Arsenal’s bid to win the Premier League for the first time since 2004 is in danger of imploding, but Mikel Arteta remains adamant the leaders can cope with the pressure of the title race.
Arteta’s side blew a two-goal lead for a second successive game as West Ham hit back to snatch a 2-2 draw at the London Stadium on Sunday.
After squandering the same advantage in last weekend’s 2-2 draw at Liverpool, the Gunners once again paid the price for taking their foot off the gas.
Although Arsenal are four points clear of second-placed Manchester City, it is the champions who have all the momentum heading into the final weeks of a gripping title battle.
With a home game against Arsenal looming on April 26, City know they will be crowned champions if they win their last eight games.
Ominously for Arsenal, Pep Guardiola’s men have already beaten them twice this season, winning 3-1 at the Emirates Stadium in the league in February, just weeks after knocking the Gunners out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory in Manchester.
For Arsenal to no longer be in control of their own destiny is a bitter pill for Arteta to swallow after the north Londoners’ long spell at the top this term.
Arteta concedes Arsenal’s untimely collapses against West Ham and Liverpool were self-inflicted wounds, with the Spaniard especially frustrated by the way his players took their strong position for granted on Sunday.
But he refuses to accept it was the tension of being chased so relentlessly by City that provoked the calamitous results.
“I’m certain it is not the pressure. It is we misunderstood what was needed in that moment,” he said.
“It was very different to Liverpool in terms of the pattern of play. But that is the next stage, you have to play with the same purpose when it is 2-0.
“You have to have more composure to finish the game. When you drop your level so quickly the game is there for the opponent.”
Before the summit meeting with City, Arsenal host Southampton on Friday.
A victory over the bottom of the table Saints would move Arsenal seven points clear of City, who don’t play in the league next weekend due to their FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield United on Saturday.
Fuelled by Erling Haaland’s record-breaking goal-spree City—winners of their last 10 games in all competitions—have the edge in the remaining matches after the Arsenal showdown.
Their toughest tests could come on trips to Fulham and Brentford, although their progress in the Champions League might also pose a distraction.
Arsenal’s trickiest fixtures could be a daunting visit to Newcastle and a home game against in-form Brighton, while a London derby against struggling Chelsea can’t be taken for granted.
Arteta doesn’t believe Arsenal’s young squad are running out of steam towards the end of their unexpected title bid.
But he will spend the days leading up to the Southampton game searching for answers to the blip that threatens to ruin their dream season.
“Fatigue? No. The best way to put it is to convince the team they can do it. We have to dig very deep and find the solution,” he said.
“We stopped playing with the purpose to score a third and fourth one. It looked too easy. We gave them hope and credit to West Ham, they took it.
“We need that ruthless mindset to go kill a team and we haven’t done it.”
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