'We changed the club', but Arteta left disappointed

Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta led Arsenal to accruing more Premier League points in a season than since 2003-04 [Getty Images]

So close, but yet so far – and the mood was defiant.

Mikel Arteta, in his heart of hearts, may have known Arsenal’s title race was run before this match. As Pep Guardiola’s former assistant, he knows as well as anyone just how ruthless Manchester City can be.

It was certainly over when City raced into an early lead against West Ham, on a day when they had to not win for Arsenal to have a shot at a first league title in 20 years.

So by the post-match interviews at Emirates Stadium, Arteta and his players had time to come to terms with second place – and to draw positives from an impressive campaign.

Arsenal finished on 89 points, their second most in a Premier League campaign. Only the 90 earned by the legendary Invincibles side of 2003-04 can surpass this Gunners team.

So while acknowledging they had come up just short, captain Martin Odegaard was keen to accentuate the positives.

"I think we’re all a little bit disappointed," he said, speaking to fans on the Emirates Stadium pitch after the final whistle.

"We’ve been fighting so long for the big dream. We were so close. I’m so proud of the boys, so proud of the team, the fans. I'm so proud of the progress we are making.

"We’ve changed the club and I think you all believe in us now."

'Arteta has brought belief back'

Jurrien Timber

There is plenty of young talent in the Arsenal squad to back up Odegaard’s comments. At the back, goalkeeper David Raya overcame jittery moments to earn the Premier League Golden Glove for the most clean sheets.

In front of him, William Saliba became the first outfield player to play every minute for Arsenal in a Premier League campaign.

Arteta will hope Jurrien Timber can join Saliba in a steely Arsenal defence next season. Against Everton, Timber made his second Premier League appearance after getting seriously injured during his first on the opening day.

He would also have loved to have Bukayo Saka available against Everton, the winger missing out because of a muscle problem.

But while Arsenal have ended the season without a trophy, Arteta has built a side which looks capable of pushing City again next year.

“Arsenal was a club lacking in belief for a long period of time and Arteta has brought a lot of that back,” six-time Premier League winner Rio Ferdinand told TNT Sports.

“He's got the fanbase completely believing. Yes, they've not hit some of the targets they came into the season with, but he's created a football team the fans want to stand by.”

There are still some questions for Arteta to answer, most notably what to do about their forward line.

Kai Havertz has become the fifth player to register 20 Premier League goal involvements in his debut season with Arsenal after Thierry Henry, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Alexis Sanchez.

But whether a world-class number nine would be the answer to the conundrum of catching Manchester City is something Arteta must determine.

'City must be careful for the next few years'

Kai Havertz's 89th-minute strike against Everton
Kai Havertz's 89th-minute strike against Everton ensured Arsenal ended the season with a win [Getty Images]

“It is that simple [that Arsenal need a number nine],” former West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker told BBC Radio 5 Live. “You can see why they have been linked with Alexander Isak from Newcastle because they need that.

“When you think they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and Arteta says 'we don't have a striker who is going to score 25 goals' - there is your answer. He knows it. The top teams need that in their side.”

The title was not lost by Arsenal on the final day, but by the moments throughout the season where they have just fallen short.

In the league, a Christmas period when they picked up just one point from three games, and the gutting home defeat by Aston Villa in April will be pinpointed.

They also lacked killer instinct against Liverpool when they exited the FA Cup, and quality when being knocked out the Champions League by Bayern Munich.

However he decides to tackle the challenge of catching the first English club to win four consecutive top-flight titles, Arteta knows there is no way of shirking that task.

"I know what happened and this is the level," he told his post-match media conference. "No-one has to explain what the level is because I was there four years every day and I know what we have to do if we are going to reach there.

"But we are on the right path, the right journey and to see the evolution so quickly happening, I haven't seen it before. So, we're on the right trajectory and now we need really to pull the teeth and bite into it because we really want more."

Even Guardiola knows this is not the last he will hear from his former number two and his young Gunners.

“Before it was Liverpool that pushed us, and now the last two seasons [it has been Arsenal],” the Manchester City manager said.

“Young manager, big talent. They send us a message that we have to be careful for the next years.”