Mikel Arteta: Arsenal ‘want to go another step forward’ as the title race heats up

Despite what was a precarious closing period of the 2023 calendar year, Arsenal have been back at their best over recent weeks. Statement feats over both Liverpool and West Ham United in consecutive gameweeks place the Gunners right back in to the thick of the cinematic title race.

Mikel Arteta spoke to the media on Friday morning at the club’s Sobha Realty Training Centre, digesting what the feeling is like amongst the high temperature state inside of the league’s top three.

‘We want to be there, and that means we’ve done a lot of things right during the season. We have learnt a lot of things from last season, so we’ve shown a lot of level of consistency and good things in the team. Now we want to go another step forward, and maintain that consistency, and continue the way we are playing and perform. Let’s see where we get.’

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Arsenal have never found themselves commence a calendar year with five consecutive victories in the club’s history, and Saturday’s fixture with Burnley provides the Gunners with an opportunity to rewrite the script and put right their historic January form.

Arteta spoke on the value of finding marginal motivations, expressing that ‘there are moments and things that obviously are motivating. The players are aware sometimes, sometimes they are not even aware of certain things. It’s another extra thing, the focus is in the game and what we have to do to earn the right to win it. If it comes, great.’

Arteta’s side have faced significant injury woes over the recent weeks, with depletion arriving in several areas across the squad. The Arsenal boss gave updates to those missing, providing ambiguous information in regards to the fitness of his squad.

‘Some of them have been progressing better than others. We have a training session again today, some of them are going to do a few bits this week. I am positive that we are hopefully going to get a few back for tomorrow.’

The next week of proceedings proves busy for Arsenal, as the traveling Gunners are set to face Porto in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League round-of-sixteen next Wednesday evening. Arteta reflected on how a busy schedule proves a pivotal point of thought when it comes to nursing an injured outfit, stressing the importance of rotation inside of those positional areas.

‘We have to go game by game because at the moment in certain positions in the last few weeks, we didn’t really have a choice. We had to play them because we didn’t have any other players to do so. We had a chance during matches to make some changes and adjust the minutes, and the load of certain players we have tried to manage in the best way.’

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Arsenal’s upcoming fixture will see the Gunners on the road to face Burnley, as Vincent Kompany’s side look to emerge from what has been a disappointing run of form across recent weeks. Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor will see old friends unite, as Arteta packed on the praise for his managerial counterpart.

‘I have huge respect for him, we had a really good relationship when we worked together and now as well. I have a huge admiration for him, he’s got a special aura around him. He’s someone that is very well articulated, he has got great ideas, he has a great vision of how he wants to play the game. On top of that, he’s got the courage that I love in a coach.’

Despite their upcoming opponents currently paying significant rent within the drop zone, Arteta was firm in his belief that Arsenal will not overlook Kompany’s Burnley side under any circumstances.

‘It’s the most important part of the season, and we know that every fixture is going to play a significant role for what we want to achieve. Burnley is the most important one at the moment, a team that is extremely difficult to beat. You look at the results and how teams have drawn and beat them, and it’s been from very small margins.’

‘They are well coached, and [are] a team that is very competitive. We know that we have a really tough match on Saturday, and that’s the only focus for us. To play with the same energy, with the same enthusiasm, to just compete in the game in the best way possible and the result will come.’

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Kai Havertz was the subject of an onslaught of criticism as the 2023/24 Premier League campaign entered full swing. Despite calls coming from outside of the house that Havertz was underperforming his price tag, Arteta was firm in his belief that the summer signing was the right choice for Arsenal.

Recent weeks have seen Arteta’s stance well vindicated, as Havertz begins to find comfortable footing in North London. Speaking on how he finds working with the German international, Arteta expressed: ‘I love him. I think all love him as a player, as a person, everything that he brings to the team.’

‘There are two or three moments the other day, we’re at four, five, six nil, and how he tracks people and how he is defending the box, and then attacking the box, and he is constantly threatening the opponent’s box as well. If you ask him to play as a 9, as a right attacking midfielder, as a left attacking midfielder – he does it. He’s just a joy to work with.’