Full Match - Aston Villa 6-1 BrightonSep 30
It's been 81 days since BTSport.com last sat down for an exclusive interview with Mikel Arteta at London Colney. Eighty-one days that have seen Arsenal relinquish, regrasp and seemingly relinquish their lead once more at the top of the Premier League table. Eighty-one days that must have felt like a lifetime in the world of the Arsenal manager.
Back on February 3, Arsenal sat clear at the summit of the Premier League table by five points with a game in hand over their title rivals Manchester City. Their most recent league clash was the dramatic 3-2 win over Manchester United, secured by Eddie Nketiah's injury-time winner, though they'd lost last time out to Man City in the FA Cup fourth round.
Arteta spoke about his excitement about returning to his former club Everton in the upcoming match and the challenges associated with facing a new coach after Sean Dyche replaced Frank Lampard at Goodison Park. He spoke about the January additions of Jorginho, Jakub Kiwior and Leandro Trossard and how he expected them to help the team.
What followed was a shock defeat at Everton, a draw with Brentford and, most damagingly of all, a 3-1 loss at home to title rivals Man City which saw Pep Guardiola's men leapfrog Arsenal to go top of the table.
Written off by many, The Gunners responded with a run of seven straight victories. But three draws on the trot have now threatened to derail their hopes once more as they attempt to outrun the relentless pace set by a ruthless Man City team.
Now, with coverage exclusively live on BT Sport this Wednesday night, Arteta faces off against his former club and former mentor in a game that will surely go some way to deciding the destination of this season's Premier League title.
"Now, it's a moment that we knew was coming," Arteta tells BTSport.com. "And we’ve been looking forward to this moment because if you want to win the Premier League, you have to go to these grounds and you have to win. That was regardless of the previous game and what happened.
"Everyone is so aware of that this moment was coming. It's here now, we’ve prepared for this moment and been talking about this moment before, now we have to deliver."
Arteta cut a relaxed yet focused figure during Friday morning's press conference, delivering his responses with thought, clarity and precision as he's done since arriving back at Arsenal.
However the last couple of weeks - featuring draws to Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton - will have been among the most challenging of Arteta's coaching career as he watched Arsenal's lead over his former club Man City evaporate.
In last season's All Or Nothing Amazon documentary, one of the more insightful moments saw Arteta tell his players ahead of the Norwich home game that the previous week was the best of his career.
Arsenal had lost their opening three matches of the 2021/22 campaign and were under huge pressure to perform as they prepared to face bottom side Norwich City at the Emirates.
"That was different to now," Arteta says when asked if this week was similar to the pre-Norwich City week. "That was at the start of the season, you’ve been knocked down three times as there’s not a lot to hang on because there’s not been a lot before that.
"So that was a really, really low moment where everybody needed an arm around them, some confidence and to show some vulnerability there that we are suffering here but at the end of the day it’s the people you work with that makes your profession and your life who gives it purpose.
"And I meant what I said as it was about the people who were supporting each other when everyone outside was being so negative."
"Now, it’s OK," Arteta smiles. "The last 10 months have been extremely positive and there’s been a lot of good vibes, good energy and beautiful moments that we’ve had together.
"Certain things happened in the previous three games that stopped us winning, especially the last two because even with those mistakes we deserved to win the match."
The Liverpool and West Ham trips saw Arsenal sacrifice two-goal leads to draw 2-2 yet on Friday night against Southampton, it was Arsenal who were forced to come from behind.
Arsenal went 2-0 and 3-1 down to the league's bottom side before 88th and 90th-minute goals saw them salvage a point before two missed chances during injury-time almost secured the most dramatic of comebacks for Arteta's men.
I don't see any of the confidence dropping or any sign that the team's energy has changed
- Mikel Arteta
"Obviously we want to manage games much better, especially the way we dominate certain games as we need to go on and win two, three or four-nil," Arteta adds.
"But we haven’t managed to get them over the line and that’s what we need to do better in the next few games."
What Arteta hasn't seen from his dressing room, he insists, is any sense that belief that they can win the title is waning.
"I don't see any confidence dropping or any of the disappointment taking over the energy of the team," Arteta says. "What I see constantly - and this is incredible in a team - is the moment that someone makes a mistake or something happens, then straight away there is an arm around them.
And Arteta agrees that the way Arsenal earned the point on Friday left a better taste in the mouth than throwing away two-goal leads in the previous two matches.
Asked if it would have been a very different feeling in the dressing room if Arsenal had lost against Southampton, Arteta said: "Probably. The highs and lows are very different [between the Southampton game and the previous two].
"You start very high, 2-0 up and then end up almost losing the game at Anfield in an emotional low moment and it’s difficult as it’s the last taste of the game.
"The Southampton game is very different as the game is lost and you try, try, try to create chances, don't score them and then at the end you manage to draw it.
"Then you almost go to ecstasy mode as you have two big chances to win it but you don’t. You are better, it’s still hurting, but it’s not the same as when you’ve lost a two goal lead."
"There is no digging into somebody or looking at somebody but they is a sense that straight away the players are trying to do what will make us better and to move on. It is incredible to have this."
It's exactly the sort of attitude Arteta will need from his players come Wednesday night when they face a Man City team who've won six from six in the league and sit five points behind Arsenal but with two games in hand.
The Gunners have lost twice to Guardiola's juggernauts already this season but Arteta believes the margin between the two sides has not been significant.
"In terms of performances generally speaking from box to box we were exceptional," Arteta says of the FA Cup and Premier League losses to Man City.
"But the difference was in the boxes that when they had three clinical moments they put them in our goal... When we had big chances we didn’t put them away especially when we were really dominating."
There's even more added spice in the fixture for two players who joined Arsenal from Man City in the summer - Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus -as they face off against their former side in the league come Wednesday night.
And while Arteta acknowledges it will be a memorable evening for the pair as he also prepares to visit his former stomping ground, the Arsenal manager knows the match is big enough regardless.
"It’s always special when you come back to your former club," Arteta says. "You have some great memories there and you still know everybody because it’s very recent so there is another element to that game.
"But they have to focus on their role and what the game demands of us and not get carried away with the occasion. The game is big enough and it doesn’t need anymore added but they are really looking forward to the game."