What has Mikel Arteta Changed at Arsenal Since his Arrival?
Mikel Arteta was hired as Arsenal manager less than a week before Christmas to mixed responses from the footballing world. To many, the task of transforming a lacklustre Arsenal side was too big for someone so early in his managerial career.
To others, including, evidently, the powers that be at the Gunners, he was perfect – a favourite son of the club who would be able to bring both an energy which was so palpably lacking during the final days of Emery’s tenure, as well as a new structure which would help to get the most out of a struggling squad.
There’s no doubt there was some logic behind the criticisms which followed his hiring. Arteta, aged just 37, played at Arsenal until 2016. In the three seasons since, he has worked at Manchester City as an assistant to fellow Spaniard Pep Guardiola, helping to oversee two Premier League titles and no doubt sponging a whole lot of valuable knowledge about the art of management during this era of success.
The reality is, however, that three seasons as an assistant isn’t a whole lot, and Arteta has taken on a daunting role without what would often be seen as the requisite experience.
On the other side of the coin, though, perhaps there is something to be said for the exuberance of youth. Arteta, having played top-flight football less than four years ago, knows maybe as well as anyone what is required to be successful at the top level.
He has intimate knowledge of many opposition teams and players – having literally shared the pitch with them – and also likely has an enhanced ability to communicate and motivate his players given how close in age he is to many of them.
And indeed, upon his hiring, it appeared Arteta was well aware of this advantage. Many of his first words as Arsenal manager surrounded the culture of the club; of his desire to extract passion and energy from the squad he inherited. And so far, he appears to be doing a very decent job it.
Following his hiring, the Gunners drew 1-1 with Bournemouth before losing to Chelsea, but since then they have enjoyed a couple of impressive victories over first Manchester United, and then Leeds in the FA Cup, conceding zero goals in both of those games with what is generally regarded as an uninspiring defence.
Clearly there have been structural changes since Arteta arrived, but what has been cited most often by his players since his arrival has been the injection of energy he has brought and the confidence he has given to his players. Following the 2-0 victory over long-time rivals Manchester United last week, Sokratis Papastathopolous told the media that the players ‘feel confident’, while captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang noted the pride he has instilled within the team.
Things, of course, are still far from rosy at Arsenal, with the team sitting in 10th place with more wins 21 games into the season than only Bournemouth, Watford, and Norwich City – though premier league odds suggest they are likely to improve on that standing in the back half of the season. And though there has certainly been a turnaround in performance on the field and players appear to be relishing the change, Arteta and the Gunners wouldn’t be the first – nor the last – manager/team pairing in history to enjoy a honeymoon period upon joining forces only to later regress to the mean.
But so far, so good, and while it’s wise to be wary the team and Arteta can’t be faulted for the way they’ve performed in the early days of the former captain’s tenure. The Gunners’ upcoming fixtures will see them play the two teams directly above them in the standings in Crystal Palace and Sheffield United, and if they can continue their good form through those two games then fans will begin to feel much more positive about the future prospects of their side under Arteta.
It will take a while to truly know whether Arsenal made a prudent choice by appointing their former captain to the head role just three years into his managerial career. Challenges he has never faced will invariably arise, particularly given the relatively young squad he has inherited, and it’s perhaps not until this happens that we will truly see whether Arteta is ready to manage one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Four games into his career, however, the signs are good, and he appears to have found a balance between his work off the field in developing a strong culture, and his work on it. There’s a long way to go, but two weeks in there isn’t a whole lot to complain about.