Mikel Arteta insists Arsenal can learn from the seasons of European exile endured by Liverpool and Chelsea as he bids to revive his faltering project in north London.
Elimination from the Europa League semifinals by Villarreal on Thursday night means the Gunners are almost certain to miss out on European football for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Their only hope lies in a dramatic late scrabble up the Premier League table. Currently ninth in the Premier League table, they are five points behind Liverpool in seventh -- good for a place in the inaugural season of the Europa Conference League -- having played a game more than those around them.
A four-game sprint begins with the visit of West Bromwich Albion to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday but Arteta, who retains the support of the club hierarchy, is already setting his eyes to next season. Having no European football to offer to fans will doubtless bring with it financial hardships, but it will at least allow the manager to focus his attentions on a Premier League recovery. He can point to the examples of Chelsea, who won the title in Antonio Conte's first season after an acrimonious end to Jose Mourinho's tenure only months earlier, and a Liverpool side that nearly won the title in 2013-14 without having to juggle continental games.
"We have some really good examples with teams in this country that have been out of Europe and that was the defining moment in that project to go on and be much stronger," said Arteta. "We have to look what happened there to understand how we can make the most of it.
"We can not be crying and stuck on what we don't have. We have to see what we do have and maximize it to get what we want."
Asked whether it could take years to get Arsenal back to the upper echelons of English football, Arteta was keen to note that this was not the start of the rebuild nor of their troubles in qualifying for Europe. "We have not been competing with the top clubs in this country for five years," he said.
"It is not as if this process started six months ago – it started five years ago and you can see this trend. This year is not Year 1. I think a project has its phases and I am telling you we are in a much better position today to be where we want to be very soon, if we do what we have to do. But we have to be ruthless. There is no time to waste and there is a lot to do."
The question that will hover over Arteta for the remainder of this season and beyond is whether Arsenal fans trust him with the project anymore. Without fans at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal do not have the direct feedback mechanism that cost Unai Emery his job; historically when fans stay away from the ground, owner Stan Kroenke has taken action. No one needs reminding that fans have been away for a year almost without interruption now.
In the aftermath of Thursday's 0-0 draw with Villarreal, Arsenal fans on social media (not always the perfect bellwether of emotion) seemed united in their belief that it was time for Arteta to go, with his insistence that he could only transmit messages to them through what happens on the pitch ringing hollow in what looks set to be the club's worst season for a quarter of a century.
Arteta offered a lengthier message to supporters on Friday, saying: "I want to share the pain that we are all feeling. They have been incredible with the team and incredible with me since I arrived and I have to show my appreciation first of all. I know their disappointment.
"We are here to give them joy, to give them moments where they can feel proud of what we do. We were able to do that last season and we haven't this season. We are the ones who have to give them something to cheer about. I don't think it is time for us to demand anything from them. If anything I would just ask them to support the players because they will value that and will help them play better and achieve better things. But I think it is our moment to do something for them."