Really sad day – Mikel Arteta rues tame end to Arsenal’s title challenge

Really sad day – Mikel Arteta rues tame end to Arsenal’s title challenge

Mikel Arteta was apologetic as he reflected on a “really sad day” after Arsenal’s faint Premier League title hopes were ended by a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest.

Manchester City were confirmed as champions after Taiwo Awoniyi’s first-half goal saw Forest earn the three points that secured their top-flight status.

The Gunners, who were insatiable for most of the campaign, had spent 248 days on top of the table and held an eight-point lead over City in March, but an alarming slide saw them overtaken by Pep Guardiola’s relentless juggernaut who claim a fifth title in six seasons.

No team has spent more time on top of the table and not won the league, which left Arteta crestfallen.

“Really sad day, a lot of difficult emotions, we lost the game, we lost the championship after 10 and a half months fighting for it and nine and a half months almost on top of it,” he said.

“We built a lot of illusion and belief that we could go all the way and win it and in the end we fell short. Congratulations to Man City, they are the champions, they deserve to be the champions, they have done it for 38 games, we haven’t been able to do that.

“That is it and from my side I apologise because we have built that belief that we could do it and in the end the team wasn’t able to do it and that is my responsibility.

“Today is just a lot of sadness. You see a lot of people, they put everything, they put so much work, so much belief and so much hours and I am sad, I am sad for them because we wanted to find a way and squeeze everything we had in that group.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus reacts during the defeat to Nottingham Forest
Arsenal came up just short in the title race as defeat to Forest sealed their fate (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We fell short and this is my job and my responsibility, I have to analyse that and think.

“Today we should have played much better, we gave them a goal and gave them another chance to score another goal if they wanted and we fell short to break them down.

“You need, when you come to April and May, 24 players there and available, fit and playing at their best, full of confidence and ready to go and for many reasons we haven’t had that.

“There are key moments in the league that define, the momentum goes there, the result goes there and we didn’t have those margins going on our side.”

For Forest it was a real red letter day as they secured their survival against the odds.

Goalscorer Taiwo Awoniyi, right, celebrates after Nottingham Forest secured their Premier League status
Goalscorer Taiwo Awoniyi, right, celebrates after Nottingham Forest secured their Premier League status (Mike Egerton/PA)

For large parts of the season, which began with more than 20 new signings, they looked destined to return straight back to the Championship, not least when they were on an 11-game winless run going into the end of April.

But Awoniyi’s hot streak, with five goals in three games, helped Steve Cooper’s side lift themselves out of the bottom three and they can no longer be caught by Southampton, Leicester or Everton.

It completes an impressive job by Cooper, who repaid Forest for the faith they showed when backing him amid their poor run, and his stock continues to rise.

Asked how he felt, the Welshman said: “Just pride, a great sense of belonging at being part of something really special and important for me.

“A brilliant day for the players and an equally great day for the supporters and one we deserved. It is difficult to use the word achievement at this football club because you have to be careful but it is just amazing to be able to allow the club to move forward, that’s what we all want to do.

Nottingham Forest fans wearing Steve Cooper masks at the game against Arsenal
Steve Cooper has had the backing of Nottingham Forest and their fans (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Now is the time to talk about the players, the supporters and the game. It is a real sense of belonging and being part of something greater than any one person.

“This was always going to be my toughest coaching challenge, but an enjoyable one, not a negative one. We have had everything this year, both positive and negative.

“It feels great, but I am more thinking about it just allows us to progress.”