Mikel Arteta hopes fit Arsenal squad will not repeat last season’s run-in

Source: The Observer Arsenal

Manager confident his ‘exceptional players’ will have learned from mistakes against Bayern when they face Aston Villa

Such is Mikel Arteta’s attention to detail that it surely will not have escaped him that this week’s thrilling 2-2 draw in the Champions League against Bayern Munich took place one year on from another topsy-turvy game that ended with the same scoreline.

It now seems remarkable that 12 months ago the Arsenal manager was acknowledging Aaron Ramsdale’s crucial role in rescuing a point for his side against Liverpool despite leading 2-0 at half-time, with the goalkeeper producing a string of brilliant saves in stoppage time after Roberto Firmino’s late equalizer. “He was superb again today,” Arteta said. “You need your goalkeeper at Anfield.”

Asked how his team would respond after seeing their lead over Manchester City cut to six points, the Spaniard added: “We’ve been responding for 30 games now. Every single day is a test and the test now is how good we’re going to be against West Ham.”

We can only wonder how Ramsdale must have felt on the bench watching his replacement, David Raya, charging 45 yards out of his goal against Bayern in the 18th minute of the first leg at the Emirates. Until that stage, Arsenal’s vibrant young side were in complete control against a team that have badly underperformed this season in the Bundesliga and found themselves 1-0 up through Bukayo Saka’s expert finish after a mistake from Alphonso Davies. The Canada defender had also picked up a booking that rules him out of next week’s second leg and was being given a thorough working over by Saka and Ben White, whose timid shot into the hands of Manuel Neuer was described as the turning point by Arteta.

Ninety seconds later, the ball was in Arsenal’s net after Raya’s rush of blood prompted Gabriel Magalhães to give it straight to Leroy Sané, with Serge Gnabry just beating the Arsenal goalkeeper to Leon Goretzka’s pass. The home defence still seemed gripped with stage fright 12 minutes later when Sané sped away from Jakub Kiwior and kept on running past red shirts until being brought down by William Saliba.

It was a concerning sight for a defence that had kept four straight clean sheets and last conceded two goals in the same match in the FA Cup defeat by Liverpool on 7 January. That followed successive losses to West Ham and Fulham, when it seemed their title chances were slipping away again. Yet while last season’s draw at Anfield proved to be the defining moment of Arsenal’s campaign, as they went on to draw 2-2 at West Ham the week after before salvaging another late draw against relegation-bound Southampton to hand City the advantage in the title race, this time Arteta is counting on his side having learned from their mistakes against Bayern when they face Aston Villa on Sunday.

“When we concede two goals the way we have done it does affect [the team] but it’s what you do afterwards,” he said. “When you are losing 2-1 after being in total control of the match you have to play that game. And you’ve never done it and it’s Bayern Munich, and you’re 2-1 down when the expectation was very different and now you have to cope with that. The players were exceptional at that because any other team” – at this point Arteta made a choking noise – “collapses and we didn’t. We stayed in the game and were focused. We made some changes who had some impact and we got a draw. I will have learned a lot so it was a great experience to have.”

Asked if their second-half recovery showed how far his team have progressed, Arteta added: “Yes, for sure – I was really impressed and I told them that. It’s not easy – it’s easy from the stands to adjust putting a single image without giving any context.

“A football game is a story and the story happens for a reason. What happens in the first minute has an effect on what happens in the second minute. What happens after 10 minutes has an effect on what happened three days ago in a different game. You cannot isolate the pictures and then make a judgment – it doesn’t work like that.

“It’s like putting miles in a car. If you have more miles, you have more baggage, more experience, and that’s needed, especially in this competition. There is a lot to learn from the other day and there are a lot of positive things to take as well.”

Arsenal picked up 12 points from their final seven games last season as Manchester City swept to a third successive title. But Arteta is hoping that having virtually a full squad to choose from could make all the difference this time.

“We talked about it, having the squad healthy and the players we have available is obviously a big bonus,” he said. “It’s about making the right ones [changes]. The answer to that is always if you win – because that’s the only judgment you are going to get. But the intention is to keep everyone involved, feeling important and fresh. It’s going to be crucial.”


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