EPL

Arteta expects 'twists' in top-four race with rivals Tottenham

By Sports Desk April 15, 2022

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta expects more "twists" as the Gunners fight with north London rivals Tottenham for Champions League qualification.

Arteta's side seemingly turned a corner in 2022 as they surged to fourth in the Premier League, but consecutive losses against Crystal Palace and Brighton and Hove Albion have handed the advantage to Spurs.

Antonio Conte's team sit three points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal, who have played a game fewer, as the pair contest alongside West Ham for a place in England's top four.

But Arteta, speaking ahead of the clash with Southampton on Saturday, insists there should be more changes and drama expected as the season heads towards its conclusion.

Asked who was in control of the top-four push, he responded on Friday: "Whoever manages to win more games and play better.

"There's going to be some twists still for sure and the pressure and situation is going to keep changing between now and the end of the season. We have to be focused on us and what we have to do.

"Every game [is important], but obviously when you lose, the next game takes more importance and we know that."

Arsenal are set to visit Tottenham in the penultimate week of the season in what is being billed as a decider for the final Champions League spot, but Arteta does not feel more pressure despite the rivalry.

"I think it's related to our history and we want to be not fourth, but third, second or first, and that's what we have to do," he added.

"That's always within every supporter and anybody who has any connection with the club, so the moment you see the team doing better and having better aspirations, your tendency is to get excited about it and I think that's the right reaction."

Arsenal began their 2021-22 campaign with three consecutive league losses in August, and defeat at Southampton would reproduce the same unwanted feat.

Arteta's team are in much better stead now, but the Spaniard dismissed suggestions that the Gunners would have settled for fifth in the Premier League after their abject start.

"At the start of the season? You cannot take anything because you don't know how things are going to develop," he continued.

"You could ask me a week into the season or two weeks before, I could maybe give you a different answer, but no, no."

Alexandre Lacazette has not scored from open play in the league since a strike in December against Southampton, who he has been involved in seven goals in six top-flight appearances against.

Reports suggest Lacazette missed training in midweek, but Arteta assured there is a "good possibility" he will play, while he hailed Bukayo Saka, who is the only English player to have registered both 50-plus shots and 50 or more chances created in the competition this term.

"He's a great kid, and he has a really clear idea of what he needs to expect," he said of the England international. "The better he does, the more difficult they are going to try and make it for him, that's for sure.

"I think he needs the protection that all the players need at this level, nothing different, nothing special.

"The best players and the talented players are always going to be, closely looked at, and they are going to close the space and they are going to be tight on them.

"Bukayo has to recognise that is going to be the case. Referees have to recognise that as well, early in the game, and then try to protect them."

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