Mikel Arteta: ‘In many moments I saw Arsenal winning the Premier League – it still hurts’

Mikel Arteta on the sidelines during Arsenal's 2-2 draw at Liverpool - Mikel Arteta: ‘In many moments I saw Arsenal winning the Premier League – it still hurts'
Mikel Arteta believes injuries cost Arsenal dear in April and May - Getty Images/Dave Howarth

Mikel Arteta has said there were “many moments” last season when he believed his Arsenal team would go all the way and win the Premier League only for a lack of depth to ultimately cost his side, leaving him with the agony of their near-miss.

Arsenal appeared to be streaking towards the league title before injuries, especially the back problem suffered by key centre-back William Saliba, proved fatal to their hopes of holding off Manchester City.

In an interview with Spanish publication Marca, Arteta has now said that he feels those injuries were the reason for the team’s loss of consistency. The Arsenal manager also pointed towards his side’s run of draws against Liverpool, West Ham United and Southampton as a pivotal moment in the title race, and opened up on the “hurt” that he felt and losing out to his former mentor Pep Guardiola.

“To this day, it still hurts me deeply, not having won the Premier (League) after spending 10 months fighting with City,” Arteta said. “But that’s the sport. That said, what has been achieved with such a young team is worthwhile. That is clear to me too.”

He added: “Those three draws in a row that we had [against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton] penalised us, and all the misfortunes that happened. There were three or four injuries to important players and from there, everything got complicated.

“When we had the full team, we were consistent. As soon as problems came, it didn’t reach us. And then our rival was the best team in the world, the best squad in the world, the best coach in the world. We had no choice but to accept it and shake hands with the champion.”

Asked if he saw himself winning the Premier League title, Arteta said: “In many moments. The team gave me arguments and we had a connection with the people. It was believed in.

“But when we started to have injuries, I felt that it was going to cost us. The level of demand could not be maintained. If you want to win the Premier League against City, you have to get to April-May with all the players available and at their best. And we, due to injuries, did not get to that.”

Arsenal's players during their 4-1 defeat at Manchester City - Mikel Arteta: ‘In many moments I saw Arsenal winning the Premier League – it still hurts'
Arsenal's title charge effectively ended with a heavy defeat away at Man City in late April - Getty Images/Michael Regan

Arteta left City for Arsenal in Dec 2019 after serving his apprenticeship under the tutelage of Guardiola, and has improved the team he spent five seasons playing for to the point where they led the defending champions for the majority of the campaign.

“This started [more than] three years ago. I was Pep’s assistant at City, we played against Arsenal and I saw that the soul of the club had been lost,” Arteta said.

“It was not enjoyed, it was not felt. I knew that there was the option, shortly after, of being on the other bench and I knew that this club is so big that you had to connect the team with the fans. It has been hard to do, and now I feel happy.

“We have a clear identity, there is union and we are full of energy. That’s the biggest thing. From top to bottom, they all push in the same direction.”  

Having identified a lack of depth as a reason they did not win the title last season, Arteta is hoping to address that weakness this summer. Arsenal are set to announce the signing of Kai Havertz from Chelsea in the coming days, after a £65 million fee was agreed.

They are still in talks with West Ham over Declan Rice and, despite competition from City, remain confident that the England midfielder wants to make the move to north London.

After admitting he “can’t talk about players who are not in the club” in regards to Rice, Arteta was more open to discussing Havertz, with the Germany international on the verge of completing his switch across London.

Mikel Arteta and Declan Rice after Arsenal's draw at West Ham - Mikel Arteta: ‘In many moments I saw Arsenal winning the Premier League – it still hurts'
Mikel Arteta wants to add Declan Rice to Arsenal's central midfield this summer - Getty Images/David Price

“Talent comes at a price, and at Arsenal we are always interested in youngsters with experience,” Arteta said. “I repeat, I’m not talking about players from other clubs, but in the case of Kai he has already shown a lot, including a Champions League [win]. He is a talented player, versatile and only 24 years old.”

Arsenal are also negotiating with Ajax over a move for Dutch international defender Jurrien Timber, who could join for a fee in the region of £35 million to £40 million.

Depending on the future of Thomas Partey, who will be allowed to leave the club for the right price, Arsenal are also considering moving for another central midfielder this summer.

Arteta also responded to a question about reports linking him with a move to Paris St Germain to replace recently sacked head coach Christophe Galtier, but he insisted he was “happy” and “grateful” to be with the north London club.

“I can only say that I am happy at Arsenal,” he said. “I feel loved, valued by our owners, Stan and Josh (Kroenke), and I have a lot to do here at this club. I am happy and tremendously grateful to be at Arsenal.”