Mikel Arteta leapt to the defence of his under-fire Arsenal players following their Carabao Cup loss to Manchester City and insists “strange things” are happening in matches – but ordered his players to “turn it around” in their next three matches over the festive period, which he thinks could decide their fate this season.
The Gunners went down 4-1 to Carabao Cup holders City at the Emirates despite Alexandre Lacazette cancelling out Gabriel Jesus’ early opener in the first half.
Runar Alex Runarsson, starting in goal in place of Bernd Leno who impressed in the previous round’s win over Liverpool, let Riyad Mahrez’s free-kick squirm between his hands before hte hour mark.
Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte put the game to bed as Arsenal suffered yet another home defeat this term, with Arteta’s charges also desperately struggling in the Premier League.
But the 38-year-old insists he believes his squad – which sits 15th in the league and has lost eight of 14 top-flight games – can still turn things around.
“Yes we do [still believe] because I see how much they try and what they are trying to do,” the Arsenal manager said as pressure continues to rise in regards to his future at the club.
“At the moment a lot of strange things are happening in every game and that makes things really difficult.
“Obviously we started the game and conceded after one or two minutes a really soft goal. After that in the moment that we are it’s difficult against this opponent.
“We get back in the game and started to grow in the game and scored a really good goal. We had a spell of 25 minutes where we were the better team.
“After that we conceded the second goal the way we did. Against this level of opponent obviously they penalise you and it makes life really difficult.
“After that you’re chasing it, we have a great counter-attack moment that we are through, we lose the ball and the same play they score in an offside position and you end up losing the game again.”
Arsenal face Chelsea on Saturday (5.30pm kick-off) in a London derby before taking on Brighton in their final match of 2020 and travelling to West Brom in the New Year.
Arteta believes the three-game stretch could ultimately determine the direction of the north Londoners’ campaign and expects his side to respond against Frank Lampard’s Blues on Boxing Day.
He added: “We have to turn it around. There’s no question. If we don’t we are in big trouble. That’s the moment that is going to decide our season.”
Arteta also defended goalkeeper Runarsson with the Icelandic summer signing poor not just for Mahrez’s free-kick but for Jesus’ early headed opener.
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The Spaniard continued: “He hasn’t played a lot of games for us. He’s just adapting to the league. That’s it. We all make mistakes. We have to support him.
“Yes [I thought about starting Leno] but at the same time we know that Bernd has played a lot of minutes and needed some rest as well.
“We want to give opportunities to other players. Alex has done well in the other games and these things happens in football.
“It’s a really hard one to take, considering how the game went, the reaction the team had against this level of opponent. Obviously when you give the goals away that we gave, you make the game impossible.”
Pre-match, Arteta demanded to see fighters and added: “The ones who are not interested [in fighting] or cannot do it, they have to stay behind because if not they are dragging you back.”
The Arsenal boss also asked his players not to behave like victims but to show grit and battle through their current hardships, and after the City match declared himself pleased with the effort levels of his side despite the scoreline.
Arteta continued: “I’m focused on the fighters that we have, the spirit that we showed tonight and the way we tried.
“The spirit that we showed tonight, again, going against a really difficult opponent and conceding the goals we did, I see the way we tried. I see a lot of fighters.”