Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal cannot afford any more slip-ups to qualify for next season’s Champions League – as he appeared to admit that the Gunners are powerless to letting Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leave should they finish outside the top four.
Arsenal’s return to Premier League action on Wednesday saw them comprehensively beaten by reigning English champions Manchester City at the Etihad.
Goals from Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden put the visitors, who were made to rue an error-strewn performance from the sent-off David Luiz, to the sword.
And with nine games to go of the campaign, the north Londoners squandered a valuable chance to trim the eight-point gap to Chelsea in fourth place.
Arteta admits that his side’s hopes of clinching fourth spot hang by a thread – particularly considering their fixture schedule pits them against four of the top eight in Wolves, Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool.
The Spaniard even appeared to acknowledge that with no Champions League football and the club’s finances strained – keeping top goalscorer Aubameyang may not be feasible.
Instead, Arteta insists his priority must be to work with the players he know he’ll have in his squad for the long term.
He said: “I don’t think we have any margin for error.
“What we do today or in the next five weeks will have a big impact on what we have to do in the summer.
“I think we have to be very, very consistent and get a stroke of games winning in a row if we want to lift the belief and believe that we can do it and reduce the margin of points that we have at the moment between us and the other top clubs.
“The demands of this football club are huge and we cannot stay still.
“We have to change things, we have to improve them.
“But the most important thing is not about keeping, it is about improving the players that we have right now, convince them of what we are trying to do and get them performing and winning football matches.
“What happens in the summer will happen.”
Qualifying for the Europa League, which will also be a challenge for Arsenal, would at least allow Arteta to do some business at the end of the season.
Finishing outside of Europe entirely, which Arsenal have not done since 1994-95, would leave Arteta solely reliant on player sales.
- Arsenal defeat to Man City shows size of task facing Mikel Arteta
One departure which could raise cash is that of 20-goal striker Aubameyang, whose contract expires in a year’s time.
Talks are ongoing regarding a potential extension but if Arsenal do not have Champions League football to offer and are struggling to justify the financial cost of extending David Luiz’s contract, their hopes of offering the Gabon international a bumper pay-rise to try and keep him appear slim.
They could therefore be forced to sell him, though there will be very few suitors capable of meeting their £35million price tag for the 31-year-old.
Speaking of the upcoming window, Arteta said: “I think there is a lot of uncertainty in how the transfer market is going to look.
“You hear very different things and people are going to go all in, clubs are already spending a lot of money and others may be much more conservative and wait to assess the situation before they move.
“Our position at the moment is that we have to see and be cautious.
“Our ambition is still intact and I know from the owners that their ambition is still intact as well.
“We will try and do our best to improve the squad, maintain the players we want to maintain and move forward.”
Arsenal return to action on Saturday away at Brighton (3pm) with David Luiz banned after being dismissed against City.
Pablo Mari and Granit Xhaka are absent with ankle injuries sustained in the loss to the Citizens while the clash will come too soon for Lucas Torreira.
Arteta will also remain without Sokratis Papastathopoulos due to a thigh strain while Cedric Soares is expected to miss out again.
Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe could return to the starting line-up but it remains to be seen whether Mesut Ozil will be brought back in from the cold.
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