Mikel Arteta admitted Arsenal’s players were rejected after their quest for Champions League qualification suffered a further setback with a damaging 1-0 Premier League defeat at Southampton.
Tottenham’s shock home loss to Brighton in Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off offered the Gunners the chance to move level on points with their fourth-placed north London rivals.
But Arteta’s men blew a major opportunity to capitalize at St Mary’s as Jan Bednarek’s strike on the stroke of half-time condemned them to a fourth defeat from five games.
The misfiring visitors, who arrived on the south coast on the back of disappointing losses to Crystal Palace and Brighton, were left frustrated following 76 per cent possession and 23 attempts at goal.
“They are really down today and they are down because they cannot find the right answer – apart from what we can do better around the box – not to win that match,” Arteta said of his squad.
“And that’s the frustration.
“When somebody’s better, you shake their hands and you have to be critical with yourself.
“But, apart from 25 minutes against Palace and some periods against Brighton in the first half, it’s very difficult to explain and accept.”
Arsenal retain a game in hand on Spurs, albeit a tricky trip to Chelsea, while their latest slip-up provides further encouragement for fellow top-four hopefuls Manchester United and West Ham.
In-form Saints goalkeeper Fraser Forster produced stunning saves to keep out Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe either side of Bednarek’s decisive finish.
Apart from those two openings, the Gunners – who were without Alexandre Lacazette due to a positive Covid-19 test – rarely threatened to move on from their recent sticky patch and have now hit the net just twice in five games.
Arteta concedes his side’s top-four push is being undermined by a lack of goals as he struggled to comprehend the defeat in Hampshire.
“For somebody that doesn’t know the result and is watching the game, you know what they would tell you: that Arsenal won the game,” said the Spaniard.
“And we didn’t. It’s very disappointing and difficult to explain with words. But this is sport. It’s what makes it different to any other because (for example) in basketball you have 25 shots and the opponent has one then you win 10 out of 10 times.
“The result is that at the end we need to be where we have to be. And if we are not able to do that, we are not going to be there (in the top four).
“It’s as simple as that. To win football matches, you have to score more goals than what we are doing at the moment.”
Arsenal play their game in hand away to Chelsea on Wednesday evening.
Arteta is unsure if first-choice striker Lacazette will be available to return at Stamford Bridge.
“It will depend on whether he is negative and whether he’s feeling better and his symptoms are gone,” he said of the French forward.
Southampton’s overdue win came after they took just a single point from the last 15 available and following last weekend’s 6-0 thrashing by Chelsea.
Saints boss Hasenhuttl praised the “exceptional” performance of Forster and revealed his keeper had been doubtful until the morning of the game due to a training-ground injury.
“I’m at first impressed that he made it to play today because yesterday after the session he was out,” Hasenhuttl said of Forster.
“He had an ankle problem after an accident, he did everything: doctors, physio, everybody pushed hard that he plays.
“And it’s great to get such a reward for such a game. This is absolutely exceptional.”
Speaking of a win that puts his team’s aspirations of a top-half finish back on track, the Austrian continued: “We knew that it’s time to show a reaction and to show that we can also play a little bit different and today it was a different game.
“I know we can play more football, I know we can play better, but it’s also good to know we can defend like this and this was the goal for today.
“Then you need a team that is really working hard, a goalkeeper who was exceptional, because otherwise it looks different.”