Mikel Arteta remains confident he can get Arsenal back challenging the top teams regardless of where they finish this season, but insists he has not given up hope of securing Champions League football.
Consecutive defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle have left the Gunners requiring a large helping hand from already-relegated Norwich on the last day to give them any chance of claiming a top-four finish.
A point for Spurs at Carrow Road on Sunday would secure them a place in the Champions League, but if they were to lose and Arsenal could beat Everton, it would be Arteta’s side who would trump their north London rivals.
It remains unlikely but after back-to-back eighth-place finishes, the Spaniard feels this season represents clear progress for his young squad.
“It has been a long journey and a very challenging one this season but I think we have come a long way as a club. As a team I think we have transformed the energy, vibe and expectation of this club again and we have done it together,” Arteta said.
“I have hope and expectation to move this club to the place it deserves. We have done it the way we predicted with the project we set a year ago, with a lot of young players, with senior players and with our crowd in our stadium with a real sense of connection around the place.
“We are back in Europe, we don’t know where and it will be decided (on Sunday). Hopefully it will be Champions League because I believe we will do what we have to do and we will be cheering for Norwich to do what they can do.
“After that we will take the club to the next level and that is the ambition. In order to do that we have to have a very clear plan again about how we want to do it and execute it.
“It is no secret we need resources and we need to increase the quality and depth of the squad, as long as we maintain at the same time who we are as a club and the people we have next to us. That will be the challenge the following season, but hopefully in front of our people we live a great day (on Sunday).”
Arteta believes it is “very possible” Arsenal could dislodge Spurs from fourth spot but explained how this campaign has seen the club resolve deeper issues off the pitch.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian and David Luiz, who were all big-earners, have been moved on and the overall average age and size of the squad has been trimmed.
Asked to rate Arsenal’s chances and that of Norwich beating Spurs, Arteta said: “Very possible and, looking back, I have been back a few years and I’ve seen examples of teams playing in the last game of the season and things happening. The closer the game is, I am hopeful.
“We have created expectations that this club deserves and this club has to be, but in the last two matches we haven’t been able to fulfil those expectations.
“Overall, looking back at where we were, you have to be clear as well with what we had to do and we are clear this is not where we want to be. We want to be in a completely different position, challenging the top teams, and that is the aim.
“This is not going to stop here, there is another step but this was very much necessary. Not only about where we are in the league table, we had much deeper issues at the club than the league table in my opinion that now have been resolved and now they look very strong.”
Arteta also refused to be drawn on the comments made by Granit Xhaka after the 2-0 loss to Newcastle.
The Swiss midfielder told Sky Sports: “We need people to have the balls to come here and play.”
But Arteta said: “You have to ask him exactly what he meant or who he was pointing at.
“I prefer not to comment too much but when you allow people to speak in front of the media, you have to allow them to say what they feel. Unquestionably, knowing Granit, that’s what he felt.”