Mikel Arteta has defended his Arsenal players after their recent collapse in the race for a Champions League spot.
Having been four points clear of Tottenham with just three Premier League games to play, the Gunners looked odds-on to finish inside the top-four this season for the first time in six years.
However, back-to-back defeats against Spurs and Newcastle have dragged them down to fifth place and they are unlikely to claw back the two-point deficit to their north London rivals who just need a draw at relegated Norwich on Sunday to clinch fourth place.
Arteta has been heavily criticised for the way Arsenal have buckled under the pressure in recent games, but the Spaniard believes his young side are showing progress no matter where they finish this season.
Speaking to BBC Sport ahead of Arsenal’s match against Everton, he said: ‘In a week’s time when we are all on holiday and we look back at what we’ve done, whether we are in the Champions League or the Europa League, I think everybody will agree that we did more than was expected.
‘They have shown what it takes (to compete for the Champions League) because what they’ve done, in the last 10 seasons nobody has done it, a club, a team with that age bracket starting XI that we have put on the pitch, it hasn’t been done in this league.
‘It’s something they’ve done and that’s credit to the team for what they have delivered.’
This season, Arteta has consistently fielded the youngest side in the Premier League as academy graduates Emile Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah have led Arsenal’s charge for European qualification.
However, if the Gunners do not secure Champions League football on Sunday, Arteta will be under pressure to deliver next term in what will be his third full season in charge at the Emirates.
The 13 league defeats suffered in the current campaign have highlighted the limitations of his inexperienced squad.
Meanwhile, moves for the likes of Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and Wolves’ Ruben Neves show he recognises Arsenal are still underachieving.
He added: ‘The thing is, where we want to be is not where we are today, we want to be the best and that gap is still really big.
‘We’ve come a long way in many things, especially who we are as a club and the connection between what we are doing and how our people feel about what we are doing.
‘That’s really important as well and it takes a long time to build that trust.’
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