Mikel Arteta admits the next fortnight is the crunch, defining period in Arsenal’s season.
The Gunners, who have suffered back-to-back league defeats, face a testing four-game run between now and the end of the month.
First up at the Emirates today are Marcelo Bielsa’s in-form Leeds and then next weekend it is Pep Guardiola’s league leaders Manchester City heading to North London.
And sandwiched either side of that clash is their Europa League Cup tie against Portuguese giants Benfica.
Little wonder Arteta views another hectic period as being make or break for his team’s ambitions to qualify for Europe.
Ahead of Leeds’ visit, the Spaniard said: “Yes, it’s going to be crucial. We don’t have any margin now in the league and in the Europa League, they are knockout games.
“So, the moment you don’t do what you have to, you are out.
“The level of attention and the level of performances are going to be really high and demanding – and we have to face the challenge and go through them.”
After such a bright start to life in the Arsenal hot-seat when he lifted the FA Cup last August, Arteta’s first full campaign has proved worryingly inconsistent.
So what will success constitute this time round? Making Europe, either via a surge up the league over the next three months or by going all the way in the Europa League.
Arteta, whose side were nine points adrift of the top four coming into the weekend, went on: “First of all, we have to improve our position in the league – dramatically.
“In order to do that we have to win a lot of football matches. How many will depend on what the opponents do because at the moment it’s not in our hands.
“We need to get into Europe – and into a situation where we can compete for those places – because that’s going to decide which competition we aren in next season.”
“Things could change really quickly. If you’d asked me this question after we’d won the last two games, I’d say we had options in both of them.
“It will now depend on how consistent we are week in, week out.”
Arteta’s win-per-game ratio as Gunners boss is a mediocre 42%, which is even worse than his sacked predecessor Unai Emery, who had a 49% win ratio from 51 games.
The ex-Everton and Arsenal playmaker added: “I see how the team is developing. Is it going to take time? Yes. Do I see a lot of progress in many areas? Yes.
“But the margin for improvement is still enormous and I said that from day one when we were winning against big teams and winning trophies.”
Meanwhile, Arteta reckons news that Arsenal’s home leg against Benfica will be played in Athens sums up the bizarre COVID-hit campaign.
“It’s different rules. Playing at home in Greece sounds a little bit crazy but it’s the only way,” he said.
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