FA Cup final AFP/London, United Kingdom
Mikel Arteta insists even winning the FA Cup final against Chelsea today will not salvage Arsenal’s season, but a trophy just eight months into his first managerial role will strengthen the impression the Gunners now have the right man in charge to right the ship.
Arteta won the FA Cup as captain when Arsenal ended a nine-year trophy drought in 2014.
Yet despite winning the competition twice more in the six years since, standards have continued to slip at the Emirates since Arsene Wenger’s departure two years ago.
Despite an upturn since Arteta’s appointment in December, eighth place in the Premier League was the Londoners worst league finish in 15 years.
“For me this club deserves the best and you have to be fighting for every title,” said the Spaniard on the prospect of silverware and a place in the Europa League next season redeeming a miserable campaign.
“Obviously after everything that happened, if we are able to win the final and qualify for Europe, we can say it’s okay. But it’s not the level for this football club.”
The Europa League may be the poor relation to the riches and prestige of the Champions League, but failure to qualify for European football at all for the first time since the 1995/96 season would be a further blow to Arsenal’s already fragile finances.
Due to the lack of Champions League football, the Gunners posted a loss of £27mn ($35mn) in the 2018/2019 campaign for the first time in 17 years.
That was despite generating nearly £40mn in TV and prize money from a run to the Europa League final and before the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic saw the club’s playing and coaching staff agree a 12.5% pay cut.
Victories over Liverpool and former employers Manchester City in the space of four days earlier this month have given Arteta plenty of credit in the bank from the Arsenal support.
But questions remain over how much he can do to restore the club’s former glories if he is not backed in the transfer market.
“The gap is enormous,” said Arteta after beating Liverpool despite having just 33% possession and three shots to the Premier League champions’ 24.
“You know how you build those squads, there is no magic.
“You need to improve with quality players and you need bigger squads to compete in this competition.”
Before looking to recruit for a rebuild, Arsenal also have to convince their outstanding talent to stay put.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was just one goal behind Jamie Vardy in the battle for the Premier League Golden Boot despite playing in a struggling side and it was his two goals that saw off City in the semi-final to make it back to Wembley on Saturday.
The former Borussia Dortmund forward has just one year left on his contract and given Arsenal’s financial predicament, it would make business sense to sell in the close season if Aubameyang cannot be convinced to extend his contract.
“It is our responsibility for make him feel this is the right next step in his career,” said Arteta.
“In order to do that he needs to feel valued, feel that he belongs to us and we want him and he needs to believe we can take this club forward the way we want to do. He is an extremely key player in that.”
They’ve won the English FA Cup more times than any other team. In the 21st century alone they’ve lifted the trophy six times and the final only lost once — to Liverpool in 2001. Arsenal, it’s fair to say, have the FA Cup in their DNA. Mock their lack of Premier League trophies since the invincible season of 2003/4 all you like; the fact is, as they prepare to face Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday, the competition has come to have huge significance for Arsenal.
For one of Europe’s top strikers, Aubameyang has precious few medals with only a French League Cup at St Etienne and one German Cup with Dortmund to his name.
In what could be his final game for the club, a trophy at Wembley could go a long way to convincing Aubameyang to buy into Arteta’s project and Arsenal’s American owners, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, to do likewise in the transfer market in the coming months.