Paul Merson is impressed with Mikel Arteta’s impact at Arsenal, but fears a top-four finish in the Premier League is still out of their grasp.
Arsenal certainly had their fair share of highs and lows last season with a disappointing eighth-place finish in the Premier League coinciding with an unexpected FA Cup triumph.
The campaign began in terrible fashion, resulting in Unai Emery’s dismissal as manager before Arteta came on board last December.
The 38-year-old may have been practically a rookie compared to his peers, with just two-and-a-half-seasons of experience under his belt as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City, but he proved to be more than up for the task at hand.
Mikel Arteta had a vision for his future as Arsenal manager in 2014… pic.twitter.com/jm1Xp1EPGf
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Flashes of the old Arsenal returned in arguably the club’s darkest hour as Arteta secured a record 14th FA Cup title. He recently won the Community Shield and oversaw a convincing 3-0 win over Fulham in their Premier League opener last Saturday.
Such was the performance shown at Craven Cottage that doubts over his starting line-up were almost non-existent by the end of the game, with the Gunners faithful hopeful of securing a return to the Champions League.
But while Merson is equally impressed with Arteta’s impact, the former Arsenal midfielder reckons the top-four is one step too far for the Basque coach.
“I thought it was a great result for Arsenal [against Fulham],” Merson told Sky Sports.
“Gabriel makes his debut, is solid, and scores a goal. It was a good performance. I like Arteta, you can see what he’s trying to do, playing a certain way, as a team and with a high tempo.
“I like what they’re doing, but top four? I just think the gulf is too big.
“There are three or four leagues within the Premier League. I think the top four is the top four in their own league, then you’ve got your Arsenal, Tottenham, and maybe even Everton now with Leicester.
“Then you’ve probably got another little league in mid-table before you get to the lower ends. It’s quite interesting, and that’s why it’s the best league in the world.
“Whoever is the fittest, and whoever hits the ground running, has an unbelievable chance.”