It doesn’t get any better – Mikel Arteta praises Arsenal’s first half of the season

Mikel Arteta hailed Arsenal’s first half of the Premier League season as “outstanding” after their last-ditch win against Manchester United, which led by five points at the top.

The Gunners beat the winners 3-2 after Eddie Nketiah’s late effort, but despite their lead at the top of the table, Arteta insists that their closest rivals Manchester City remain standard bearers.

Marcus Rashford had put United ahead only for Nketiah to equalize and Bukayo Saka to give Arsenal the lead.

The visitors responded to Lisandro Martinez’s first goal for the club, and Nketiah threw home a stray shot from Martin Odegaard in the closing stages.

The win brought Arsenal 50 points from the first 19 games of the campaign – a record for the club at this stage of the season – beating even Arsene Wenger’s undefeated by five points.

“Extraordinary,” Arteta replied when asked about his thoughts on the first half of the campaign.

“It doesn’t get any better than this. We deserved the points we got. I think we played well enough to win most of the games.

“But the truth is, there are things we can do better at. Offensive and defensive in the transitions. That’s the point.”

Working as Pep Guardiola’s assistant before taking the reins at the Emirates Stadium, Arteta will face City in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Friday evening.

Celebrate Arsenal

Arsenal win again in Premier League (John Walton/PA)

They also have two more league games ahead of them and Arteta believes everyone in the division is still trying to catch up with City.

“I know my team very well,” he said. “They’re good enough to play against these teams and they’ve done that. We’ve talked about that in the last two or three days.

“We know our reality, we know how much we still need to improve, we know what brought us to where we are today, and we have to reinforce that every day.

“I know where we are, I know why we are here, and I know where we want to be, and we are far from that.

“I know the level of the other teams, especially the teams that have won in the last 5-6 years, and we haven’t reached that level yet.”

Nketiah has scored six goals in multiple games since the World Cup, when Arsenal first choice striker Gabriel Jesus suffered a knee injury that required surgery.

“What Eddie has done is incredible,” Arteta said.

“I can’t say we’ve seen it[coming]. We hoped he would be able to do that because of his situation, his mentality, and the fit of his qualities with the team.

Losing Gabi was a big blow. Losing Gabi today is a huge blow, but Eddie and the team are responding in an extraordinary way.”

United were backed to make an unexpected title bid after good form work, but they drew at Crystal Palace on Wednesday before returning to the capital and losing ground.

They are now 11 points behind Arsenal playing one more game and coach Erik ten Hag admits he is not ready to look positively on Sunday’s performance.

“Maybe in the next few hours we will realize that we are in a good position, in good development and in a good process,” he said.

“But at that moment I was angry and I also told the players: ‘If you want to win trophies, titles, you have to change our mindset, because you can’t be in the next game and make three big mistakes.’

“After that, especially the last goal, you have to feel the game. At this point, the maximum point was one point. Then you have to take the point and you can’t concede a goal like that like we did. And you can’t win trophies at the top level.

“It was like a deck of cards with goals we conceded. Of course, we make mistakes starting with the corner two and after, we did not show the discipline in the rules there. Then you score goals.”

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