London (AFP) – Mikel Arteta is confident that Arsenal’s crop of young stars can cope with the mounting pressure as they seek to seal a place in next season’s Champions League.
Arteta’s side are fourth in the Premier League with five games left as they fight to return to Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 2016/17.
The Gunners, two points clear of fifth-placed Tottenham, have climbed into the top four thanks to a set of gifted players developed by Arteta including Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Nuno Tavares.
Now they must prove they can perform when the pressure mounts, starting on Sunday at London rivals West Ham.
“For most of them it is (their first experience) but it’s been like this for the last two or three months where everyone is talking about it,” Arteta told reporters on Friday.
“They can feel the importance of every match but this is what we want in April and May, for things to play for.”
Arteta has steered Arsenal back towards the top of the table after their worst start to a season for decades.
The Spaniard was facing calls for his sacking back in September, but he has been rewarded for keeping faith with the youngsters, as well as cutting ties with club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who made a January move to Barcelona.
“We have very different players in the squad and we have a very different environment,” Arteta said when asked to explain how he turned the tide.
“I think the unity that exists right now between the team, the staff, our supporters and externally is completely different and is very beneficial for the team.”
Arsenal have enjoyed impressive recent wins over Manchester United and Chelsea to take control of fourth place but with a potentially decisive north London derby looming against Tottenham in May, Arteta knows the top-four battle is likely to go down to the wire.
“There will still be some twists and turns, we all have difficult matches to play,” he said.
“We had two really good results that put us in a really good position. But it is about doing it again at West Ham.”
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