Now the international break has ended and the Premier League enters its final, uninterrupted straight, Mikel Arteta has urged his players to enjoy the challenge that our last 10 games of the campaign will bring.
We head into the final quarter of the campaign eight points clear at the top of the table as we aim to hold off the challenge of Manchester City to land our first championship since 2003/04.
And despite entering the make-or-break point, the boss is encouraging our squad to relish the opportunity in front of them, starting with our home game against Leeds United on Saturday.
“We cannot control the outcome of other clubs, all we can control is what we do every single day,” he said. “How we behave, how we train, how we communicate, how we control our energy and the messages we send to our people.
“Now it has to be about enjoying the last part of the season, with enthusiasm, energy and a real hunger to continue to do what we’ve done, and if possible better.
“I think we have really good people, and we have really good players. They are curious all the time to improve, learn and be better. It is a joy to work with this group. They really follow us and want to please everybody, and they love what they do, love living with each other and playing for each other. I think you can sense that.”
"I really liked what I saw on the first day back from holiday; people were hungry"
Mikel believes that the seeds for this season’s success were sown back in the summer, when he was impressed by the desire of his squad to improve on our fifth-place finish.
As the wins racked up over the subsequent months, he admits to gradually building up the confidence levels to make our young squad feel that they belong at the division’s summit, but believes the team spirit forged at London Colney has been the main factor for our impressive form since day one at Crystal Palace back in August.
Taking a brief moment to reflect on the season so far, Mikel mused: “I really liked what I saw on the first day back from holiday; people were hungry. I think the signings that we made were a big impact on the team by generating belief, and taking the ability and leadership of the team to a different level. Then it was about trying to build that up every single day to a level where you start to believe that you can be at the top and that you can sustain it.
“We also have the right level of competition and cooperation because they really want to help each other, but they have to challenge each other as well to benefit the team and lift the standards to where we want.
“The secret is probably the unity and the togetherness that they have between them - they love to spend time with each other, play with each other and they love to play in front of our people. They really have that sense of belonging to the club, and I think that’s very powerful.”
"Curiosity is necessary to evolve"
One tactical tweak that has also reaped rewards is the use of our full-backs in a more central midfield role when we have the ball, allowing the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko to shine.
It is something that Mikel admits has been part of his thinking since his time at Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy - the same place where his friend and championship rival Pep Guardiola learnt his trade and would also identify opportunities to utilise it during his managerial career.
Revealing its origin, Mikel said: “It started when I was at Barcelona and we played a 3-4-3 diamond and one of the full-backs used to play there. Pep did it for the first time at Bayern Munich with Phillip Lahm and that was developed at City with many different ways of doing it with different players.
“That’s the great thing, you can take things from other sports and other coaches to make yourself better, and that curiosity is necessary to evolve.”
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