As the uncertainty in world football continues to ensue due to the global COVID-19 crisis, the future of Arsenal Football Club looks as bright as it has done for the best part of a decade. The appointment of Mikel Arteta has united a fan base that had become somewhat divided in the later years of the Arsene Wenger era, with the tension lasting through the duration of Unai Emery’s tenure. When Emery was appointed, there was a feeling that he was never really first choice for the board, the fans, or the players, nor did he have the the capacity to step into the shoes of our greatest ever manager. Emery’s insistence on playing out from the back with a team that was incapable of doing so, coupled with some of his bizarre tactical calls, ultimately meant he was never really accepted within the club. However, 18 months on from his appointment, there’s a new man at the helm who’s brought the optimism and excitement back.
Perhaps Emery’s reign was a blessing in disguise. Arteta was heavily linked with the Arsenal job when Wenger left; however, there was an overriding feeling that he wasn’t quite ready for the position. He has now had a further 18 months of learning under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, where he has been lauded for his man-management skills and tactical influence by several key figures at the Etihad. He was also working in an environment where there was a winning mentality everyday, which is something he will look to integrate into this Arsenal squad. It was inevitable that the Spaniard would be offered a top job sooner or later, and I for one am grateful that Arsenal are the club who have managed to secure his services.
Arteta is now 15 games into his reign as Arsenal manager and while there are obvious signs of improvement, there are also people who will argue that results have not dramatically improved in that time. Bearing in mind he inherited a squad that was extremely low on morale and confidence, it is perhaps unfair to expect him to produce miracles. The biggest positive has been the significant improvement in the defensive aspect of our game. Arsenal have kept clean sheets in 4 of Arteta’s 10 league games in charge as opposed to 3 in 18 before that. That shows a substantial defensive improvement, with the defence often having been lamented as the root of Arsenal’s results. The stats give clarity to the team’s impressive defensive performances; however, there have been some notable individuals who have benefited hugely under Arteta’s guidance. Shkodran Mustafi, in particular, was brought in from the cold and became integral in the team’s 10 game unbeaten run at the start of the year. This was a player who barely featured in the first half of the season and was deemed to be surplus to requirements by former boss Unai Emery.
It’s not only the defensive players that have improved, but also a crowd of youngsters such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson, who have all flourished when given opportunities by the manager. Arteta spoke in his very first interview as Arsenal manager of how he loves working with young players and is very willing to give them the chance if they deserve it and with a host of young players breaking through, as well as the ones already mentioned, it is another reason to be optimistic for the future. His strong friendship with academy manager Per Mertesacker means we should expect a fruitful relationship between the pair, which will only benefit players looking to break through to the first-team.
A host of players and coaches who have previously worked with Arteta in some capacity have heaped praise on his coaching and managerial potential. Tim Cahill is the latest to speak about his former teammate, saying he was “always a coach, even as a player”. In 2017, Arteta was credited with Raheem Sterling’s development, while he has also had a massive impact on Leroy Sane’s progress. Santi Cazorla spoke in February about how his compatriot had everything needed for the job and deserved to be the boss due to his leadership qualities. There is a clear trend in these interviews, with Arteta’s man-management often highlighted by his peers as one of his strengths. Receiving high praise has become a regularity for Arteta – now it is up to him to prove that he is worthy of such praise.
“You have to be ruthless, you have to be consistent and everyday you have to fit the culture of the club to create a winning mentality.” – Mikel Arteta(ESPN, 2019)
Even though most of the football world has come to a halt, expect Arteta to be working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the squad is best-equipped for whenever the season starts back up again. Our manager promises so much and with the right foundations in place, along with the backing and unity of everyone at the football club, he could bring us back to where we belong – Champions League and challenging for major trophies. We just need to remain patient, and, in our manager’s own words, “trust the process”.
Header photo: Matt Jones, 2016