Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta spells out harsh truths for Gunners squad over Champions League hopes

Simon Collings
Evening Standard
Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta says his squad can forget about playing Champions League football next season if their current form continues.

The Gunners started the Premier League’s restart last week with two defeats in four days as they first lost to Manchester City and then Brighton.

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It has left Arsenal 11th in the table ahead of Thursday evening's trip to Southampton and they are on course to finish outside of the top six for the first time in 25 years. Arteta’s men are currently 11 points behind Chelsea in fourth, who host Manchester City tonight, and the manager is wary the Champions League is becoming an unassailable target, given Arsenal’s poor form.

“Until we start to win games, the Champions League objective is too far at the moment,” he said. “My only focus is going to Southampton and getting the three points — win, lift the players and start believing again that we can get wins in a row.”

Qualifying for next season’s Champions League is of great importance to Arsenal this season for a number of reasons. Arteta, the club’s core coaching staff and playing squad agreed in April to take a 12.5 per cent wage cut due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that will be reimbursed if they qualify for European football’s premier club competition.

Should they qualify for the Europa League, the reduction will be lowered to 7.5 per cent. Qualification for the Champions League is also likely to play a key role in keeping hold of players, such as captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arteta said before last week’s trip to Manchester City that playing in the Champions League would “help to persuade anybody” to stay but Aubameyang is yet to decide his future.

The 31-year-old wants to be challenging for honours in the final stages of his career and is attracting interest from Barcelona, Juventus and Inter Milan. While there is doubt over Aubameyang’s future, Arsenal are making progress with the contract of Bukayo Saka.

Like Aubameyang, the teenager has just one year to run on his current deal, but talks are at an advanced stage and an agreement is close. “I am very positive that everything is going to be done with Bukayo very shortly,” Arteta said. “The communications has been going on for months and is very fluent.

“The player and his family know how much trust I have in him. I think he is just showing that every week and his consistency level is getting better and better.”

Arsenal head to Southampton this evening hoping to improve their miserable away form, which has seen them win twice on the road all season in the Premier League.

Their goal difference also currently stands at zero and they have not finished a topflight season on a negative goal difference since the 1975/76 campaign.

Arteta knows that is simply not good enough and he has urged his squad to turn the tide at St Mary’s. “We will see the reaction now,” he said. “When you are winning two or three games in a row, it’s easy. When you lose one, it becomes a little bit more difficult. I want to see that reaction and how much they want it and how they’re going to react as a team.”

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