Arsenal’s collapse in the top four is nothing new as Mikel Arteta regrets a ‘huge’ missed opportunity

Arsenal have missed their chance to close in on rivals Tottenham in the battle for a top-four finish, but history shows the Gunners’ inability to get the job done comes as no surprise

Mikel Arteta watches in despair as Arsenal lose to Southampton
Mikel Arteta watches in despair as Arsenal lose to Southampton

Mikel Arteta was at a loss to explain Arsenal’s recent failure to take advantage Tottenham’s Slip in the battle for a top 4 placement. But as history shows, their tendency to falter under pressure isn’t a new problem.

The Gunners were left frustrated on the south coast afterwards fell to their fourth loss in five games. After working so hard to build a commanding lead in fourth place – at one point by seven points Manchester United and six free from Tottenham – The Gunners are four points behind their north London rivals.

And they still couldn’t use the opportunity to close the gap to a point. Jan Bednarek’s goal in the 44th minute gave the Saints the lead and despite 25 shots on target, arsenal couldn’t find a way past Fraser Forster which gave Tottenham a sigh of relief.

Antonio Conte’s team, on the other hand, had shown a strangely lukewarm performance Brighton just hours earlier and it came as no surprise when they conceded a late goal to Leandro Trossard to doom them to defeat. That result was a great chance for the Gunners to get their form back on track after a poor run of late but Arsenal squandered their chance.

“Huge,” Arteta replied when asked how big of a chance they missed. “If you’re someone who doesn’t know the result and has seen the game, you know what they would tell you – that Arsenal won the game. And we didn’t.

“It’s very disappointing and difficult to explain in words, but that’s sport, that’s what makes it different from everyone else. In basketball, you have 25 shots, your opponent has one and you win 10 times out of 10.”

Eddie Nketiah reacts after Arsenal lose to Southampton

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But without Alexandre Lacazette, their attack looked toothless. It’s an issue that has dogged Arteta ever since the club allowed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to end his contract and join Barcelona on a free transfer in January. Not signing a replacement was always a risk – and after Alexander Isak and Dusan Vlahovic failed to land in January, the gamble seems to have backfired.

Of course, this excuse can only be used partially. Gabriel Martinelli is more than capable of playing as No 9, while Eddie Nketiah is now 22 and can lead the line if needed like he did at St Mary’s. Even Emile Smith Rowe could play the role of false nine or Bukayo Saka considering they have scored 19 goals in total First League this season.

Even with a very different roster, it’s a problem that has been hampered by cadres Arsène Wenger and Unai Emery. Since taking Spurs fourth in 2012-13, they have been involved in close battles for the top four, including in 2018-19 and even a title challenge in 2015-16 before falling away. In 2013/14 Arsenal topped the table for 128 days but eventually finished fourth, seven points behind the champions Manchester City.

The same problems are haunting Arsenal again, only with a different manager and a whole new group of players. Arteta claimed his young squad lacked the experience to get them through their difficult period and didn’t have the same level of know-how as their rivals.

“The players we have haven’t made it in this league,” he added. If you have world-class players that have been doing it in the league for 10 years, I would probably say that. I’m the first to defend them, support them, you can see how they’re trying. The only way to do that is to insist, and what happened today can happen the next day or the next month.”

But that explanation will be harder to accept for Arsenal fans who watch their team risk ruining the hard work that got them into the position. Spending £150million in the summer and not making it into the top four would be a huge disappointment – but it’s at least one they can be prepared for after their long string of recent failures.

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