champions League,” he said. “We’ve come so far, it’s in our hands and we want to now capitalise on that, and the excitement and the opportunities there. We will really want to go for it.”