Whoever The Arsenal decided to appoint to succeed the sacked Unai Emery, was always likely to be met with criticism and negativity by many of the club’s supporters and there were no exceptions made for Mikel Arteta.
With the most common criticism being the most obvious one. His lack of any previous managerial experience. However, had the club appointed the vastly experienced Carlo Ancelotti instead for instance, they would have, undoubtedly, been accused of being unimaginative and Carlo labelled an expensive outdated has-been.
When Arsene Wenger departed, there were some who wanted Arteta to be named as his successor, I wasn’t one of them. I felt that the pressure of immediately replacing a legend not only at the club but within the game itself would weigh too heavily on the shoulders of a complete managerial novice. Some would argue that the pressure on Arteta’s shoulders is now even greater due to the clubs current disappointing league position but that is not my perception.
In general, expectations among supporters are at an all-time low within the modern era, even more so considering how the team has performed in the first half of the season and Emery’s shoes are significantly smaller ones to fill than Arsene’s were. With that in mind and despite some supporters believing we are involved in a relegation battle, you could argue that there is less pressure on Arteta to deliver immediate success, particularly in terms of trophies, than there was had he got the job eighteen months ago.
Whilst it can never be proved one way or the other, I am of the opinion that the version of Arteta that we have appointed, is a better version of the one we would have appointed back in 2018. After all, it has been well documented that Pep Guardiola had been giving him more and more responsibilities within his role at Manchester City. As Mikel said himself in his first press conference as our manager, it wasn’t the right time back then but it is now and I have no doubts that the extra coaching experience he has gained during that time, will be a help to him and us, opposed to a hindrance.
I have never understood why so many of our supporters have had an obsession with our manager needing to be a former playing legend for the club. Over the years I’ve seen the likes of Tony Adams, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry touted for the job. Personally, I’m pleased that none of them are anywhere near it as I’ve seen nothing from them so far to suggest they should be. Arteta may be an ex Arsenal player but I don’t consider him to be a club legend, let’s hope he can become one.
Although I don’t consider Mikel to be a club playing legend, I do consider him to have the required coaching credentials and to be very intelligent, extremely astute and believe that he has a steely determination that many are yet to see. Perhaps unsurprisingly amongst our fan base, I saw some supporters saying Mikel is not the right man to take the club forwards because he was a ‘crap player’. Is that really the best argument that they can come up with and is that really the level of their intelligence?
Whilst Mikel was no Vieira, who is, he was not a ‘crap player’ either. Not that his ability as a player has any relevance to his ability as a manager. When Mikel arrived at the club, it was at a time where were in desperate need of experience and stability on the pitch and despite what the nonsensical members of our fan base say, he certainly helped to give us that. Performing steadily, without being exceptional, throughout his time with the club.
On Boxing Day, at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, we received our first taste of life under Mikel’s management. Whilst some supporters were hugely unimpressed and critical of the team’s performance, for me, there was a significant improvement in the level of composure shown by our players.
The work rate should always be there but sadly, it hasn’t always been and the players showed an additional willingness to work hard and find space that we haven’t seen for quite some time. A severe lack of confidence amongst the players is evident and with just two shots on target against Bournemouth, we obviously need to sharpen up offensively. The latter often comes with the former and it’s going to take some time to restore the confidence and sharpness to the team.
Unfortunately, it appears that the concept of the job being a work in progress for Arteta, is lost on some supporters. Following the final whistle being blown against Bournemouth, I saw criticism of Mikel for the team failing to play at the level of and in the style of, a Pep Guardiola side. Had Guardiola himself taken charge of the team only a few days ahead of the game, that expectation would have been an unrealistic one, so what hope did Arteta have?
After the Everton game, many supporters considered there to be an improvement in our defending. Personally, I was reluctant to analyse that game too deeply in terms of any supposed improvements. The reasons being that I expected Everton to play with far more intensity and have far more momentum after a home victory against Chelsea, an away draw with Manchester United and having taken Leicester City to a penalty shoot-out in the League Cup.
Although it was perhaps the latter, along with the early kick off, that helped to stifle their aforementioned momentum. To me, it was unusual circumstances which resulted in a very poor game between two sides who looked desperate not to lose in front of their newly appointed managers. Bournemouth, however, was different and aside from their goal, we looked a far more organised and cohesive unit.
Emery frequently failed to get many of the basics right, such as playing Lucas Torreira in his natural position, shielding the back four, which in turn allows Granit Xhaka to play in a more advanced position where he is at his most effective. It’s no coincidence that both Lucas and Granit produced improved Boxing Day displays as a result. As it must be said, did Mesut Ozil and David Luiz.
Although one good display from Ozil does not justify his wages, compensate for his disappointing displays or even his recent show of petulance after being substituted against Manchester City, there is nothing to be gained from criticising him after a good performance. Most of us know what Ozil is and what he isn’t it and it would appear he’s damned if he does play well and dammed if he doesn’t.
If the above is the positive impact Arteta can have on the team after a handful of training sessions, I’m both excited and intrigued to see what affect he can have on it in the coming weeks, months and years. Whilst I can obviously understand concerns relating to his lack of experience, even the greatest managers had to start somewhere and were gambled upon in their first managerial jobs. There is simply no mileage in getting on his back without even giving him an opportunity to show what he can do.
One player who is in need of rejuvenation, is Alexandre Lacazette, who has looked bereft of form, fitness and confidence in his recent performances. Can Mikel and his coaching staff get Alexandre firing again or will Gabriel Martinelli be given the opportunity to take his place in the starting eleven? And what of Nicolas Pepe, presumably left out in Mikel’s debut in the dugout because of the lack of protection he currently offers defensively?
Some are calling Arteta the cheap option, but I believe he’s the right option. In recent months I’ve been watching him a lot on the side-lines during Manchester City games and I’ve seen something in him to make me think you know what, I’m prepared to give this guy a chance and believe he has the potential to prove many people wrong. I just hope I’m not one of them!
He’s got the main job and now it’s time for us supporters to do ours….
Passionate Gooner born in 1984. I often get called negative but personally, I prefer the term honest and honesty is something that I pride myself on. I joined the Gunners Town team after penning several ‘Dear Arsene Wenger’ letters on my Facebook profile, several years ago, and sharing them in Arsenal supporter groups. These were met with praise and the encouragement to start writing my own blog, from fellow Arsenal supporters, who felt my words summed up their own feelings perfectly. So here I am…..