(Reuters) – Arsenal’s hopes of finishing in the top four are hanging by a thread but manager Mikel Arteta believes his young side have made great strides in a challenging season.
A 2-0 defeat by Newcastle United on Monday left Arsenal in fifth place and needing to beat Everton on Sunday while hoping bottom club Norwich City beat Tottenham Hotspur.
Yet despite what looks like impending disappointment, Arteta says he feels the support of the club as he attempts to take them to “the next level.”
Arteta, who earlier this month signed a new contract that will keep him at the London club until 2025, stressed the importance of the club’s return to European football next season, even if it is the Europa League.
“It’s been a long journey and a very challenging one this season but I think we have come a long way as a club,” Arteta told reporters on Friday ahead of Arsenal’s final game of the campaign at home to Everton.
“As a team I think we have transformed the energy of the club and we’ve done it together. Now I can sense I have the support to take the next step.
“We are back in Europe, hopefully it will be the Champions League, and we want to take the club to the next level. We have a clear plan. We need resources and we need to improve the quality and the depth of the squad.”
The Spaniard added it would take time and intelligent recruitment to bring the club back to where he says it belongs.
“We are not where we should be,” Arteta said. “This club’s history is to be the best in this country. It takes a certain amount of time and windows to get there.
“We are going to have certain resources, not unlimited resources, certain resources. We don’t know what the rest are going to have which I assume is going to be challenging because now it’s not a top three, it’s a top eight.”
Arsenal will face an Everton side who can finally relax having secured their Premier League survival with a midweek comeback 3-2 win over Crystal Palace.
“I don’t mean that in a light-hearted way because I understand Arsenal and Tottenham are in a battle and we’ll go and do our absolute best to approach the game in the right way,” Everton manager Frank Lampard told reporters.
“At the same time, we’ve not had that luxury … There’s something nice about ‘relaxing’. Since my first day here we’ve not had chance to do that … It’ll be nice for the players to have that feeling.
“A couple of players who maybe haven’t had opportunities will get opportunities, but we’ll be going full pelt to try to get the right result.”
(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Martyn Herman)