Mikel Arteta admits he feels “deep pain” at missing out on qualifying for the Europa League final – a game the Arsenal boss feels could have been a turning point for the club.
Arsenal were held to a goalless draw by Villarreal at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night, with former boss Unai Emery’s current side advancing to a final against Manchester United having won the first leg 2-1. The exit leaves the Gunners on the cusp of facing a first season without European football in 25 years as pressure continues to grow on Arteta.
European qualification through the Premier League is all-but impossible given their inconsistent form and Arsenal will now go at least five years without playing in the Champions League.
Asked whether he questioned himself following the Villarreal stalemate, Arteta replied: “What I felt last night was a deep pain.
“The moment the club is in at the moment, with everything it has been through over the last months, I had a feeling that if we could take the team to the final, it could be a great turning point.
“I felt that responsibility and I was so eager to achieve that because I knew it could be a defining moment. Not being able to achieve it, has been really tough personally obviously.
“I know that we have disappointed a lot of people as well, and that really hurts because we want to give the best to everybody but one thing I made clear is that to do what we want to do, I have no doubts that we are going to achieve it. If not, I wouldn’t be sat here.”
As well as their Europa League exit, Arsenal are also on course for their lowest league finish since 1995.
Since finishing as runners-up to shock champions Leicester in 2016, they have two fifth-placed finishes, a sixth place and last season’s eighth-place finish.
This year they look like potentially ending the campaign lower still, with Arteta adamant he understands the frustration of the fans and shares their feelings.
“I understand those concerns because when you are out of the Champions League for five years it is not just a casualty, it’s a trend,” he said when asked if he understood why fans may fear Arsenal are becoming a mid-table club.
Arteta questions himself
“There are facts to support that trend and as well defined years how it was achieved the Champions League as well.
“So, there are things to change, that’s for sure because you no one is going to accept that at this football club.
“I am not going to accept that and the fans are not going to accept that. So we all have to push together to achieve something very different.
“I take full responsibility for my part, for sure, since I arrived here what I have tried to do, giving my life, my best ability, investing every drop of energy that I have emotionally to support everything that has been going around with my knowledge, with staff, with all the players that are trying to contribute with all the club to give our best.
“But so far it has not been enough and this when the question mark comes, why it is not enough? Is it just a thing or is it the manager? Is it many other stuff? What is it? And then this is football.
“Again, I repeat myself, last night that ball goes in, we win 1-0. You are in the final and it is a different world. But today that world doesn’t look very nice.”