Arsenal remain top of the Premier League but manager Mikel Arteta’s body language after a 4-1 drubbing at Manchester City on Wednesday suggests he knows their title chance has gone.
His side wilted under City’s sustained onslaught and perhaps got off lightly as Kevin De Bruyne scored twice with John Stones and Erling Haaland also on target.
Reigning champions City will go top with a game in hand if they beat Fulham at the weekend having trailed Arsenal for more or less the whole season.
“I don’t know what is going to be required,” Arteta told reporters when asked if Arsenal must now win their remaining five games to have any chance of claiming the club’s first title since 2004. “For sure we have to lift the players up first because they suffered tonight.
“We need to do everything that we’ve done so far so well and start winning.”
While the loss to City will be seen as the pivotal moment in the title race, the truth is Arsenal had already lost the momentum they had built up in an awful April.
Successive 2-2 draws with Liverpool and West Ham United, having led by two goals, were followed by Friday’s chaotic 3-3 draw at home to bottom club Southampton.
It was a run that hardly fuelled Arsenal’s belief and with the Londoners badly missing the agility of injured defender William Saliba they were taken to the cleaners by City.
“The first 30 minutes all the basic things you have to do against a top team we didn’t do it and we got punished,” Arteta told reporters. “We played against an exceptional team.
“We’re an exceptional team as well — but today we weren’t at the races.”
City’s De Bruyne was quick to point out that they still have seven league games to negotiate and that they still trail Arsenal in the race, but even the most optimistic Arsenal supporters will now be settling for runners-up spot.
Not a bad achievement for a club that has not finished in the top four since 2016 and were not even considered to be title contenders at the start of the campaign.
“The stats at the start of the season said we’d finish sixth or seventh and we are where we are,” Arteta said.
“The players deserve a lot of credit to be where we are after nine months against this team. There’s still five games to go. I’ve been in this country 22 years and things change a lot.
“Today is a very difficult night but we have to stand up and look at the bigger picture. The fact we are competing toe to toe with this City team is incredible.”