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Time to acknowledge that Arteta is improving players?

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In my previous article, I said that football is a results business and in that respect, what a great couple of weeks it’s been since I last penned my thoughts.

Most supporters are quick to criticise the manager when he gets it wrong, so I’m going to buck that trend by being quick to praise him when he gets it right. Mikel did exactly that against Wolves.

His in game management at Molineux was superb, particularly his decision to substitute Kieran Tierney for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who gave us more pace and power to help combat that of Wolves dangerman, Adama Traore. A decision that undoubtedly, had many asking questions of Mikel at the time.

I’ve always said that being a good manager isn’t necessarily determined by winning trophies, it’s about getting the best out of the resources available to you. Trophies are an added bonus. Of course, depending on clubs expectations, they are expected from some managers.

A significant factor in our recent improvement, is the change of formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3. This tactical adjustment has given us far more balance and is seemingly more compatible with the players currently available to Arteta.

I know many of us consider ourselves to be knowledgeable about the game and I always find myself feeling more confident about our chances of achieving victory when the team our manager selects, more or less, mirrors the one I’d pick myself. I would expect that we all feel the same way in this scenario.

It’s fair to say that this has been the case from Southampton onwards and I’ve found myself defending Mikel’s team selections to some supporters prior to kick off. When his starting eleven has slightly differed to mine, I’ve been able to acknowledge the possible reasoning behind it. Sadly, it seems some of our fans are only happy when they believe they’ve found something to criticise the club or manager about.

There is a bizarre reluctance amongst our supporters to accept when they have been proven wrong. In a footballing sense, only a few things make me happier, than a player doing exactly that after I’ve criticised them.
Dani Ceballos being a good example of this with his much improved recent form.

I questioned what Dani offers after the Brighton game and he’s finally started to show me, with his recent performances. Perhaps I will have to criticise him more often. It appears that the general lack of intensity in most games since the restart, has started to benefit his game. And one wonders whether Mesut Ozil would shine too, given the additional time and space.

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Since Arteta’s arrival, the biggest turn around of form however, is that of Granit Xhaka. A few of us have been praising him for months and others are, at long last, finally starting to take note. Unfortunately, there are still many supporters who are too blinded by their hatred towards him, to acknowledge his improvement. You just know that they are waiting for him to make a mistake, to give them the opportunity to get on his back again. What a bizarre mentality for so called fans to have.

Another player regularly criticised and rightly so at times, is David Luiz. However, aside from his disastrous showing against Man City, I actually think he’s performed relatively well under Arteta. We all know that he can be calamitous when he’s not focused, his post match comments suggested that was the case after his nightmare at the Etihad.

The reality is though, at present, David is an integral part of how Mikel wants the team to play because of his exceptional distribution out of defence. Put simply, we don’t currently have another player with the necessary attributes, who is capable of playing the role that Luiz does, the way that Arteta wants one of his defenders to.

It has to be said that Shkodran Mustafi has also shown significant improvement under Arteta. I thought he was partly at fault for Brighton’s winner after being caught flat footed but thankfully, his mistakes have been far less frequent than they were in the past. Does Mustafi’s improvement and my comments about Luiz mean that we don’t need better personnel, no, of course it doesn’t but credit where it’s due.

When Bernd Leno suffered his injury against Brighton, I said it was a big blow. The current form of Emiliano Martinez has ensured that he’s not been missed to date, with just one goal conceded and three clean sheets in his subsequent four appearances.

I’ve beaten the drum for Martinez in the past, particularly when others wanted him gone instead of David Ospina, but sadly his form dipped and no doubt that me saying this will cue a mistake in our next game but in some ways, I prefer him to Leno.

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Emiliano is calmer in possession and has better distribution than Bernd. His extra height also helps him to make saves that Leno makes look spectacular, look easy and he’s more aerially dominant. Attributes that take so much pressure off our defence.

I’m not yet at the stage of saying that he should permanently dislodge Leno, who has been excellent this season it has to be said, as our number one but if his impressive form continues, then what a great headache Mikel is going to have when it comes to choosing between them next season.

It’s not just been a positive couple of weeks on the pitch for the club but off it too, with Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka signing new long term contracts. Before anyone reminds me, I know I criticised Arteta for playing the latter on the right against Man City and that he scored an excellent goal against Wolves but I’m still not convinced that he’s as effective as a right winger.

When Pepe is available, I expect Saka to return to the left, where he looks more comfortable. Either way, I’m very excited to see how both him and Gabriel develop under Arteta’s guidance. Now that they’ve signed, let’s hope Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will follow suit.

It’s been reported that Aubameyang has requested a new three year contract, worth £250k a week. Whether that’s true or not, is not something that I’m privy too but if it is, then I wouldn’t have any hesitation in giving him what he wants, were the decision down to me.

A three year deal for a thirty one year old might seem too long but it’s only an extra two years on what he’s currently got left. It would give him some resale value, if he was to stop performing, and also send out a positive message in terms of keeping our best player.

With his current salary reportedly around £200k a week, it’s hard to say that he doesn’t deserve a pay rise considering his goal scoring exploits since he joined the club. Some supporters may question his away goal record against the top sides but I would argue that our overall record against them, suggests he’s not solely to blame for that.

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The proposed three year contract is worth £39m. How much would it cost to replace him with someone of the same quality, with the transfer fee and wages combined? Also, there would be no guarantee that whoever we did replace him, would score a sufficient number of goals. We paid around £45m for Alexandre Lacazette for example and his goal output hasn’t been anywhere near what we hoped it would be. I think we were all pleased to see Alexandre back on the score sheet against Wolves.

If we sold Aubameyang, who of his calibre would want to join us? A club who sells their best player, despite him wanting to stay, and can’t offer Champions League football. We know Aubameyang frequently delivers, so in my opinion, it would be madness for us to let him go, especially if there’s a strong desire to stay on his behalf.

Something didn’t seem right in the camp following the restart but whatever the issues were, thankfully they now appear to have been resolved. Luiz may not be a popular figure amongst supporters but he is well received by the other players. Perhaps his agitation about his contractual situation was one of several factors affecting the team.

It maybe no coincidence that our form has drastically improved since the petulant Matteo Geundouzi has been omitted from our match day squad. It would appear that the players are happier in their work without having someone who at times, behaves like a hormonal pubescent teenager, within the ranks.

The early comparisons between Matteo and Cesc Fabregas were excessive but he’s still young and has some potential. If he calms down from his current tantrum and channels his youthful energy in the right way, we may still have a future good player on our hands but if he wants to go because he doesn’t buy into what Arteta is trying to build here, then quite simply, he can go.

We will probably never know the cause of the apparent disharmony (after the restart) but what I can say for certain, is that it’s nice to be feeling positive about the remainder of the season and hopefully that will continue to be the case. Finishing above that lot down the road and winning the FA Cup would do nicely….T

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