Mikel Arteta calls on referees to better protect Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka | Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has warned that the target on Bukayo Saka’s back is growing after some heavy treatment from opponents in recent weeks and urged referees to protect the in-form forward.

Saka hobbled off before the half-hour in last month’s win over Nottingham Forest and appeared to be accused of diving by Graham Potter when Arsenal defeated Chelsea last Sunday. He was booked for simulation at Southampton when replays suggested he had been fouled and Arteta said officials need to be aware that players receive closer attention as their reputations grow.

“The referees have the duties to deal with that,” he said. “The better the players become, the bigger target they become, because people try to find ways to stop him. That is why football has very clear rules, what you can do and what you cannot do, and that is the referee’s job.”

Arteta did not place all the onus on referees, saying his team need to be “more intelligent” in finding ways to place Saka in situations that pose less physical risk. “It becomes about the timing, the decision making, the space you have generated before that action, and the understanding and knowledge of what is going to happen before it happens,” he said. “Sometimes [we can improve] the type of ball we give him and when we give him certain balls.”

Saka will be fit to face Wolves at Molineux on Saturday. Three points would guarantee Arsenal top spot in the Premier League over the World Cup break, an outcome few had considered likely in August. After the weekend 10 of their players, including England’s Saka, will head to Qatar; from 4 December the remaining squad members will travel to Dubai for a 10-day training camp.

During that period they are expected to face Lyon and Milan in a series dubbed the Dubai Super Cup, with Liverpool completing the quartet but not lined up as opponents. On their return they intend to host a friendly on 17 December, with Barcelona likely visitors to the Emirates. The intention is that, as far as possible, Arsenal’s World Cup representatives will be able to join up with their club colleagues in the United Arab Emirates as and when they exit the competition.

Mikel Arteta accepts Arsenal are title contenders ‘today’ after win at Chelsea | Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta believes that Arsenal are in Premier League title contention – for the moment, at least – after watching them produce a dominant performance in the 1-0 win at Chelsea on Sunday which took them back to the top of the table.

Arteta said that Manchester City, who are two points back in second place, remain the favourites but he did concede that his club are in the mix. “We are today,” Arteta said. “But in football, today and tomorrow is very different. So let’s enjoy the time.

“Do something: just look at the last six years, what Manchester City have done. With the best manager in the world, the best team in the world. They have shown it consistently in every single competition. We have to be very, very respectful of that.

“We are getting much better as a team and competing much better. We are getting really good results right now, but this is a long, long [season].”

Arteta and his players celebrated wildly in front of the travelling enclosure, with the manager revealing that his family were in there. “It’s a big win for us, another step,” he said. “To come here against a top opponent, world-class players all over the pitch, dominate the game and actually win it is very meaningful. Hopefully, it will give the boys even more belief.

“We are a young team but we showed a lot of maturity, a lot of composure, a lot of courage to play on this stage. The boys were absolutely phenomenal. We lacked discipline when we lost at Manchester United [on 4 September]. But we learned that lesson really well. We played really well at Old Trafford and it wasn’t enough. That is the difference to what top teams do.”

Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka falls under pressure from Marc Cucurella. Saka was accused of a dive by the Chelsea manager.
Arsenal midfielder Bukayo Saka falls under pressure from Marc Cucurella. Saka was accused of a dive by the Chelsea manager. Photograph: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images

It was feisty at Stamford Bridge, with Graham Potter, the Chelsea manager, accusing the Arsenal winger, Bukayo Saka, of diving after a first-half challenge from Marc Cucurella. Potter yelled out that Saka had dived.

Arteta, by contrast, was furious that Saka did not get a free-kick. “You saw me on that touchline – I was really calm and happy with the decisions,” Arteta said, with no little sarcasm.

Potter was less inflammatory after the match. “I think there was one action that was a little bit contentious, shall we say, but I don’t think he is that type of player,” he said.

Potter is struggling to cope with injury problems – he was without Kepa Arrizabalaga, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Wesley Fofana and N’Golo Kanté – and he watched his team labour. Aaron Ramsdale did not have a serious save to make in the Arsenal goal.

“You could see the difference in the two teams in terms of confidence, in terms of points they’ve got, in terms of structure and working together,” Potter said. “We are not in a fantastic moment as we speak. As much as it is not nice to say, Arsenal deserved to win the game and were the better team overall so we have to take that and use it as motivation to improve.”

Graham Potter is still Chelsea’s solution to their systemic problems | Chelsea

Thiago Silva paused with the ball on the halfway line. Alongside him, his teammates were pointing and shouting at him to do something with it. Up in the stands, the various strands of encouraging advice being proffered by Chelsea fans had essentially congealed into a single unintelligible noise – something like “faacckkinggettrrrrid”, if we were going to try and transcribe it. And so it was that in the final minute of injury time, with Chelsea rousing themselves in search of a late equaliser, their chosen tactic was to pump a high ball up to the 5ft 7in Raheem Sterling.

As it happened, Sterling was offside, and soon after that Michael Oliver brought proceedings to a merciful close. And strictly speaking Chelsea lost this game not in the fumblings of stoppage time but in the inept and inchoate hour and a half that preceded it. Still, as an emblem of their deficiencies and inefficiencies here, it was as good as any. The good news is that Chelsea look like a team with plenty of ideas. The problem is that nobody seems to be sharing their ideas with anyone else.

The result is akin to one of those Christmas parlour games where one person starts a drawing, folds the paper over and then passes it to someone else, who adds a bit and passes it on, and at the end everyone laughs and has a sherry. A spirited attack would develop, various wet men would run in various directions, and once the move unfolded everyone would look up to discover that Chelsea had somehow ended up with four left-wingers, nobody in the centre, Raheem Sterling on his backside and the ball hurtling back towards their own goal at an alarming speed.

Throw in the menacing undercurrent of a London derby, the driving rain and a noon kick-off, and perhaps it is no surprise that Chelsea left the field looking not just drenched but utterly perplexed. Even the singing betrayed a lack of cohesion: while the Matthew Harding Stand began the game with their customary “champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that”, the East Stand plumped inexplicably for the variant: “where’s your European Cup?” A mess.

For now Graham Potter is still the solution rather than the problem here: a systems coach brought in to manage a squad of impulse purchases, the long-term strategist thrown into the biggest job of his life mid-season.

Graham Potter
Graham Potter failed to gain control over his chaotic Chelsea side against Arsenal. Photograph: Vince Mignott/EPA

But if there has been a weakness in these early weeks it has been the failure to project a sense of control, the sense that amid the rolling chaos there is at least a clear and identifiable direction of travel.

Formations shift from game to game, sometimes from half to half. The press is furious at times and non-existent at others. Sterling is a wing-back one game, a winger the next and a sort of roaming nine-and-three-quarters the one after that. Everyone knows that he is learning on the job. But there are times when you wish he would make it a little less obvious.

But then Potter is fighting deep-seated, systemic issues here. Perhaps this is what happens when you build the entire culture of a football club around the idea of permanent disruption. Where success is merely a case of throwing the best guys together and hoping it all clicks for a season (never two). Just consider how many different roles and tactics – say – Ruben Loftus-Cheek has had to learn over the years under his seven different managers. Time and again we saw Sterling or Kai Havertz or Armando Broja getting the ball and simply stopping to have a bit of a think. Hang on, I know this one. It was in the playbook … Mason comes short and Auba makes the run into the left channel and … oh cripes, there’s Granit Xhaka.

In a way, this is a good sign. It shows that there is at least an element of learning and rewiring taking place here, that the parts are slowly in the process of being moulded into a functional whole. And there were fleeting glimpses of how it might eventually all work: the quick kicks from Edouard Mendy to Sterling, the little darts into the channel from Havertz.

But right now Arsenal are simply too big and complex a problem for this Chelsea to solve. And until Potter’s ideas begin to take root they will continue to look vulnerable: too easy to pass through, too easy to hassle off the ball. Manchester United, Brighton, Dinamo Zagreb and now Arsenal have all discovered that in recent weeks.

The interesting part will be to see whether the right lessons are taken here. Just think how long it took Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to look remotely competent, let alone capable of challenging Manchester City for the title.

This was Mikel Arteta’s 150th game in all competitions; the last guy to survive that long at Chelsea was 14 managers ago. Potter knows that what he needs above all is a little time, a little patience, a little faith, a little breathing space. He must surely also know that he will get none of these.

Tunnel vision is the key principle of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal reign | Arsenal

“We have Chelsea on Sunday, this is what I’m interested in.” Mikel Arteta’s response to the question of Takehiro Tomiyasu’s chances of being fit for the World Cup was jarring. Though Arteta had already expressed sympathy for the Japan defender’s predicament, he was reinforcing the importance to Arsenal of an away fixture signposted for some time.

Since Old Trafford on 4 September in fact. Arsenal’s sole loss of their league season, a 3-1 defeat in which they were picked off by Manchester United’s counterattacking, was a wobble, but a fine run since, including home victories over Tottenham and Liverpool, has lessened the residual pain. However, in a season where Manchester City are just two points behind despite the 1-1 draw at Southampton on 23 October being the only other blemish, Arsenal’s margin for error does not include losing at their London rivals.

Win at Chelsea, with only Wolves to come in the Premier League before the World Cup, and Arsenal can expect to be leaders as top-level domestic football is mothballed. To be at the summit after only 14 games is not too much of a prize, falling short of the half-season credentials that in Germany, Spain and Italy sees teams crowned as “winter champions”, but it has been a clear objective for Arteta. And a sincere test of the husbandry of his squad.

“We managed the load of the players in the last four weeks because of the amount of games that we have played,” he said after shuffling his pack against FC Zürich had resulted in a narrow 1-0 win. That completed another key Arsenal objective, winning their Europa League group and thus avoiding a two-legged tie in February against a Champions League dropout.

Arteta is also negotiating another unwanted variable that the World Cup’s hopefully unique scheduling has asked of managers. Tomiyasu’s panic, like the one that Bukayo Saka suffered after limping off against Nottingham Forest last week, was not particularly Arteta’s problem. His singular focus is having his players ready to play for Arsenal, and not in a tournament where they can only suffer more wear and tear.

“With the amount of games that we’re playing, it’s part of it,” he said of the knocks that cause worldwide headlines when a previously Qatar-bound player pulls up lame. “It can happen in training, it can happen in games.”

Tunnel vision has been the key principle of Arteta’s Arsenal reign. Next month it will be three years since his appointment, and this team feels like one built in his determined self-image. Gabriel Jesus, captain against FC Zürich, has added myriad dimensions, pressing from the front, and, despite a barren run in front of goal that extends back to 1 October, remains by far their most important attacker.

Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal goes off injured during the Europa League match against FC Zürich.
Takehiro Tomiyasu came off injured against FC Zürich in the Europa League on Thursday. Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Arsenal have benefited hugely from the close working relationship Arteta struck with Jesus at Manchester City when Pep Guardiola’s assistant. Jesus’s influence on his compatriot Gabriel Martinelli is clear and Saka, at 21, has become a dependable veteran in a first-choice forward line forever in perpetual motion.

Such symbiosis comes in contrast to the severed alliance between Arteta and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, expected to play some part for Chelsea in Sunday’s midday kick-off. “He seems to be happy,” said Arteta of his former captain, unprepared to reveal any deeper knowledge or feelings beyond that.

Aubameyang, like Mesut Özil before him, was ruthlessly scrubbed from the picture by a manager who, like Guardiola, believes in a cult of the collective, though one where the manager holds by far the greatest weight of influence.

Each of Arsenal’s leading players this season owes plenty to Arteta’s patronage. Aaron Ramsdale in goal, Ben White as a remodelled, high-grade attacking full-back, the central defensive partnership of William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães, the renovated, revived Granit Xhaka, and Martin Ødegaard, captain and creative director behind the forward line, have all been reinvented, given fresh identity, by their manager. “Trust the process” was a catchphrase previously used sarcastically by Arteta doubters but this season has seen a unity among fans not seen since Arsène Wenger’s peak years.

Arteta is undefeated in all three Premier League visits to Stamford Bridge. April’s 4-2 win there included a predatory double by Eddie Nketiah. Against Graham Potter, the record is less promising, Arsenal losing three of six Premier League encounters to Brighton, including a 2-1 home defeat in April that did serious damage to last season’s failed top-four challenge.

Old Trafford in September was “a big lesson” in Arteta’s words, one his team recovered admirably from. Stamford Bridge, and three points, can help ensure that when the Premier League returns his team have the head start they have worked so hard for.

Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka ‘hopefully not’ a doubt for World Cup, says Mikel Arteta | Arsenal

Mikel Arteta hopes Bukayo Saka will be fit for the World Cup despite the England attacker being taken off injured during Arsenal’s win against Nottingham Forest.

Saka sustained several kicks to the leg early on at the Emirates Stadium, including a heavy challenge from Renan Lodi, and was treated by the medical staff before resuming playing. But the 21-year-old was in significant discomfort and was substituted after 27 minutes of Arsenal’s 5-0 victory.England’s squad must be named by 13 November with their first World Cup match against Iran eight days later. Saka’s injury scare is a potential blow for Arsenal – with a trip to Chelsea next Sunday – and England.

But Arteta was cautiously optimistic about the winger’s chances of a quick recovery. Saka will be assessed and the results of a scan are likely to be confirmed by midweek. When asked if Saka would struggle to make the England squad, Arteta said: “Hopefully not. It was a bad kick right from the beginning and he was limping. But I didn’t see anything further than that so let’s see how he is in the next couple of days. I think he got kicked a few times.”

Arsenal’s emphatic victory returned them to the top of the Premier League and was a strong response after their limp defeat against PSV Eindhoven on Thursday night. Arteta said: “Big teams have to respond and we did that after the disappointment of Thursday night. Not only physically and mentally, we had to be ready against a team that beat Liverpool.”

Forest’s hopes of following up their victory over Liverpool were quickly scuppered by a dominant Arsenal performance but Steve Cooper was critical of his team’s lack of application as they capitulated in the second half. He said: “We have to deal with it because we fell way short today of competing. We could have played really well and still got nothing. But the bare minimum is to stand up and be counted and be hard to beat.

“The start of the second half, we were nowhere near competitive enough. If you’re not going to do that at this level, you’re going to get hurt. To take more than a step back is really frustrating.”

Gabriel Jesus says Arsenal will not suffer burnout despite mammoth schedule | Arsenal

Gabriel Jesus believes suggestions Arsenal’s players could experience burnout this season are unfounded and says he has no fear of fatigue during a campaign in which he could play more than 60 games for club and country.

Eyebrows were raised last week when Mikel Arteta said his team, in relation to their workload and Bukayo Saka’s inclusion in European ties, should take the example of top players who “play 70 matches, every three days, make the difference and win the game”.

Arteta has made minimal changes to his starting XI in the Premier League wherever possible and has not been shy to field big names in an untaxing Europa League group but Jesus believes hitting his manager’s target would not fatigue him.

“Of course not,” he said. “I’m doing good recovery after the games: eating better, sleeping better, enjoying life in the Arsenal T-shirt a lot. So I’m ready to play 50, 60, 70 games per season.”

Jesus could start against PSV Eindhoven on Thursday as Arteta seeks the draw that would guarantee top spot in Group A with a game to spare and avoid the complication of an extra knockout round in February. In theory he could play around 70 times this season if both Arsenal and Brazil, for whom he hopes to feature at the World Cup, enjoy successful campaigns. Such an eventuality is hardly unknown: in 2019-20 he played 61 matches, whether as a starter or off the bench, in all competitions for Manchester City and the Seleção.

The question regarding overwork has cropped up in part because Jesus, who scored five goals in his first nine Arsenal games, has drawn blanks in his most recent five. Those figures do not tell the full story of his contribution but he was happy to address the topic. “That’s happened before and I’m pretty sure in the future it’s going to happen again,” he said. “I don’t want it to be like this, of course. I want to improve, I want to work and then next game, I try again. And I’m 100% sure I will score.”

Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are two other players leaned on heavily by Arteta and Jesus smilingly referred to them as “machines”.

The Football Association confirmed on Wednesday that it would not be taking further action regarding an alleged comment made by Jordan Henderson to the Arsenal defender Gabriel Magalhães when Liverpool visited the Emirates Stadium this month. “Whilst the FA is entirely satisfied that the allegation was made in good faith, it is equally satisfied that there is no case to answer,” its statement read.

Asked whether the matter was closed from Arsenal’s perspective, Arteta said: “I said from the first day that it’s a decision that relies totally on the FA and they made that decision so that’s it.”

On Gabriel’s point of view, he said: “That’s something to ask to Gabi but the decision is made.”

Oleksandr Zinchenko remains sidelined by a calf injury and Arsenal will wait to see if Marquinhos has recovered from sickness before deciding if the winger can face PSV.

Arteta will back his Arsenal players ‘100%’ as FA reviews Liverpool row | Arsenal

Mikel Arteta says he will fully back his players’ accounts of the altercation that clouded the latter stages of Arsenal’s win against Liverpool on Sunday.

The Football Association has been reviewing the heated dispute that broke out during added time, with Gabriel Magalhães and Jordan Henderson at its centre.

The referee, Michael Oliver, ran to the touchline to speak with both Arteta and Jürgen Klopp at the time; he took further observations from the players involved afterwards and the FA is believed to be reviewing his report.

When asked if he would support the version given from Arsenal’s side Arteta said “100%”, although he was reluctant to elaborate. “It’s something I don’t want to touch,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the FA opts to launch a full-scale investigation into the incident. “It’s something that I don’t decide,” Arteta said when asked if he expected a drawn‑out process. “I think timings are really difficult to predict. The FA is in charge of the situation and we’ll have to wait and see.”

In the meantime Arteta will oversee his side’s attempt to secure a third successive Europa League group A win on Thursday against Bodø/Glimt, who were beaten 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium last week.

The match will be played on an artificial surface in Bodø, which lies inside the Arctic Circle, where Roma were humbled twice last season in the Conference League. José Mourinho’s side lost 6-1 in the group stage and 2-1 in the quarter-final first leg; their defender Gianluca Mancini sustained a knee injury during the latter and Mourinho said it was “something caused by playing on a plastic turf”.

Arsenal were greeted enthusiastically upon arrival at Aspmyra Stadion, which will be full to its 8,270 capacity, for their pre-match obligations and are keen not to turn the pitch into an issue. “The biggest mistake we can make is to talk too much about the pitch, the weather or whatever,” said Martin Ødegaard, who returns to his home country but is unlikely to start the game. “It’s a bit different and we have to adjust a little bit, but it’s still football, still the same rules.

Ødegaard, who said he is playing the best football of his career for the Premier League leaders, made the journey from London on Wednesday but the captain was not joined by Gabriel Jesus. The in-form striker is being rested and his absence is not related to a head injury he sustained against Liverpool in a collision with Kostas Tsimikas. Oleksandr Zinchenko, who missed the Liverpool game with a muscle injury, has also stayed at home.”

Arteta backs White to fill Kyle Walker’s shoes in England World Cup squad | Arsenal

Mikel Arteta has backed Ben White to step in for England if Kyle Walker is ruled out of the World Cup through injury and believes he could slot comfortably into Gareth Southgate’s back three.

Walker’s groin injury leaves him with an uphill battle to be fit for Qatar 2022, where England begin against Iran on 21 November, and White would hold genuine hope of a recall if the Manchester City player does not make it.

White shone in the middle for Arsenal last season but has been a revelation at right-back in their strong start this time around. He has proved highly adaptable and Arteta believes he can excel in the right-sided centre-back role Walker has occupied.

Asked whether White could push for inclusion and if that position would suit him, he said: “Both. Ben would be very comfortable playing on the right side of a back three as well as in the middle, or as a full-back. If you ask me if he is ready to make that step then the answer is yes, because he is a very confident boy. He gives you absolutely everything, he is always available and he has the courage to play under real pressure.”

White won the most recent of his four caps in March, starting at right-back when England beat Ivory Coast 3-0 with a largely experimental side. He has fallen behind Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi in the pecking order at centre-back since then and, where Walker’s spot in particular is concerned, would be deemed unlikely to start ahead of John Stones this winter even if called up. But Arteta believes his form as an attacking full-back speaks of an invaluable versatility.

“We all believed he had the qualities to do that and the most important step, probably, was for him to believe he could do it and to feel comfortable in that position – and that the position could maximise his potential and give him another dimension as a player,” he said. “The fact that now he can play in various positions will make him a more complete player and I think he’s very happy with that.”

White is expected to start for Arsenal against Liverpool. His repurposing to the flank has partly been brought about by the exceptional form in central defence of Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba.

The latter, in particular, has been compared in favourable terms to the visitors’ Virgil van Dijk but Arteta rejected any resemblances to the Dutchman or his potential partner Joël Matip. “The moment they win everything the other two have is the right moment [to compare],” he said.