Mikel Arteta has proved himself to be a “brilliant coach” during his time in charge at Arsenal but he may find that finishing fourth in the Premier League is “as good as it gets” at the Emirates, believes Gary Neville.
The Gunners head into their Monday Night Football clash at Crystal Palace fifth in the table, trailing Tottenham on goal difference after their north London rivals’ 5-1 win against Newcastle.
Arteta’s side are three points ahead of West Ham and Manchester United having played three and two games fewer respectively than their other rivals for a top-four spot.
Securing that place in the top four would ensure a return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016/17 season but, speaking at a Sky Bet fan debate on The Overlap, Neville said that achievement may only be seen as a success at Arsenal because of the “depressed ambition” that has potentially taken hold in north London.
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“I really like Mikel Arteta,” said Neville. “I think he’s a brilliant coach. I think the team is fantastic in terms of the young players they’ve got.
“But it’s interesting when you’re in a cycle of a club and you depress the ambition and have a significant period of failure because you then get really happy about finishing fourth.
“I found myself saying that about Manchester United, but it’s because of a depressed ambition.
“I think Mikel Arteta is a good operator. My concern is if Arsenal finish fourth this season – which, to be fair, I think is 50/50, I still think there’s a long way to go in that race – but if they finish fourth, that’s in some ways as good as it gets.
Keane: Next month crucial for Arsenal
Sky Sports’ Roy Keane:
“The next month or two is going to be vital for Arsenal.
“The reflection at the end of the season, as much as they are getting praised now, if they finish fifth to sixth, it will probably be a disappointment for Arsenal.
“That’s the reality and that’s why it is a big test for them. For all the plaudits, this is crunch time.
“Come the end of the season, that’s when you judge and if Arsenal finish sixth, I don’t think the Arsenal fans will say it’s a great project and we are behind it. It’ll be another disappointment.”
“You’ve got Pep [Guardiola], [Jurgen] Klopp, Man United, Chelsea – where can Arsenal go? They’re not going to compete.
“Mikel Arteta is a brilliant coach. I love that we’re seeing a team that he’s getting the maximum out of – I can see exactly how he wants to play, we all can.
“But he gets to fourth [and] if he was really hard about it, he’d probably say ‘right, that’s the best I can do there, I’m going now and getting my next job’.”
Carra: Arsenal need to make their Alisson, Van Dijk signings
Jamie Carragher believes Arsenal’s lack of European football this season has aided their top-four push, and that this campaign may represent their best opportunity to return to the Champions League.
Carragher said: “The games until the end of the season are absolutely massive for Arteta and Arsenal.
“The reason Arsenal are probably in this position is because they are not in Europe. Even if they don’t make the Champions League, they will probably be in the Europa League and that will be a big problem in terms of getting back into the top four.
Carra: There’s something for the fans to get behind at Arsenal
Sky Sports’ Jamie Carragher:
“Another thing about Arsenal, and I go back to Tottenham and Liverpool under Mauricio Pochettino and Jurgen Klopp when he first came in. Sometimes when you are not winning things, other teams will have a go and say ‘why are you enjoying it, you haven’t won anything?’
“But sometimes – and this is probably something for Manchester United – as a fan it’s just nice to like your team. They might not be winning but you like the players. You can get behind them.
“When Klopp first came in at Liverpool, they weren’t winning but there was an energy about them and you liked what you were watching. You liked your manager and you liked your team.
“When you look at other clubs, they don’t like the manager and the team and there is nothing about it. Right now, Arsenal may not be winning anything, but I’m sure watching those young players, there’s something you can get behind as a supporter.”
“This is an opportunity for Arsenal that they have to take. Arsenal need to get fourth.”
If Arsenal are able to return to Europe’s top table, the next challenge will be closing the gap on Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
To do so, Carragher says the Gunners should follow the example set by Jurgen Klopp’s side in the transfer market, explaining: “When you liken it to what Klopp did at Liverpool, Arsenal are at the stage where they haven’t got a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Harry Kane.
“The next two or three signings for Arsenal have to be Alisson, or they have to be a Virgil van Dijk and what they were for Liverpool – signings that take you from fighting for the top four to making that jump where you are competing with Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
“That is Arsenal’s next thing. They need a really top centre forward who can really take them up a level. Maybe a central midfield player too.”
When asked if Arsenal have the money needed to make those signings, Carragher added: “That’s why it is imperative they get into the Champions League because of the extra money in terms of revenue.
“They need those two or three stars because what they do have is a really good team, who are well coached. They have good young players but that is never going to be enough on its own.
“They need those two superstar signings who are going to elevate them.”