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Arsenal rebuilt with Champions League in mind, Arteta says

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Manager Mikel Arteta said Arsenal’s summer rebuild will help them compete once again for the Premier League title but that it was also done with a return to the Champions League in mind for the Gunners.

Arsenal topped the table in England’s top flight for much of last season, but Arteta’s side could not hold off his former boss Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the closing weeks of the season and finished second behind the eventual treble winners.

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Despite the disappointment of not winning the domestic title, Arsenal secured a spot in the Champions League for the first time since the 2016-17 season — a reality that necessitated some major changes to the squad.

“It will be more difficult for sure, because the league is going to go to a different level again, which is already incredible,” said Arteta, who spoke with ESPN in Washington, D.C., ahead of his team’s game against the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday. “And obviously playing the Champions League, which we haven’t played in many years at the club.

“That’s why we need a different squad from what we had last year, I think what we’ve done this summer is related to that, and more quality as well, for sure.”

The two biggest additions for Arsenal this summer were midfielder Declan Rice and attacker Kai Havertz. Arteta was effusive in his praise of both Rice, who signed from West Ham for a record fee, and Havertz, the former Chelsea and Bayer Leverkusen player.

“[Havertz] is a player I have admired for a long time and we had the possibility of bringing him to the club. We had a few chats about how he was feeling about it, and I was convinced he was the player and type of personality that we want in the team and to take us forward.

“[Rice] brings leadership, an aura and he brings special qualities that we didn’t have in our midfield. Obviously, he has good experience in the league, he’s already done a lot at 24 years old, but he has something — I saw that for a long time with him — he has that personality, that way of thinking, the way he plays for his teammates and the way he’s capable of controlling football matches.”

Rice and Havertz join an exciting core of players at the Emirates including Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus, and Arteta added that the team’s newcomers were recruited not just for their talent, but also because they were a cultural fit for Arsenal.

“I think there is much more to come,” Arteta said. “I think that what we are trying to do is to have a team with a very clear identity, each day plays better, that deserves to win matches more comfortably and enjoys playing together and that can connect with the people the way we connect, and to have the support and the atmosphere that is around the club right now.

“The way to do it is to recruit players with huge talent, but fit in our culture as well, and I think we’ve done that really, really well. At the end it will come down to playing better every day and win, win, win and win.

“We’ll get into April and May and we’ll have chances to lift trophies.”

After the match against the MLS All-Stars, Arsenal will play friendlies against Manchester United in East Rutherford, New Jersey, before playing Barcelona in Los Angeles. The Gunners return to Premier League play on Aug. 12 with a home match against Nottingham Forest.

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