Mikel Arteta insists there are mitigating factors behind Arsenal's poor Premier League season ahead of Sunday's clash against Newcastle United.
Arteta is under increasing pressure as he takes his team to St James' Park, with the Gunners floundering in 11th place in the top flight.
The manager's chances of salvaging the season rest with the Europa League, and his Arsenal side will look to overturn a 2-1 deficit when they face Villarreal in the home leg of their semi-final on Thursday.
Lifting the trophy in Europe's second-tier competition would earn the North London side a place in next season's Champions League – and would put gloss on an otherwise disappointing campaign.
But Arteta has claimed there are a number of reasons why his team's league form has been below par.
After taking charge of Arsenal following Unai Emery's sacking in December 2019, Arteta led the team to an FA Cup triumph after the resumption of a campaign that was disrupted by the pandemic.
And with last season not ending until July, he cites the fact he has not yet had a proper pre-season with his players as one of the factors behind his team's lack of progress.
Arteta also said the absence of fans from the Emirates has played its part amid some underwhelming performances.
"People will judge what we do today but lots of elements are contributing," said the manager ahead of Sunday's clash against Newcastle.
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"I haven't had a normal season yet. Without a proper pre-season, we had some instability, and [we need] our fans back in the stadium… I cannot wait for that."
Arsenal face a Newcastle side who are unbeaten in four games, with on-loan Gunners midfielder Joe Willock having scored in his last three appearances from the bench for the Magpies.
Willock is ineligible to face his parent club in Sunday's clash, while Arsenal skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starts following his recent bout of malaria.
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