By Mukhtar Tijjani
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says his side have “made strong steps” this season, regardless of how their final two Premier League games play out.
They travel to relegation-threatened Nottingham Forest on Saturday, knowing defeat would hand the title to Manchester City.
The Gunners were seven points clear at the top on 26 December but are now four points behind Pep Guardiola’s side.
“We have built that core and that foundation,” Arteta said.
“There’s a lot of quality, a lot of youth, a lot of enthusiasm, but as well surrounded by a lot of good people with the right experience, with a lot of leadership around them.
“We have to continue to do that because the demands, the expectations, the challenges next season will be even higher.”
Arsenal lost just once in the league between the start of the season and February, establishing a strong lead at the top of the table.
But three consecutive draws against Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton in April were followed by a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City.
The Gunners got back to winning ways at high-flying Newcastle on 7 May, but were beaten 3-0 at home by Brighton last weekend as City opened up a lead on their title rivals.
With City having played one game less than Arsenal, defeat at Forest on Saturday would confirm Guardiola’s team as champions before they host Chelsea on Sunday.
A draw would keep Arteta’s team in the race mathematically – they could finish level on points with City, but the reigning champions have a far superior goal difference.
When asked if how Arsenal’s season has played out was “painful”, Arteta said: “It depends on what the pain is.
“There are lots of moments to be extremely pleased with what we’ve done. Let’s see where we finish in the next two games.
“Pain is part of football – when you don’t win, when you don’t perform at your level, it has to hurt.
“It has to hurt the right way and you have to use that pain to become better and to find answers and solutions that can help you win more.”