Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is feeling optimistic at his team’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League, even if it comes with conflicted feelings about a lot of his friends.
The longtime Manchester City assistant coach knows that fifth place could be enough to get his Gunners into the UCL after City was banned for two years.
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Now Sunday’s dismantling of Newcastle United has Arsenal six points back of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur. The Gunners can still directly affect the fates of several teams ahead of them, with Everton, Spurs, Leicester City, and Wolves on the docket.
“Ten days ago I was disappointed with the draw at Burnley and it looked so far away,” he said, via the BBC. “Now it’s up to us to put a run together.”
Arteta was also asked about his feelings for City during a tough time for his former employers.
“I’ve been in contact with him,” Arteta said of City boss Pep Guardiola, via Football.London. “I just want the best for City, I know how hard they work. Now I have to do the very best for Arsenal. I was shocked, contacted Pep to feel for them because I know they are suffering.”
The manager also had kind words for two redemptive pieces of Arsenal’s puzzle. Dani Ceballos had a strong game in the center of the park, and Arteta said the midfielder has been “an animal” since returning to health and dedicating himself to the cause.
As for Nicolas Pepe, who hasn’t been a consistent starter for three Arsenal managers this year, his one goal, two-assist performance wasn’t what drew Arteta’s praise.
“We just need consistency from him,” he said. “The way he applied himself defensively he was top drawer, things he wasn’t doing in the past.”
Sunday’s match started a run of four matches in 11 days for the Gunners. They’ll visit Olympiacos on Thursday, then welcome Everton on Feb. 23 before the Greeks come to London for the second leg of the Europa League tie.