Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta graciously congratulated Manchester City for winning the English Premier League on Saturday, but there was no concealing his agony after his team had led the race for so long but lost form in the crucial run-in.
Eight points clear two months ago, Arsenal won only two of their last eight games, with defeat to Nottingham Forest handing the title to Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable side.
“It’s a really sad day. We fell short,” a grim-faced Arteta told reporters after the 1-0 loss at the City Ground.
“I congratulate Man City. They are the champions, they deserved to win. I apologise because we have generated that belief that we could do it, but we were unable to and that is my responsibility.
“Today we should have played much better. We gave them a goal. When you come to April and May, you need 24 players playing at their best, full of confidence and ready to go, and for many reasons we have not had that.”
Arteta, who used to work under Guardiola at City, has however achieved a remarkable turnaround in form for Arsenal, who are a comfortable second. in one of the world’s toughest leagues.
They led the standings for 248 days this season: the most for any team who have then failed to win the Premier League.
“It has been an incredible journey for us over 10 months competing with City, being ahead of them for so long. We were so eager to go for something in sport and we didn’t reach it,” Arteta said.
“We have learned huge lessons. We have transformed a lot at this club, we have made huge steps, but the icing on the cake is to win a championship and we fell short.”
Arteta said it was too early and raw to start talking about next season’s goals. “Today, it is just sadness,” he added.
“We wanted to find a way, to squeeze everything we had in that group... At the end, it wasn’t enough. I know we are not at that level (of Manchester City), but we have to find a way... We have to find other ways to do it. For example, today we should have played much better... We have to push.
“We are yet to win. I want to win. I love winning. And when you don’t get there, it’s painful. We have conceded a lot of goals, you can’t sustain that and win this league.
“Now we must heal. It is very painful. I have to find a way to lift the players and we have a tough week ahead of us.”
His players shared the pain, but goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale also struck a positive note going forward.
“Deep down we know what we have achieved. When the dust settles we will be proud but this is a learning curve for us. It is a season to be proud of for Arsenal football club,” he said.
“It’s a disappointing end. We have one more game and we need to put a smile back on the fans’ faces.”