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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says his side have had “an incredible journey” but now “must heal” after falling away in the Premier League title race.
The Gunners’ defeat at Nottingham Forest on Saturday saw Manchester City confirmed as champions for the third straight season, while Arteta and his players are left wondering what might have been.
After a flying start to the season, Arsenal were eight points clear at the top of the table after 18 games and held the same lead over City at the start of April, albeit having played a game more.
However, a run of just two wins in their last eight games has allowed Pep Guardiola’s team to overhaul them and clinch the title with three games to spare.
“I am incapable of thinking about it right now. We have to congratulate City,” Arteta told BBC Match of the Day.
“It has been an incredible journey for us over 10 months competing with City, being ahead of them for so long.
“We have learned huge lessons. We have transformed a lot at this club. We have made huge steps, but the icing on the cake is to win a championship and we fell short.”
Arsenal led the way for 248 days of the 2022-23 season, the most without finishing first in English top-flight history.
After such a dramatic drop-off, Arteta is now searching for a way to galvanise his squad for the last game of the season and beyond.
“This is football. It is a very sad day, we have been working for 11 months with that aim and have been on top for so many days,” he told Sky Sports. “We have competed but we didn’t have enough.
“Now we must heal. It is very painful. I have to find a way to lift the players and we have a tough week ahead of us.”
‘It was our own doing’
While City have been on a remarkable 11-game winning run in the Premier League, goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale believes Arsenal’s downfall was of their own making.
“We had a few games where we dropped points through individual mistakes. Those three or four games is where it’s gone wrong,” he said.
“The dust won’t settle until the summer. We are very disappointed how it has happened but we are proud we pushed all the way.
“One team in six seasons has beaten Manchester City to the title. But it was our own doing, individual errors in games we should have won.”
The Gunners conceded 16 goals in the eight-game spell that ultimately cost them the title as they struggled to cope with issues of form and fitness among key players. While Arteta shouldered the blame, he also alluded to a lack of quality depth within the squad.
“I apologise. I had the belief we could do it, the team didn’t and it is my responsibility,” the 41-year-old said.
“When you come to April and May, you need 24 players ready to go. For many reasons, we didn’t.”
‘If Man City smell blood it’s game over’
Having finished fifth last season, Arsenal exceeded expectations by challenging at the top of the table for so long.
However, having got themselves into such a strong position going into the last couple of months of the season, did Arteta’s side buckle under the pressure with Arsenal’s first league title since 2004 in sight?
“There’s no doubt in the last few weeks it’s become very difficult for them – and I think it has been about mentality,” former Manchester United defender Gary Neville told Sky Sports.
“I do think there’s an element of throwing the title away because of the nature of the defeats they’ve had, being up in games.
“The biggest moments of the most pressurised environments, you’ve got to deliver in those moments and I always doubted this Arsenal team.”
Ex-Scotland midfielder Charlie Adam, speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, added: “What they’ve done so far has been much better than what they’ve done previously.
“But they’ve been top for such a long time and they’ve thrown it away. There’s no hiding away from that.”
While Arsenal have made mistakes, there is an acceptance that they have come up against a relentless City team.
Trent Alexander-Arnold experienced that as part of the Liverpool side that beat City to the title in 2019-20 but also narrowly lost out to Guardiola’s side despite posting 97 and 92 points in 2018-19 and 2021-22 respectively.
“If Man City are even close, if they smell blood at Christmas, New Year – it’s game over really. There’s no stopping them once they start winning,” the defender told Red Bull.
“I think it’s got to be a mindset because they don’t even go behind in games at this point. There’s no messing around, there’s no scares, there’s no ups and downs.
“Arsenal were exciting because they were dropping points, but in an exciting way. Whereas City, I don’t even know how to describe it, they are like juggernauts.”
The manner of the Gunners’ collapse will rankle but there has been much to savour for Arsenal this season, and even the painful moments in recent weeks could become valuable lessons to take into the next campaign.
“The word ‘bottle’ annoys me,” former Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman told 5 Live. “It really degrades what Arsenal have done this season.
“They’ve had an amazing season. Anyone would have taken top four, never mind finishing second and going all the way until the end of the season and being in contention with Manchester City.”
Speaking on Sky Sports, seven-time Premier League winner Roy Keane added: “We are trying to compare Arsenal to one of the greatest teams ever, but they have had a brilliant, brilliant season. They have just come up short.”