This Is Not Going To Be An Overnight Fix

Online Editorial: Arsenal finally announce Mikel Arteta as new manager

This Is Not Going To Be An Overnight Fix

Let’s begin with a passage of text from a piece entitled “Mikel Arteta forced into Arsenal squad overhaul with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang desperate to leave” from The Independent yesterday by their chief football writer Miguel Delaney. Some of it was particularly damning:

The Arsenal hierarchy have realised that a significant clear-out may be needed. The events of the last month have been seen as a tipping point, particularly with how the poor performance of many players greatly influenced institutional decisions. Arsenal had hoped to buy time after the sacking of Unai Emery through the interim appointment of Freddie Ljungberg, and put due consideration into the appointment of the next full-time manager, which they hoped would not be required until the end of the season. That plan was scuppered when it became evident that the players were not responding, endangering the club’s entire campaign and even putting in what amounted to relegation form with a return of just 22 points from 17 games. Ljungberg told the hierarchy that too many of the players didn’t care, and that was unlikely to change until a permanent appointment was made. Both the interim manager and key officials are said to have been taken aback by just how much the players have dropped off, and how slack some attitudes were. It has fired the mood for a clear-out.”

Of course, we can’t know exactly how accurate the report is, but in terms of the players, what we have seen on the pitch so far this season is indisputable. There is an undoubted lack of conviction in far too many of them. Unai Emery wasn’t able to counter it, Freddie Ljungberg did not produce the turnaround that Duncan Ferguson managed at Everton (whether that is reflective of the status of the players or the personality of the manager is one for debate) and it soon became apparent that there was unlikely to be the required turnaround if the Swede was left in charge for the remainder of the campaign.

It seems as if Ljungberg will be running the team today against Everton with Arteta presumably in the stands to run the rule over some of the players he is inheriting. It will be interesting to see if there is any greater effort expended.

Arteta has been chosen for a number of reasons. There is no debate it is a gamble, but in reality, any appointment is. The hard bit for Arsenal fans is that, one imagines, to get the team playing the style of football Arteta wants, initially, there are going to be familiar mistakes. A loss of possession. The team have been, in various shades, trying to imitate Barcelona for close to a decade now. Based on the idea of dominating possession and picking their moments to strike. It’s meant a lot of playing the ball around in unthreatening areas and having their pocket picked due to the lack of a Sergio Busquets type to nip counter attacks in the bud.

However, Arteta has a built a reputation for improving younger players, and good tactics. Critically, this being his first job, he’s willing to work with little in the way of a substantial budget. The plan going forward, certainly until Arsenal can become Champions League regulars again, is to sell high and buy cheap, combined with development of the Academy produce – something that never really happened before Arsenal moved on from Arsene Wenger (the exceptions you can count on one hand).

One thing that will favour Arteta is that this season is already regarded as a write-off. If he can qualify the club for next season’s Europa League, it will help the bottom line – it’s possible to make £30 million from a decent run in that competition. The three spots go to fifth place and the two domestic cup winners. Manchester City have won three of the last four domestic trophies, Chelsea the other. That has extended Europa League qualification to the teams finishing sixth and seventh, so it’s possible, even with Leicester gatecrashing the top six. And of course, there is experience of long runs in the Europa League itself, offering a route to the Champions League that was almost pulled off last season.

Still, Arteta will be given time to work. There is a realization about how far the club have fallen, that ultimately, appointing Unai Emery was a mistake (as was not replacing Arsene Wenger in 2017 if not before). Finance-wise, the club are not going to be in a position to pay off another coach the way that Chelsea do. Arteta will be given time by those in charge, specifically because they believe he can produce results on a tight budget.

There will be a new approach to wages. Players who want too much to extend their deals will simply be sold off, and in this respect the scouting side of the operation becomes critical. Expect players young enough to have sell-on value to arrive. If it works out, we could be in for some exciting times. But for a while, Arsenal will be a selling club. Expect both of Aubameyang and Ozil to depart by next summer if not before, the latter with an agreement to the buying club that Arsenal will cover some of his wages until the summer of 2021. Arteta has said he is willing to work with Ozil, but that has to cut both ways. Ozil has to be willing to work to win the ball back. It’s unlikely this particular leopard can change its spots, so expect to see more of Ozil as a substitute for as long as he is at the club after he’s been given a chance to produce what Arteta wants in the starting eleven. Additionally, the club will be keen to move the player on to prevent further damage to income in the Chinese market. In a sense, it’s possible that tweet was done by Ozil to force a sale at a knockdown price, and may well succeed.

Arteta spoke impressively in his interview for the official website and at the press conference yesterday. It really did sound like a case of “my way or the highway”. He was diplomatic in addressing the reality of how far the club’s stock has fallen.

I recall fans (and I include myself here) were excited by the arrival of Unai Emery, based on his record of success in Spain. Fans don’t always do due diligence and were simply blown away at the prospect of something different after 22 years of Arsene had ended so badly. We almost didn’t care what he had to say. With Arteta, whose English is obviously much better, we are able to understand exactly what his plans are. As a former player, and so familiar with the Premier League having now worked at three clubs over a long period of time, he gets it. He understands what is required, and has experience at Manchester City of a winning culture and how to prepare for football matches.

There are no guarantees this will work out, but there is an element of belief and support. We get the message that the players will need to improve or they will be moved on. Who can argue with that? Can Arteta improve them? The signs are encouraging. I’m going to reproduce a thread on twitter from the @RealTalkMCFC account –

(Begins) Thread on Mikel Arteta’s major impact at City and how he has been key to City’s recent success.
At the end of his career at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger allowed Arteta to lead training sessions on numerous occasions after impressing him with “his eye for small details”. Even Arsenal-players, staff members and the club board were convinced that Arteta had a big future as a coach.
According to reports, Arteta impressed Wenger, Arsenal-players, staff members and the club board to such an extent that he was immediately considered as one of the favourites to lead a post-Wenger Arsenal. Arsenal were keen to hold on to him once he announced his retirement.
Mikel Arteta’s reputation as a promising young coach, however, got the new City-manager at the time, Pep Guardiola, interested in bringing him to City as part of his coaching staff. Arteta knew that this was a fantastic opportunity to learn from one of the best managers.
At City, Mikel Arteta devoted much of his time to work closely with Raheem Sterling. Arteta has, by both Pep and Sterling himself, been given credits for Sterling’s tremendous transformation over the last few years. Again, it’s all due to his eye for details.
Pep Guardiola on Arteta’s impact on Raheem Sterling: “Mikel Arteta is working many, many hours and days after training specifically about the last action on the pitch – that control in the last moment to make the right movement in the final three or four metres.
Mikel Arteta’s importance to Pep can be seen in this GIF. Against Arsenal last year at the Emirates, City were struggling to “kill off” the match. Arteta noticed how Arsenal-players were dropping too fast and deep on crosses, and therefore he instructed Mendy to put cut-back passes into the box in the space which Arsenal-players had left open while dropping deep. Bernardo Silva scored on this and won the match for City. As you can tell from the GIF, Pep and the rest of his staff credited the goal to Mikel Arteta.
Here’s some praise from highly respected managers: Mauricio Pochettino: “Mikel Arteta has the capacity to be one of the greatest coaches in football, for sure.” Arsené Wenger: "For Arteta, does he have all the qualities to do the job? Yes."
Pep Guardiola: "I said after a few months together he would be a manager. He is already a manager - he behaves like a manager."
Mikel Arteta is in fact a very popular figure among the players. He’s an important “link” between Pep and the players. Gabriel Jesus on Arteta a few days ago: “He’s helped a lot of players. When I want to do finishing after training, I tell him and he comes and helps me.”
After learning from the best manager itw for the last 3 and a half years, considering all the praise from managers and players, I personally believe that Arteta is the right man to take Arsenal forward. They’ve got nothing to lose at this point.
However, I don’t believe that the results will improve over night. This is a project, and just like Pep, he’ll need some time to implement his style and get the players that he knows will improve the team. His coaching and personality will genuinely be missed at City.
No one can ever deny the fact that Arteta was/is a leading contender to replace Pep one day. It’s a reason for it. It’s a reason why he’s being praised. Right now, he looks like a young 2008-version of Pep Guardiola to me who’s taking his first big steps into management.
Now that I’ve reached the end of my thread, I would just like to express my greatest gratitude towards Mikel Arteta for his magnificent impact on City over the last few years. Thank you SO MUCH for the trophies and all the joy. I wish you nothing but success at Arsenal (Ends)

There’s no question that Arteta is highly rated within the game. He’s young, for sure, but every great manager had to take a first job as the man in charge of a team, including Pep Guardiola.

The most important thing for Arsenal fans to understand is the scale of the job that lies ahead, and the financial restrictions Arteta will be working under for at least the next 18 months, and probably longer. He has been given the opportunity to build a team from a level much lower than the one he left in 2016. And that excites him because it gives him the chance to demonstrate his abilities. But he inherits a mixture of young raw talent and a number of highly paid pros who, to use LeGrove’s terminology, are phoning it in.

There is an argument to say that the club would have been better hiring a more experienced hand, an established winner. But that would have cost more, and the club are thinking long term. The plan is for Arteta to be around for a long time, on the basis that he can achieve success and make Arsenal genuinely competitive, something we’ve not really seen for a decade now. It’s about growth, but that takes time, and there are going to be growing pains.

I’ve read enough about Arteta to be convinced the club may have made the right decision, but time will tell. Improvement is going to be gradual, and incremental, and there are likely to be setbacks. But the main thing is to see an upward curve, and critically a change in culture at the club where the players respect the manager, and fear him a bit too, in spite of their pay packets. The art of football club management at the top level these days is the ability to motivate millionaires. Guardiola can do it. Klopp can do it. Short term, Mourinho and Conte can do it. Unai Emery, although reputedly liked by the players, couldn’t. We wait to see if Arteta has this gift, but there seems a steely side to him which is probably going to be required. Players cannot be indulged.

So, later than it should have happened, the club have moved on to a fresh chapter. This is going to take time, but at least now, there is some hope for the future.

I’ll end with a line from US-based Gooner Mike Preston - I hope we haven't swapped one Basque(t) case for another.


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  1. Pauljames

    Dec 21, 2019, 15:21 #115924

    I’m trying to be positive in that there are a good group of younger players who could respond well to top level coaching , and of course we have the young centre half arriving in June and Nketiah returning from Leeds. I’d shed no tears if any of the older group departed and it may be that most of them do sooner rather than later. So we could recoup considerable funds from Auba and Laca, aswell as smaller fees for Xhaka, Mustafi, Ozil and Sokratis. It is vital that the recruitment side is spot on during the rebuild .

  2. ArsenalMagna

    Dec 21, 2019, 12:02 #115922

    The core issue is that we need a squad of consistently motivated players who can both defend and attack well. Given player power now, this only seems possible with players who have the right psychology and a coach who can positively inspire them. Even Mourinho seems to be taking a different (i.e. non-negative) approach as Spurs coach, having said he ‘learnt his lessons’ from being United’s manager… Allegri wouldn't have come till summer though we need a quick fix, and had no experience of the EPL, a hugely different culture to Serie A, and he couldn't speak English either. Ancelotti like Allegri has shined working with top players, which is not where we're at right now. Rafa could well have fitted the bill in terms of his philosophy, but didn’t seem to be intent on joining us immediately which ruled him out. Pochettino was probably holding out for a better job, but could have done well at Arsenal – only for that reason and because he, like the three above, would have wanted £10m a year and more like 4.5 rather than 3.5 years on his deal. Shows how tight money is, as Arteta is on £5m per year for 3.5 years; that’s saving us £15-25m on a manager over 3-4 years – worrying signs of a lack of funds. All the other managers mentioned aren’t worth recalling here. I’d genuinely have gone for someone like Tony Pulis – his Stoke side played some good looking football – building on the excellent defensive performances - at the end of his reign there, and he’d have been cheap. Even Big Sam might have been the short term fix needed. We’re not a top club anymore, we’re a mid-table club that needs to restructure and rebuild, so they’d have been quite suited to us. Ideally I’d have taken Mourinho, but the club were too slow and probably wouldn’t have had the cash to meet his wage demands anyway. My concern about Arteta is that he’ll be another Barca lite type coach – rigidly sticking to his ‘philosophy’ rather than embracing pragmatism. If that happens, the situation is hopeless. In any case, what we need to do now is rebuild the squad around young players and a few older ones who have the right attitude. English players generally are preferable to foreign ones with this goal in mind. This is the only real option for most clubs now – it’s why Chelsea and United have this approach as they don’t have the same number of premium, right-minded players that Liverpool and City have.

  3. John F

    Dec 21, 2019, 11:18 #115921

    If you listen to former players most have an affection for the club, I am not sure some of this current lot will have the same feelings when they leave.The task is enormous and it will show up today in the players attitude as some are definitely just playing out time until they move on and do not want to risk injury by trying too hard.I Will by happy if he can steer us away for the drop this season.

  4. Bard

    Dec 21, 2019, 11:18 #115920

    Good article Kev. A massive gamble but the club dont really have a choice. Would like to know who were all the top names that applied. The club do spin a good lie when they want to. Completely agree that this is no short term fix. Arteta certainly talks a good game but we shall have to wait and see. Happy to give him my support and wish him well.