Mikel Arteta has proven to be a “brilliant coach” during his tenure at Arsenal but he may find finishing fourth in the Premier League to be “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, behind Tottenham on goal difference following their north London rivals’ 5-1 win over Newcastle.
Arteta’s side are three points clear of West Ham and Manchester United after playing three and two games behind their other rivals respectively for a place in the top four.
Securing that top four spot would secure a return to the Champions League for the first time since the 2016/17 season but, speaking in a Sky Bet fan debate on The overlapNeville said the achievement can only be considered a success at Arsenal because of the “depressed ambition” that has potentially taken hold in north London.
“I really like Mikel Arteta,” Neville said. “I think he’s a brilliant coach. I think the team is fantastic in terms of the young players they have.
“But it’s interesting when you’re in a cycle of a club and you’re depressing the ambition and you have a significant period of failure because then you’re really happy to finish fourth.
“I found myself saying that about Manchester United, but it’s because of depressed ambition.
“I think Mikel Arteta is a good operator. My concern is whether 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 this 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 will be vital for Arsenal.
“The reflection at the end of the season, even if they are rented now, if they finish fifth to sixth, it will probably be a disappointment for Arsenal.
“That’s the reality and that’s why it’s a big test for them. Despite all the applause, this is the critical moment.
“Come to the end of the season, that’s where you judge and if Arsenal finish sixth, I don’t think Arsenal fans will say it’s a big project and we’re behind it. It will be another disappointment.
“You have Pep [Guardiola], [Jurgen] Klopp, Man United, Chelsea – where can Arsenal go? They are not going to compete.
“Mikel Arteta is a brilliant manager. I love that we see a team he gets the most out of – I can see exactly how he wants to play, we all can.
But he comes fourth [and] if he was really tough about it, he’d probably say ‘well, that’s the best I can do there, I’m going now and I’m finding my next job’.”
Carra: Arsenal need to sign Alisson and Van Dijk signings
Jamie Carragher believes Arsenal’s lack of European football this season has helped their push into the top four, and that this campaign could represent their best opportunity to return to the Champions League.
Carragher said: “The games until the end of the season are absolutely huge for Arteta and Arsenal.
“The reason why Arsenal are probably in this position is because they are not in Europe. Even if they are not in the Champions League, they will probably be in the Europa League and that will be a big problem. to get back into the top four.
Carra: There’s something for the fans 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 on. Sometimes when you don’t win things other teams will try and say “Why do you like him, you haven’t won anything?
“But sometimes – and that’s probably something for Manchester United – as a fan it’s just nice to love your team. They might not win but you love the players. You can get behind them .
“When Klopp first arrived 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 the other clubs they don’t like the manager and the team and there’s nothing about it. Right now Arsenal might not be winning anything but I’m sure looking at these young players, there is something you can support as a supporter.
“It’s an opportunity for Arsenal that they have to take. Arsenal have to be fourth.”
If Arsenal are able to return to the top of Europe, the next challenge will be closing the gap to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
To do this, Carragher says the Gunners should follow the example set by Jurgen Klopp’s side in the transfer market, explaining: “When you compare it to what Klopp did at Liverpool, Arsenal are at the stage where they doesn’t have 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 leap to where you are in competition with Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea.
“It’s the next step for Arsenal. They need a really good centre-forward who can really take them to the next level. Maybe a central midfielder too.”
Asked if Arsenal have the money to make these signings, Carragher added: “That’s why it’s imperative that 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 have is a very good team, which is well trained. They have good young players but that alone will never be enough.
“They need these two superstar signings who are going to elevate them.”