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Arteta insists much maligned Arsenal signing has ‘come a long way’

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta insisted one of the club’s major signings who has been a frequent target for criticism has “come a long way”.

Arsenal left it until the dying embers to secure a crucial victory in their quest for European competition next season. Christian Benteke had earlier made it four goals in four when cancelling out Nicolas Pepe’s opener.

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But with minutes remaining, substitute Gabriel Martinelli showed great desire and tenacity to put his side ahead before Pepe bagged his second to seal all three points.

Speaking in his post-match press conference (via Football London), Arteta said: “It was a crucial moment for us because we wanted to go into the final day with every chance of going into Europe.

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“If somebody told us in November, December that we would have the chance to qualify for Europe in the last game, I would have said ‘you are crazy’.”

When asked how close goalscorer Martinelli is to regularly starting games, the Spaniard said: “Very close.

“He needs to keep fighting to be closer and closer. We need to understand where the boys are in their phase of development. They’re going to earn the chances… it’s a joy to have them with us.”

“He’s come a long way” – Arteta

On the late-season resurgence of Pepe, Arteta added: “He’s come a long way in terms of consistency and the games he’s producing.

“It’s in his mindset. He wants to look at every action, every post-match reflection we do with him. When he has the talent he has it’s a really good mixture.”

On the difference having fans back in the stadium at Selhurst Park meant, Arteta concluded: “It was touching just being in the dressing room before, listening to them singing creating an atmosphere.

“I’m sure they [Arsenal fans] will turn up, support the team and we need to create again that strong connection with the fans.”

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