When Mikel Arteta first came to Arsenal as the head coach, he outlined his approach to the job and his expectations. From that moment, it was a situation that required action rather than words because Arsenal had become something of an easy touch, a free for all and quite frankly, a mess.
The mood was apathetic with some players barely breaking a sweat and others going through the motions. Wenger suffered from a lack of respect towards the end of his reign as key players became more dominant during his final seasons. They even began dictating how they trained and when they played.
Former Sevilla and PSG manager, Unai Emery became a figure of fun as players refused to follow his tactics and ignored his instructions, so by the time Arteta arrived, the chaos was well established.
At his first press conference since his arrival from Manchester City, the Spaniard spoke of the basic rules and a few demands were deemed non-negotiable, but that’s the type of thing most managers say after their appointment.
Was Arteta up to the part of the job where he had to bang heads and tell highly paid superstars or his emerging wannabes that they needed to curb their behaviour? Time would tell.
He inherited several problems such as a dysfunctional and stubborn Mesut Ozil. He had the sizeable job of trying to harness the talents of the irrational and impetuous Matteo Guendouzi and was tasked with keeping a host of players whose contracts were coming to an end.
Then, there was the lack of form of some senior players who had just given up on themselves and Arsenal. The final cherry was Covid-19 which derailed the Premier League and disrupted any momentum the Arsenal head coach had built up.
Arteta had to quickly analyse what he had available to him and find a way of inspiring and encouraging his players in a formation that made them a functional unit and which bought the best out of them. He had to look to the academy players to fill in the gaps and promote some more quickly than he would have liked. All this without a pre-season and in the middle of a campaign, with Arsenal haemorrhaging points and goals.
Looking at Arsenal now, and it’s still early days, he has managed to find a solution and a formation that works rather than just playing out from the back at all costs.
He has experimented with his side to find fluidity and unity and is starting to foster a team ethic. Some haven’t managed to “get on the boat” and Arteta has dealt with those in “Grahamesque” fashion by dropping them from the side.
Guendouzi found himself out of favour due to his exploits after the Brighton game. Words were exchanged between the coach and the player and he hasn’t played since. There’s even talk of him being transferred out of the club in the summer at his request.
Özil is a far more complex issue. A high roller that has had his share of spats with the coach and other players, who insists on playing by his own rules and who isn’t opposed to taking a stance that distances himself from those around him.
Arteta has seemingly told him that he has no place in his team unless he can guarantee change and based purely on form at present, there is no immediate return likely this season.
These situations have shown that the Arsenal head coach is not one to avoid confronting a player. He doesn’t deliberate over dropping anyone for poor behaviour or average performances, the team comes first. He is reverting to a ‘club first’ mantra, it’s no longer a haven for egotistical badge kissers who are only interested in outside commercial ventures or their own profile.
Expect changes next season because the Spaniard only wants players that give everything they have and love the club. If they don’t possess both, they will most definitely be gone or face a prolonged period in the reserves. Arteta said:
“I think we have to create the right culture around the club that’s going to make a good living out of the players, create an environment where everybody respects each other, a humility and people have to be accountable for what we want to achieve.”
I believe him. Others need to start listening and giving him what he wants or face the consequences.