Mikel Arteta was adamant his Arsenal players were not bottle jobs after they conceded more ground in the Premier League title race ahead of their showdown with Manchester City.
The Gunners snatched a dramatic point from the jaws of defeat in Friday’s 3-3 draw against relegation-threatened Southampton to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points ahead of their season-defining trip to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.
A third successive Premier League draw handed champions City, who have two games in hand, the title race initiative but Arteta dismissed suggestions Arsenal were suffering a crisis of confidence, citing the Martin Odegaard- and Bukayo Saka-led comeback as evidence.
With Manchester City on the horizon, Arteta told Sky Sports: “It’s not a final because there are still six games to go and still enough points to be played.
“Obviously, the concern is just turning around this moment, some players if they are in doubt. Get those doubts away and prepare for the game in Manchester to win the game.
“In football, you go through moments when you make errors, or you are not in a good moment. You have to come away from that, and [the players] reacted throughout the game.
“It’s not that they bottled the game and said, ‘OK, it’s nothing to do with me’, and they hide. I haven’t seen anybody hiding. They were really willing to do more.”
He continued: “I don’t see a lack of confidence. When a team lack confidence normally players start to hide in certain moments. I didn’t see a single players doing that, they took risks and took the initiative.
“That is why we created the chances we created, that is why we got back to 3-3 and should have won the game. The confidence is there.”
Arteta added on TalkSport: “I already said to them how much I love them. It is an absolute joy to work with them. Whoever needs a cuddle, I am here to give that cuddle, because they fully deserve it, because I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Arsenal’s title hopes now rest on the outcome of Wednesday’s seismic game in Manchester, where they are tasked with arguably the most challenging assignment in European football at present.
Defending champions Manchester City have lost just one of their 15 Premier League games at Etihad Stadium and have scored 11 goals in their last three league outings.
Arsenal have not won at City since 2015, but Arteta believes they need to change their recent fortunes if they are to lift the Premier League trophy for the first time in 19 years.
“I cannot wait,” he said when asked about the trip to face the team with whom he won two league titles as Guardiola’s assistant. “These are the games you want to play. When everything is at stake you have to go there to win. The game will be prepared to that, that is for sure.”
With defeat surely spelling the end of their hopes of clinching a first Premier League crown since 2004, Arteta acknowledged victory was essential if Arsenal’s great season was to turn into an amazing one.
“Yes, I agree,” the Gunners head coach replied. “Obviously, the task now is even bigger but the first thing we have to do is to click.
“We have to cut the mistakes, do all the simple and basic things much better. After that, we will win games again because we deserve to win the games if it’s not for those moments.”
Asked if he was confident Arsenal could beat City, Arteta replied: “Very confident because I see again today [Friday]. Today [Friday] is a good example of the level they can show and how capable they are to play against a very difficult opponent in a difficult context. The spirit is incredible, and we have to try to do it again.”
Carra: Arsenal need something miraculous to win title
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher:
“Whether the point makes that much difference to Arsenal, I’m not quite sure. They’ve probably got to go to Man City and get three points if they want to go on and win the league. It is still in Arsenal’s hands, and we keep saying it, and it just shows you how far ahead they were.
“They’ve dropped six points in the last three games, and it is still in their hands. They did have a really sizeable lead, but they are going to have to do something miraculous now between now and the end of the season. But we’ve seen them go on runs before, certainly on the back of losing to Man City at Emirates Stadium.
“That was a big disappointment, but they went on to win the next seven games. They’ve got six games to go now, and they will have to go and do something special between now and the end of the season to win it.”
Neville: Arsenal wobbling like crazy
Sky Sports’ Gary Neville:
“The Arsenal players have to go to man City and play with freedom and the excitement they have played with all season. The worry is they are conceding goals and City are experienced and they smell blood.
“There are all the hallmarks here of a team that are wobbling like crazy going to the line.
“They are looking fatigued, they are making mistakes, they look nervous and basically, they are not doing the things they have done in matches all season. They are all the hallmark signs of a team that are struggling to get through it.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s a magnificent game for them to look forward to but can they play at their best and with the freedom they could get by being underdogs.”
Analysis: Arsenal’s crazy draw is a win for Man City
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:
Arsenal bottled it and showed incredible character all at once. Southampton looked like they had won it, then thought they might have lost it, then went home with a point against the Premier League leaders which somehow feels disappointing.
It was a mind-bending game at the Emirates Stadium, the tone set inside the first minute, when Aaron Ramsdale, under no pressure, passed straight to Carlos Alcaraz, who accepted the gift. A title race can do strange things to players. So can a relegation battle.
Logic was turned on its head.
On one side, a team who had coasted through games such as these all season suddenly looked nervous, heavy-footed and sapped of believe. On the other, a team already written off by most, bottom of the table and winless in seven, bristled with aggression as they roared into a lead they fully deserved.
Mikel Arteta hailed the perseverance of his players in coming back from two-goals down afterwards. But his reaction at the final whistle, head in hands, as his dejected players crumpled to the turf in front of him, was more telling. It’s advantage Manchester City.
Arsenal need “something miraculous”, said Jamie Carragher. Wednesday’s trip to the Etihad Stadium might be more must-not-lose than must-win, but defend as they did here and divine intervention might be necessary even to draw against Erling Haaland and Co.
There are games to come after that, of course. There could be more twists and turns. But Arsenal’s frailties were plain to see on Friday night. Three games, three draws. Their late rally shows they are still fighting, but it looks increasingly like a losing battle.
Arsenal visit Manchester City on Wednesday April 26 in the Premier League; kick off 8pm. Southampton host Bournemouth on Thursday April 27 at 7.45pm at St Mary’s.
Arsenal’s remaining fixtures
April 26: Man City (A) – Premier League, kick-off 8pm
May 2: Chelsea (H) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
May 7: Newcastle (A) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm, live on Sky Sports
May 13: Brighton (H) – Premier League, kick-off 3pm
May 20: Nottingham Forest (A) – Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm
May 28: Wolves (H) – Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm