Mikel Arteta says forming a guard of honour for Manchester United on Sunday afternoon should act as motivation for Arsenal to close the gap to the champions next season.

Having clapped the visitors onto the pitch at Emirates Stadium, Arsène Wenger’s side produced a solid performance to gain what could prove to be a valuable point at the end of the season.

Arteta was encouraged by the display and is backing his team-mates to finish closer to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team next year.

When someone does the job you have to congratulate them. This is the respectful thing to do

Mikel Arteta

“I hope we can close the gap,” the midfielder said. “Next season we have to improve on this current gap.

“They deserved it [the guard of honour] - they won the league with four games to go so they deserved the clapping. When someone does the job you have to congratulate them. This is the respectful thing to do.

“You want to be in that situation [where you] walk on the pitch and the other teams show respect because you are the winners. Hopefully, along with our young players, we will have the chance to do it.”

Arsenal’s immediate target remains a top-four finish.

Chelsea’s win at Swansea and Tottenham’s draw against Wigan Athletic ensured that the battle for the Champions League places remains tight going into the final three weeks of the season.

“We are in the same situation as we were beforehand,” Arteta said. “We have tough games to play and it will be very close and will go to the last game.

“Yes it will be about who is the most clinical at the right moments. When it gets to the last games the teams who are the most clinical win the games. We have seen that over the last few weeks. It will be a difficult battle for everyone.”

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Nik Brumsack 29 Apr 2013