When Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta as head coach a year ago on Sunday, they were in tenth place in the Premier League and seven points off the pace in the Champions League.
I had the impression it wasn’t enough.
The fact that the Gunners are now 15th in the standings, 10 points from fourth place and much closer to the bottom three than the European places, inevitably raises questions.
Due to the lack of fans in the Emirates stadium, it can be difficult to absorb the temperature on the fan base. Social media is rarely the place to find a measured and nuanced debate, so it may not be surprising that #ArtetaOut grows when a team loses. This is nothing new, but those who want a change a year after the arrival of the Arsenal director should know that it will not change anything.
We have to admit that the Premier League form in recent weeks has not been good enough for this club, Arteta said on Friday.
As with everything in this sector, you need results. But after the great turmoil, we need to find stability. We need time, we all knew that when they decided to launch this new project with me. It wasn’t a quick fix.
The vote of confidence in Arteta announced by Arsenal technical director Edu seems more than empty words to me. It predicts the manager that the message is very clear: he will get the time he needs.
The reality is, he’s bound to need it.
How serious is the current situation?
Arsenal suffered their fourth straight home defeat to Burnley 1-0 at Emirates Stadium over the weekend, before signing with Southampton on Wednesday.
Optimists will say that it is not so bad and that Arsenal d’Arteta has already won a trophy (the FA Cup last season) and only a few victories away from the European places.
The other thing, of course, is that they have suffered six defeats, won only once in nine races and enjoy their worst start to the season in 39 years.
But it’s the context that counts. He arrived in mid-December, a notoriously bad time to join a club. Then came the pandemic. Considering the 12 months spent with the FA Cup in the closet, the situation is far from disastrous. The unusual character of this season also makes it difficult to draw definitive conclusions.
Maybe winning the FA Cup has raised expectations too high. It’s a victory for a team that needs a shake-up to regain its former glory, and not just on the field.
Arsenal knows, and so does Arteta.
Why does Artema have trouble solving problems?
It’s not rocket science. In the simplest sense, Arteta is struggling because he doesn’t have enough good players, and I think he would also recognise that the changes needed around him to consistently win are not happening quickly.
Probably the biggest concern is the lack of character and hierarchy in the team, which is very difficult to buy or replace. How do you manage to take the lead in a few months? If Granit Xhaka insists on Arteta and his predecessor Unai Emery, it is because he is one of the leading figures of the group.
And of course there is the eternal question of what to do with Mesut Özil.
The idea that the uncomfortable situation between Arteta and the German is somehow related to the intransigence of the Spaniards is far from true.
Given the huge financial burden of having a player like Özil twisting his thumbs at the club, the idea that Özil wouldn’t get the chance to show Arteta that he plays an important role in the rebirth of Arsenal is downright absurd.
I think Arteta has given him many opportunities to prove himself, not only for financial reasons, but because everyone, including Arteta, knows what a fantastic asset he could be. Suggesting that he’s deliberately marginalized because of an imaginary political point of view is suggesting to me that he doesn’t know the whole story.
I have the impression that Edu cannot speak as freely as he would like because of the contractual situation in which he finds himself, and I think it is probably better not to say certain things.
Özil’s demand reflects a bigger problem: Arteta simply doesn’t have enough regular players, who make up seven out of ten, to provide the vital foundation needed to bring stability to the team. Not yet. Not yet.
To achieve this, he has to reintroduce the winning mentality that characterized many of Arsenal’s top teams last year, not only on the field but throughout the club’s structure. Arteta wants to create a culture in which everyone is challenged everywhere, because that is still lacking.
Also, it is not lost for him or the club that, although he is a talented and promising coach, he still has a lot to learn. When he told the staff of the Arsenal on his arrival that his door was always open to everyone, he not only offered his support, but also asked to grow together.
Passionate, obsessive and perhaps too busy covering too many bases – I can’t imagine from whom he learned this – the message, according to sources close to the players, sometimes becomes overwhelming.
It’s not the first time a new coach tries to explain everything at once, and it’s hard for players to understand everything. It’s an aspect of his coaching approach that he knows he has to work. And he will, because Arteta, among others, has a very clear idea of what he wants to do with the team, and he realises that he has to learn to shape it in his own image.
Its magic is expressed in regular individual meetings with all the players of the first team, who have never been briefed so often by a manager. The young players making their debut for the first team were impressed by the emphasis on the details of the training (Aretha does the important parts, while her coaching staff, who also adapts to working for a first division club, does his part) and appreciated the authority that comes from hearing the manager say just before they come for the first time: You know what to do, I trust you.
There were flashes of genius in the field that showed that things were going in the right direction, but there were also moments of doubt and mediocrity. But one thing is clear: The team believes in what it has to offer, and if Arteta decides to radically change its tactics now, its players won’t allow it.
Arteta his first big trophy as manager when Arsenal defeated Chelsea in the FA Cup final in August.
The club, which may be thinking of quick magical solutions, saw the presence of a leading personality as a soothing and accompanying influence, and the name Arsene Wenger came to the fore. But with this idea comes a warning. Sir Alex Ferguson and Bill Shankly also tried to approach decision-makers for him after their dismissal, which neither ended very well.
Tactically, some find Arteta too cautious, and he certainly had to forget some of his principles for the moment in order to take advantage of what was offered to him. The Arsenal team improves their ability to move the ball from box to box, and they are one of the best teams in Europe to get the ball back into the opposition’s midfield, but they clearly lack creativity in midfield, and the same lack of quality and confidence explains their difficulties in the last third.
In short, Arteta needs to improve her properties while working with Edu to find a way to buy the quality he needs.
Does Arteta have the time and what will he do now?
There are some positive points for the future. Players like Gabriel Magalhaes, Thomas Parti, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Gabriel Martinelli and Xhaka are indispensable in the short term, but his team is unbalanced. If Willian’s free signing could have gone better, there are enough quality players on the team to challenge the European places.
But there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Arteta was not helped by the unfortunate injury of Partey, who has no replacement and whose role was not only to bring quality and calm to the midfield, but also to lead the team and make it stronger and more competitive.
Arteta’s relationship with Edu is very good – they talk to each other every day. Arteta is the first typical person who is the last to leave the type of coach that is completely absorbed in his work.
They will conclude that the team is not good enough, but also too big, and I expect some players to come on loan this winter to gain experience and hone their skills – players like Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe who will almost certainly become pillars of Arsenal, but not yet.
Then it’s the critical time of summer when five players see their contracts expire. This is a great opportunity, now that the decision-makers are on the same wavelength, to take new steps in the direction we want to take, to form a team that is active, dominant, offensive, dynamic, fast and physical.
There is no doubt that Arteta can become a top coach and manager of the club, but he needs the help of the people around him. Edu will constantly make sure that the relationship between the manager, the staff and the team works well, and so far he hasn’t seen anything that indicates that everyone disagrees with the coach and his long-term plans.
I said it from the beginning – I felt real support from the owners, the board, the technical director and then everyone in the club, Arteta said.
That’s the feeling I have with the team, with the coaches, with the players – what kind of chemistry do you have with them? Are they following you? Do they believe in you in what you’re trying to do? I still have to thank you, because I haven’t seen anything that goes against what we’re trying to do.
The long-term perspective is an important part of the whole. If Arteta wants to succeed in the Emirates, the fans of Arsenal will have to accept that it will take some time.
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