Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will already be planning for a better 2021/22 Premier League season, says Alan Smith

While Arsenal are still in the Europa League, their Premier League form will have left Mikel Arteta already thinking about next season and how his young squad can kick on, says Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith.

Arsenal appeared to have turned a corner with a run of five wins in seven games after Christmas but back-to-back defeats to Wolves and Aston Villa have dented any hopes they had of making the Champions League qualifying spots, with the Gunners down in 11th, nine points adrift of the top four.

A place in Europe’s top club competition could still be achieved by winning the Europa League – Arsenal face Benfica in the round of 32 – but the club’s former striker Smith believes Arteta’s main focus right now is on developing his group of players for a more successful 2021/22 campaign.



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“If they could clamber into a Europa League position that would be good, although they’ve got a bit of work to do if that is to happen. But majorly it is about preparing and improving for next season,” Smith told the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast.

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“You’ve got this raft of younger lads in that senior set up, they’re going to be learning all the time and learning what Arteta wants from them. It’s about getting the group as a whole ready; to be better prepared to start next season in a positive way and a winning way.

“For the league position, if they can get into Europe, brilliant, and of course a good run in the Europa League would go down a storm and, who knows, maybe get to the final and obtain a Champions League place if they win it.

“But if you look at the league table it’s not pleasant reading for Arsenal.”

Arteta’s re-shaping of the Arsenal squad took a major step forward during the January transfer window, with Mesut Ozil, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi leaving the club, while Sead Kolasinac, William Saliba, Joe Willock, and Ainsley Maitland-Niles went out on loan.

Smith believes those exits will give Arteta the financial power to make further changes this summer.

“I think it was a successful window for Arteta,” said Smith.

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“He’s cleared the decks of a lot of players who weren’t in his first thoughts in picking a team each week. Financially, as well, he’s got a lot of players off the wage book which is going to be helpful going into the summer when he’ll want to add to the squad.

“The Ozil saga has thankfully come to an end and that was a distraction, although he’s got a similar one now with Willian and, to a lesser extent, Nicolas Pepe, on big, big money and not producing.

“You’re loathe to leave people like that out, so that’s another problem.

“Some of those players [who went out in January] will come back, perhaps. The likes of Maitland-Niles, Willock, maybe. Others he’ll be trying to sell and bring more players in, fashioning that squad in his image more.”

Listen to this week’s Pitch to Post Preview Podcast to hear more from Alan Smith on Arsenal – including his views on whether Nicolas Pepe can become a first-team regular under Arteta and what the Gunners must do to beat Leeds United in the Premier League on Sunday.

Pitch to Post Preview – Guardiola v Mourinho, Arsenal’s dip and development, and how far away are Man Utd?

In this week’s Pitch to Post Preview Podcast Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour and Sky Sports feature writer Nick Wright to look ahead to Saturday’s clash between Pep Guardiola’s Man City and Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham, with the league leaders’ imperious form and Gareth Bale’s continued absence from the Spurs XI on the agenda.

We also hear from Sky Sports pundit Alan Smith on Arsenal’s inconsistency, how Mikel Arteta is building for a better campaign next season, and whether Leeds striker Patrick Bamford can make it into England’s squad for the Euros.

Plus, Nick Wright delivers his verdict on why Manchester United should be ready for a title tilt, Sam Allardyce’s struggles to turn things around at West Brom, and shares his Pitch for what will happen in the Premier League this weekend.

Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox

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