I, too, cannot wrap my mind around Mikel Arteta’s substitutions. I can’t explain why he keeps playing Willian on the left, I can’t understand why he seems to overlook Martinelli, and so on. I believe he should have responded better when David Luiz got sent off at Molineux and I think he killed the team at Villa Park, when he moved Nicolas Pépé from the left to the right. Those were poor decisions, big mistakes he made and he got harshly criticised for that, deservedly.
Beyond that, though, there is one of the finest coaches in Europe and a master tactician and that should not be overlooked. I understand why we always expect more, we always want more from the manager but I feel Mikel Arteta is succeeding at one of the hardest tasks any manager, let alone a debutant like him. I’m not making excuses for what he got wrong, he has his fair share of horrible decisions but to not lose the dressing room after going through what he went through in his first year in charge is quite something.
Beyond the start-and-stop first months in charge, the remote training sessions, the wage cut controversy, the Özil saga, the Saliba débacle and the speculations around the future of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the most impressive result achieved by Mikel Arteta is to have kept the team together through the horrible results and performances of October and November last year, the ultimate desert crossing.
He could have folded, he could have crumbled under the internal and external pressure but he managed to keep hold of the most influential players in the dressing room and convince them that there was a plan, a great plan, being deployed before their own eyes. I’m not sure how many people could actually see that plan, when we were playing awfully and the infamous U shape became the norm. Strong characters like David Luiz, Granit Xhaka or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang probably could have sunk the manager but stayed loyal even when the majority of pundits, former players and fans wanted Mikel Arteta out.
This is not normal for such an inexperienced manager, even less at a big Club like ours. The most cynical ones out there could say that those players stayed loyal to Mikel Arteta for personal interests rather than genuine faith but I don’t agree: I remember only too well how the team was playing during the final games of Unai Emery’s reign and that was completely different.
He surely gets his substitutions wrong, which is not unusual for a debutant, but seems to get plenty of tactical decisions right: he outclassed Nuno Espírito Santo and Marcelo Bielsa but also the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp, last season, with his hybrid 3-4-3.
Also, his water breaks were a constant source of inspiration for the players, who would often find new resources and a better response to their struggles on the pitch, whenever they needed some. He prepares the games well, he reads the game well, he motivates the team well – which to me compensates his issue with the substitutions – I’m pretty sure he’ll learn quickly.
I’m aware that we’re out of the FA Cup, sit in the middle of the table with more games than anyone else around us and face a tricky couple of games against Benfica in the Europa League, I know it’s not enough. There’s not much to be happy about, at the moment, but when I look at our performances and results since Boxing Day I see a dramatic improvement and a form that would see us challenging for a Champions League spot.
This season it was too early for that, especially given how we failed to move the likes of Mesut Özil, Sead Kolašinac, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi in the summer, but the vision is much clearer of and the squad looks like one we can believe in.
We went from being on the verge of yet another post-Wenger revolution to being an exciting, uprising team thanks to a talented coach who proved to have the belief and character to lead the dressing room out of the moving sands and back to believing in themselves.The way he improved pretty much every player he worked closely with, with some notable exceptions, and the way he persuaded top-tier players to join or stay with us with not much to offer is another sign of great promises and another thing young managers don’t often pull off.
He has a vision, he sold it well and now he seems to be translating that to the pitch, finally.
There will be other setbacks, decisions hard to understand or justify and WTF?! moments along the way but I suspect they will be outnumbered by the OOOOOH! moments.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.