MIKEL ARTETA challenged Arsenal to aim higher than the top four as they look to end their Liverpool nightmare on Saturday.
The Gunners boss believes there is a new spirit of optimism sweeping through the club as a result of his mass Emirates clear-out.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has urged his squad to aim higher than the top four in the Premier League[/caption]
The Gunners are fifth in the table, with the club without a defeat since losing against Manchester City in August[/caption]
Arteta was still playing when Arsenal last won a league game at Anfield in September 2012.
Since then they have managed just two points from eight games and conceded 28 times.
But now they go to Merseyside defending a ten-match unbeaten run and cautiously optimistic about challenging for Champions League qualification again.
Arteta said: “For me it is positive when people speak about getting into the top four. It means there is excitement and that people want to push us.
“But this club is about being the best, not even about being fourth. That history has to be there all the time, giving us the drive and mentality to achieve the biggest targets.
“If you don’t have that mentality, you cannot play for this club. The level of expectation always has to be the highest.”
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Yet that ambition has not always been the case during Arteta’s time in charge and it took a major overhaul of a jaded dressing room to inject the energy to go forward with a positive attitude.
Experienced campaigners Mesut Ozil, David Luiz, Willian, Hector Bellerin, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi have all been released this year and replaced by the enthusiasm of the youngest team in the Premier League.
Arteta admitted: “The decisions we made regarding transfers were for two reasons and the first was because we wanted a healthy, competitive and winning mentality in the dressing-room.
“Then we wanted to increase the quality and specificity of the players and how we wanted the team to play.
“One of the main things I wanted to do was to transform the energy at the club because there were a lot of difficulties in that sense when I took the job here.
“But we never expected that our stadium would be empty for 18 months, so that intention became impossible to achieve.
“But now I can see a really big change and the impact that has on the performance of the players and the level of our team has been huge.
“For me, it’s not about the age of the player. Whether they are 20 or 33, we now have players who are hugely important for the team and contributing in a big way.
The North London outfit are looking to win their first game at Anfield since September 2012[/caption]
“But this group we have have only been together for three months since the transfer window closed. They haven’t experienced anything yet.
“They still need maturity and hopefully that will come soon, but we cannot predict how they are going to react to certain situations because the experiences since they all came together have so far only been quite positive.”
It is hard to believe the speed of Arsenal’s transformation after their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign left them bottom of the table going into September.
They are now up to fifth place and their points tally since Boxing Day last year would actually see them in the top four over the last 35 games.
Arteta says: “That shows that we have the quality to be in the top positions but the consistency hasn’t been good enough to be there.
“That is where the improvement has to come and it is our next challenge.”
But he knows from personal experience just how quickly things can fall apart against Jurgen Klopp’s heavy metal Liverpool team.
He says: “Going to Anfield is always a huge test because it is a fascinating stadium to play football in.
“You have to raise your level to the maximum standards emotionally, physically and tactically and be ready to suffer at certain moments. If you don’t, you will be exposed.
“But if you are able to do that, there are not many better grounds to feel that you are a proper footballer.
“I know our recent record at Anfield but if you don’t believe you can go there and win, you should not put the shirt on.
“So I am confident we can go there and beat them because the expectations of this club is always to be the best.”
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