Soccer

Mikel Arteta prepares Arsenal for ‘most beautiful part of the season’

The second-placed Gunners sit two points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool ahead of a hectic April schedule.

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal visit Luton on Wednesday evening
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal visit Luton on Wednesday evening (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Mikel Arteta accepts Arsenal may have to win each of their nine remaining Premier League fixtures to be crowned champions as he prepares for the “most beautiful part of the season”.

The second-placed Gunners sit two points behind leaders Liverpool ahead of a hectic April schedule following Sunday’s dogged goalless draw at title rivals Manchester City.

Manager Arteta, who also has a two-legged Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich to consider, wants his players to embrace the challenge, beginning on Wednesday evening at home to relegation-threatened Luton.

“It’s going to have to be really close to that,” he replied when asked if Arsenal need a 100 per cent record from now on to finish top of the table.

“When you see the level and the consistency of the other teams and historically what is needed to win in this league, it’s not going to be very far from that.

“This is where we want to be and now we want to take this opportunity and make it happen.

“We worked every single day with that enthusiasm and passion to make it happen and enjoying the moment as well.

“I see the team really flowing and they are really excited about playing each game and that has to drive them (on) this journey to the end.

“I am full of energy and it’s the most beautiful part of the season.”

Arsenal snapped an eight-match losing streak at the Etihad Stadium by holding City to a forgettable Easter Sunday stalemate.

Pep Guardiola’s hosts dominated possession but were toothless in attack as the Gunners’ defence excelled.

Arteta suggested he was forced to park his ego and tweak his footballing philosophy to secure the result.

“You have to (adapt) – sometimes because you want to adapt, sometimes because you have to adapt,” he said.

“You have to have that resilience and leave your ego aside and your ideology aside and do what you have to to win the game.

Arteta believes Luton boss Rob Edwards, pictured, and his coaching staff “deserve more credit than any other team in this league”
Tottenham Hotspur v Luton Town – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium Arteta believes Luton boss Rob Edwards, pictured, and his coaching staff “deserve more credit than any other team in this league” (Steven Paston/PA)

“I thought the team was mentally really strong and really clever the way they did it.”

Arsenal’s midweek meeting with Rob Edwards’ 18th-placed Hatters is the first of eight matches this month, including the two clashes with Bayern.

While the Gunners are overwhelming favourites for victory on Wednesday, they required a dramatic added-time winner to escape Kenilworth Road with a thrilling 4-3 success in early December.

Asked about his memories of that game, Arteta said: “Especially how tough it was to win there, how difficult they have made it for every team.

“Big compliments to Rob and the coaching staff and what they have done as a club, it’s an amazing journey.

Bukayo Saka (left) limped off against Manchester City on Sunday (AP/Dave Thompson)
Britain Soccer Premier League Bukayo Saka (left) limped off against Manchester City on Sunday (AP/Dave Thompson) (Dave Thompson/AP)

“They deserve more credit than any other team in this league, how they’ve done it, what they transmit as a team and what they generated and it’s going to be a really tough match.”

Arteta is hopeful Bukayo Saka will be available after he limped off against City, while long-term absentee Jurrien Timber could return before the end of the campaign from the anterior cruciate ligament injury he sustained in August.

“He’s doing very well,” Arteta said of Dutch defender Timber.

“He’s back training. He’s not far off. The thing is that last step, he hasn’t played any minutes.

“I think he’s got a good chance (of returning this season). I don’t know a percentage but I think he’s got a good chance and he’s going to push it as far as he can.”