Mikel Arteta marvelled at an “extraordinary” first half of the season from his Arsenal team but warned that they are still short of the level set by Manchester City, despite sitting five points clear at the top of the league with a game in hand.
Arsenal retained their cushion after Eddie Nketiah’s last-gasp winner against Manchester United and their tally of 50 points represents the club’s best start to a Premier League season. They are already in with a tantalising chance of winning their first title since 2004; even so, Arteta believes they will have to improve in order to complete the feat.
“Extraordinary: it doesn’t get much better than that,” he said when asked to summarise Arsenal’s first 19 games. “We deserved the points we have. I think we have played well enough to win most of the matches. But the reality is we have things we can get better at. That’s the aim.”
He continued to evade the suggestion Arsenal are firm favourites to win the league and cited City’s relentlessness of the past half decade. “I don’t have an opinion,” he said. “It can be a perception. I know my team so well, I know where we are, I know why we are here and I know where we want to be and we are far from that. I know the levels of the other teams and one especially that has won in the last five or six years [City] and we are not there yet.”
Arteta was delighted with Nketiah, who also equalised Marcus Rashford’s first-half strike in Arsenal’s 3-2 win and continues to make light of Gabriel Jesus’s injury-enforced absence. “What Eddie is doing is incredible,” he said. “We cannot say we saw that [coming]. It is a big blow losing Gabi but Eddie is responding with the team in an exceptional way.”
The Poland international defender Jakub Kiwior watched from the stands ahead of his move from Serie A club Spezia, although Arteta would not comment ahead of the deal’s completion.
Nketiah’s instinctive strike came as a frustration to Erik ten Hag, whose United team had invited pressure in the final 20 minutes and could barely get out of their own half by the time they were breached. He felt it showed the leap they must still take to become genuine contenders.
“At the moment I am annoyed and I also told the players: if you want to win trophies, titles, we have to change our mentality,” he said. “It is not possible that you are in a top game, making three such big mistakes to concede goals, especially the last goal. You have to feel the game. At that [stage] a point was the maximum and you have to take the point.”