Arsenal fan Cian O’Hannigan takes a look at Mikel Arteta’s reign so far and why Arsenal have a chance against Tottenham on Sunday.
Last Sunday was one year to the day since Arsenal parted ways with Unai Emery. It was fitting that his former club paid tribute to him by producing the same type of performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers that ultimately led to his demise as manager. Now, as the first anniversary of Mikel Arteta’s tenure approaches, it’s worth taking a look at where the club has progressed, and why Arteta is still the right man for the job.
Big Game Mentality.
Ahead of the North London derby this weekend, the two clubs could not be further apart in terms of their league form. A new look Tottenham team have impressed hugely with Kane and Son, in particular, in red hot form. They look to mount a title challenge (they obviously won’t win it), while Arsenal are struggling in the bottom half of the table on the back of three consecutive home league defeats.
However, in a North London derby, form goes out the window. Arteta has proven already that he can unlock a winning formula in the big games, which is something that has previously deceived Arsenal prior to his arrival. Since June, they have beaten Liverpool on three occasions, as well as defeating both Manchester City and Chelsea en route to FA Cup glory and then bringing an end to their barren 14 year wait for a league win at Old Trafford. This shows how Arteta has masterminded an upturn in fortune in the big games. Arteta has instilled a clear shift in mindset and belief in his players that now allows them to go and compete in these games. Despite their woeful current form, don’t be surprised if they inflict more defeat on their biggest rivals this weekend.
Form is Temporary. Class is Permanent.
We are all guilty of overreacting and jumping to conclusions when a team is struggling, but things quickly change. It wasn’t that long ago that Arteta was being heralded as a genius for leading Arsenal to a remarkable 14th FA Cup win. Four months on, there are a small minority of the same fans starting to call for his head. Football is a results-driven business and once the results turn sour, the buck ultimately falls with the manager. But Arteta requires patience as he continues to build a team to suit his playing style. He’s still young and very inexperienced himself in terms of management so is bound to make mistakes, but he hasn’t yet been given the opportunity to show he can react to those mistakes.
Southampton is a great example of this. After a record-equalling 9-0 home defeat to Leicester last season, Ralph Hassenhuttl was the bookies favourite to be the next manager sacked. Since then, they have gone on to be the 6th best team in the league this calendar year and Hassenhuttl is being linked with the Manchester United job. Players and managers alike have been quick to praise Arteta’s methods and mannerisms; something you could not say was evident about his predecessor. In this current blip, it is easy to forget how highly he is regarded amongst his peers.
Trusting the Process.
Arteta has a clear vision of how he envisages Arsenal playing and is quietly going about implementing his methods. In an interview with Spanish journalist Nacho Gonzalez, Arteta spoke openly about how he doesn’t put too much emphasis on what formation he wants to play, but chooses more to concentrate on how his players can occupy space on the pitch. In order to do this, he believes there are very specific roles that have to be filled within the team, something that the current squad of players are lacking in.
This will be a progressive process requiring a minimum of five or six transfer windows before Arteta can get these players in, whilst also clearing out the deadwood that has existed in the squad for the best part of a decade. The signings of Partey and Gabriel are testament to his thinking so expect them to be a crucial part of the new spine that is being introduced. It’s clear that Arteta has a philosophy and identity plan, which is something that was lacking in previous regimes. As Arteta has alluded to in many of his recent post match interviews, it is fine margins that is costing Arsenal right now. Keep faith in what Arteta is doing and trust that these fine margins will turn in their favour the more the players continue buying into his methods.
Arsenal’s comedic defending has rightly been ridiculed over the past number of years. However. there are finally signs that this is a thing of the past. Being tasked with inheriting a squad filled with shambolic defenders and making the team somewhat solid deserves a lot more praise than it has received. Only five teams have conceded less goals than Arsenal in the league this season, and they have also conceded five less than champions Liverpool.
It may have stunted the productivity levels of some offensive players but that is a price that is currently being paid while they address the defensive situation. It is unrealistic to expect a drastic improvement at both ends of the pitch in such a short period of time. It’s a gradual cycle that is showing signs of coming to fruition. Now the challenge is to merge the defensive improvement with offensive progress.
Ruthless but Fair.
The overwhelmingly positive culture shift and the enhanced mood surrounding the club should not be tainted by a temporary run of poor form. The emergence of young stars such as Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith-Rowe combined with some key new signings (including Aubameyang’s new contract) has generated the building blocks for Arteta’s construction. Mikel Arteta is too focused on perfection for this project to fail and has decided no matter who you are, you get a fair chance. Some have taken it. Some haven’t. His year in charge has shown which players in the current squad can’t handle his non-negotiables and as a result, will be gradually shifted out of the club (Matteo Guendouzi case in point). The others meanwhile, continue the adaptation process into a complex new philosophy that has the potential to be a real success.
As the form book goes out the window this weekend, this is the perfect opportunity for Mikel Arteta to test his tactical nous against one of the best in the game in Jose Mourinho. If Arsenal abide by his non negotiables and trust in the process, expect the red half of North London to be singing on Sunday evening.