Mikel Arteta’s workload has been phenomenal to date. The former Arsenal captain took charge of a fractured club with no direction, which was full of disinterested players who had forgotten how to play and how to win. Not many coaches would have taken the job knowing that money would be scarce and with a role that carried so much disunity but Arteta has just applied himself and simply put his head down.
Many supporters doubted that the Spaniard was capable of doing the job because of his lack of experience. Others have claimed that since he seized the reigns nothing has changed, but I don’t quite know who they are watching.
Yes, there were some poor performances at the beginning and a lot of draws as Arteta tried to sell his particular philosophy and brand of football to a group of apathetic players but within two games, Arsenal seemed to have an idea of what they had to do collectively and individually. There was more shape and hunger and to some degree, a sense of relief and joy. Both had been in short supply under Emery.
Against Everton, fans could suddenly see the fruits of Arteta’s labour. Expressive in midfield, exciting up front and although the defence cost the gunners two goals, collectively they dug in and held out. There were smiles, there were exchanges of appreciation between the players and their coach, who gave out cuddles to everyone involved on behalf of the club.
The fans enjoyed themselves and although there were nervy moments, they saw a glut of goals and three points which have been incredibly rare. Those that can’t see the changes must be facing in the opposite direction or wearing blinkers. It’s as plain as the nose on your face and requires very little scrutiny.
Arteta’s greatest gift seems to be to work individually with stars that everyone else had given up on. David Luiz was viewed as an expensive mistake. He was erratic and appeared somewhat past his best but for successive games, he looks like Arsenal’s leader. His decisive pass split the Everton defence for Aubameyang’s first goal and it was truly sublime. He is capable of so much more.
He’s not as sound in defence as he once was but his ability to pass a ball, paired with his excellent vision are beginning to make him a reliable and an unstoppable asset.
Arteta has yet to realise that he would be a great partner for Xhaka or Torreira, but what he has done is rejuvenate the player and at the same time extend his Arsenal career.
Granit Xhaka was certain to be sold after his contretemps at Crystal Palace. When he peeled off his Arsenal shirt and headed toward the tunnel muttering, everyone thought the Swiss midfielder would be on his way by January. Hertha Berlin wanted a loan agreement with an option to buy, but Arteta persuaded him not to leave and subsequently, Xhaka has looked like a different player.
Shkodran Mustafi was a busted flush when Unai Emery was in charge. The German’s form was so bad that he would have been lucky to get a game for Grimsby Town. Everyone thought that with the miracles performed on Luiz and Xhaka, Arteta had used up all his available magic, no doubt passed on from his former mentor Pep Guardiola.They were wrong.
Nowadays, you have to look twice to believe it’s the same flannel footed, calamitous hoofer, who had no idea about positioning and who regularly fell over like a drunk on a moving escalator. He’s not at the point where fans could genuinely consider him to be world class but he has showed signs of extra tutelage and improved defensive awareness. Against Everton, the expectant Emirates crowd saw him knock the ball out of play, instead of dib dabbing the ball in his own area like he usually does.
On the whole, thoughts of Champions league football and a top four finish are slightly ambitious at this stage of the project, and it is a project. There’s more to come from Arsenal and more to be done by Arteta, but it appears that both are heading in the right direction regardless of what some say.
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