Arteta hails Arsenal's 'extraordinary' season but insists there is still plenty to improve

Gunners reclaim five-point lead in the Premier League after 3-2 win over Manchester United

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Mikel Arteta described Arsenal's first half of the Premier League season as "extraordinary" but insisted his team will not get carried away and still have plenty to improve if they are to end the club's 19-year wait for the title.

Arsenal delivered another statement of their title credentials on Sunday evening with a thrilling, and well deserved, 3-2 victory over in-form Manchester United at the Emirates Stadium.

Marcus Rashford gave the visitors a 17th-minute lead with a fine low finish, before Eddie Nketiah equalised midway through the first half. Bukayo Saka then handed Arsenal the lead early in the second half with a superb long-range strike, only for Lisandro Martinez to pull United level with a header six minutes later.

Arsenal dominated for the final half-hour and got their reward in the 90th minute when Nketiah grabbed his second, applying a finish at the back post to earn the Gunners victory and re-establish their five-point lead over champions Manchester City having played one game fewer.

Now at the halfway stage of the season, and sitting on 50 points, Arsenal are in control of the title race. Arteta is understandably pleased with the campaign so far, but said now is not the time to lose focus.

"Extraordinary, it doesn’t get much better than that, that’s the reality," the Arsenal manager said when asked to assess the season so far. "I think we deserve the points that we have, I think we have played well enough to win most of the matches, but the reality as well is that we still have a lot of things that we can get much better at, attacking and defending in transitions, in set-pieces and that’s the aim."

United arrived at the Emirates as one of the form teams in the division, riding a five-match win streak which has helped push the club into the top four. But while they initially led and swiftly levelled for 2-2, United never looked like winning the game, thanks to another impressive display from Arsenal, and Arteta believes such performances will only help increase confidence and belief.

Arsenal v Man United player ratings

"I hope it does, not that [United] are champions, but that they are good enough to play against these teams and perform the way we've done it," Arteta said.

"At the same time, don't get confused and we talked about that in the last two or three days, that we know our reality, we know still how much we have to improve and we know what has taken us to the position that we are in today and we have to reinforce that every single day."

Nketiah's brace continued his excellent form since staking his claim for a starting place in the absence of injured Gabriel Jesus. The Brazilian striker, who underwent knee surgery last month, is expected to be sidelined until at last March, initially raising concerns about Arsenal's forward options. However, Nketiah has stepped up in Jesus' absence and scored seven goals in seven games across competitions.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta called on his players to keep improving after re-establishing a five-point lead in the Premier League. AFP

"What Eddie is doing is incredible," Arteta said. "We cannot say that we saw that, we were hoping that he could do that because of the way he is, because of his mentality, because of his qualities and how those qualities fit within the team. Losing Gabby [Jesus] was a big blow, it is a big blow today, but Eddie is responding and the team I think in an exceptional way."

Perhaps Arsenal's biggest challenge now is to stay grounded, with many of the players in unfamiliar territory of being not only title contenders but title favourites, but Arteta insisted no one is looking too far into the future.

"We always talk about what we're going to do tomorrow, what we're going to control today that is in our hands," Arteta said, "because this league is so competitive and so demanding that the opponents and going to make life very difficult, so make sure that we help ourselves every day to get better."

Updated: January 23, 2023, 4:45 AM