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Arteta’s stirring speech shows this is just the start for Arsenal

Mikel Arteta speech at the Emirates
Arteta implored supporters to keep backing their team as vociferously as they have at times this season - Getty Images/James Gill

They had tried a burst of “Sweet Caroline”, as well as the club’s recently-adopted pre-match anthem, although nothing had much shifted the mood by the time the microphone was handed to Mikel Arteta to make sense of it all.

The Arsenal manager had just seen his side fight with grit to win a game that looked at times beyond them. They had ridden the wave of a fortunate handball decision for which even a VAR review could not change the mind of referee Michael Oliver. Yet what began as a joyful, hopeful afternoon in north London had much of the joy sucked out of it by the unyielding winning run of Manchester City unfolding off-stage

It was with an instant sense of foreboding that news of Phil Foden’s goal after 78 seconds arrived via tens of thousands of goal updates. The belief drained. It ebbed and flowed after that, and there was even a moment when news of Mohammed Kudus’ goal for West Ham seemed to have been double-counted. Supporters turned to the press-box with disbelief on their faces holding up two fingers on each hand. Two-two? Not this time.

By the end they had staggered to a victory that was simply not enough, and so Arteta took the stage having initially looked as downcast as any. His black outfit matched what seemed like a black mood as he marched onto the pitch at full-time to thank the official for overlooking the handball from substitute Gabriel Jesus in the build-up to Kai Havertz’s winning goal.

Arteta coped with the moment well. His players had toiled after Takehiro Tomiyasu had equalised soon after Idrissa Gueye’s deflected free-kick had gone in. Different shades of disappointment had gripped Arsenal all afternoon. Arteta thanked the fans and then once again praised his players and staff for what they had achieved in getting this close to the title. He talked about the patience and the understanding that had been shown as he rebuilt the team and sent them in pursuit of the City side for whom he was once a coach.

There would be time, he said, to “think and reflect”. “Please keep pushing and keep inspiring the team,” he said. “Don’t be satisfied because we want much more than that and we are going to get it.”

It was well-judged. It certainly was not the time for tears, or indeed the curtness that Arteta can occasionally adopt when things do not go his way. The crowd applauded, the players embarked on their lap of appreciation and soon their families and friends would join them until it was so crowded it looked like a partial pitch invasion.

But the question remained: can Arsenal? Can they be dissatisfied with this? Or might this be as good as it gets? The normal path for second-place finishers is often the title although no guarantees exist, as was the case with Newcastle United, second in 1995-1996, then again the next season and still awaiting their first Premier League title.

No team has finished second in the Premier League era more often than Arsenal – this eighth second place putting them one ahead of Manchester United in that regard. In other years, such as the three second-place seasons from 1999 to 2001, these were book-ended by two Arsenal title-winning seasons. Another second-place followed in 2003 before the unbeaten title-winning season of 20 years ago. But in recent times, the last high finish under Arsene Wenger, second in 2016, and the second place of last season, have not yet prefaced anything.

What do Arsenal need to make good on Arteta’s promise? City are, of course, an immense problem for Arteta’s side. The Kroenke scion Josh was on the pitch after the game, alongside his boardroom power, the executive vice-chairman Tim Lewis. The Kroenkes are not about to try to out-gun City in the transfer market but in this era of profit and sustainability rules that bite, that matters less.

Next season should see the resolution of the Premier League case against City. What effect that might have is unknown, but Arsenal are best placed to benefit from any points deduction that might be imposed on the champions.

Of course they need a goalscorer capable of delivering them more than 20 goals, but everyone wants one of them. Perhaps Havertz, growing after a convincing end to the season, can reach that benchmark, but Arsenal need someone who can do it season after season. No Arsenal striker scored more in the Premier League than the 16 goals Crystal Palace’s late-season goal machine Jean-Philippe Mateta delivered. Seven clubs have players with more goals in the Premier League this season than Bukayo Saka’s 16. Manchester City, in Erling Haaland and Foden, have two.

Arsenal’s options are well-chronicled, including the Slovenian Benjamin Sesko, the next promising colt out of the Red Bull stable. The difference for Arsenal is that they do not need a promising goalscorer – like Rasmus Hojlund – they need someone who is going to make a big difference immediately.

The 20-goal benchmark is blithely tossed about as a simple solution. Only three players managed it this season and only three the season before. Finding the man who can do so for one season is hard enough. Finding the man who can do it seasons after season is a challenge very few meet. Perhaps Sesko is the answer, but one never really knows until the fee is paid.

Haaland, of course, looked the safest bet, which is the privilege of those who have the funds and also, the prestige. In spite of City’s power, Arsenal have built a team capable of running them all the way to the end of the season – but that final step still feels like a giant one.

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