Arsenal will be taking big risk if they do not back Arteta in market
He is not, according to sources, asking for the earth and knows talent is emerging
They have made their own luck. Now the question is how they will try to capitalise on that
The good news for Arsenal is that, unlike Manchester United in the years after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, they appear to have fixed the problem of how to cope post-Arsene Wenger rather more quickly. United stumbled expensively through David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho before hoping that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could provide the solution.
At Arsenal, following Wenger was always going to provide a similar challenge and, while the appointment of Unai Emery was ultimately a mistake, it is one that, in fairness to the club, they did not dwell on. Emery lasted 18 months, led Arsenal to a fifth-place finish, just a point off Champions League qualification, and a Europa League final, but was the wrong man, and rather than drag that out, the club acted.
With the arrival of Mikel Arteta – whom Arsenal were so close to hiring before they got cold feet and signed Emery – there is now a plan in place; one that makes sense, is coherent and is embedded in the club’s history and philosophy. Uniting Arteta with technical director Edu, another former Arsenal player, was a smart move and one that is already beginning to pay off. They are a long way from getting Arsenal back to where they want to be, but at least they have a road map.
OK, Arsenal are 10th in the Premier League – exactly where they were when Emery was sacked last November – so it has hardly been a miraculous transformation. But then it never would be. Reaching an FA Cup final is a bonus and provides a lifeline for European football, but there is a long way to go.
Victories against Liverpool and Manchester City within four days are hugely encouraging, even if, as ever with Arsenal, there is a tendency to crow about such things when they are only a significant step in the right direction rather than arrival at the destination.
And yet it is hard not to be excited about the future for
Arsenal under Arteta. He is only 38 but has been remarkably surefooted and bold in all he has done so far. Underpinning this is something that will help take him quite far: he is a decent and fair man and a good communicator.
Arteta is tough, also. The decisions to bomb out Mesut Ozil, the club’s highest-paid player, and Matteo Guendouzi, who believes he is their best young player, were bold, while Arteta is unflinching on the touchline in demanding more from record signing Nicolas Pepe, who remains a long way from justifying the £72million fee paid for him last summer.
It had been Arsenal’s inability to sign Wilfried Zaha that was the start of the breakdown of Emery’s relationship with the club, and even though some clever financing allowed them to push the boat out for Pepe, who was apparently the second choice, things never really recovered.
What will be interesting is how Arsenal and Arteta approach this transfer window. When he was appointed, Edu identified the squad as being unbalanced – in need of a left-back, no cover at right-back with Hector Bellerin injured, and support needed for Granit Xhaka, who had become the fall guy, in central midfield. And it was revealing that Arteta spoke last week about the need for the club to take a financial “risk” to get back in the Champions League.
With the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Arsenal being the only Premier League club where players have taken pay cuts and with executives believing they stretched their finances to the limit last year in the transfer market, maybe “risk” was not the right word at this time.
But the sentiment holds. Having got their appointments right, Arsenal need to back
Arteta and Edu, which does not mean spending hundreds of millions but moving players on who are no longer wanted – beginning with Ozil and Guendouzi – and backing their judgment when it comes to adding to the squad.
A detailed submission has already been made as to what Arteta wants, with Edu having done a huge amount of work on identifying the potential recruits and carrying out due diligence and background checks. Arteta is not, according to sources, demanding the Earth and knows that Arsenal already have a core of exciting young talent coming through, including Bukayo Saka and 19-year-old central defender William Saliba, who has been on a season loan at St-Etienne.
Arteta wants to develop Arsenal, a club close to his heart, as they are to Edu’s. It helps. Edu, it should be remembered, won two league titles at Arsenal, and was part of the “Invincibles” team. His status is clear, and while Arteta did not enjoy the same level of success, he was hugely respected as a player.
There is a joined-up approach and a plan to implement a modern style – possession-based, playing it out from the back – although, crucially, that is underpinned by a pragmatism and a desire to win, as shown with the approach taken in the victories over Liverpool and City, which followed a poor defensive performance in losing to Tottenham Hotspur.
Arsenal have not got the players to play the way Arteta wants but it shows he can react. He changed the shape and the style to gain those victories and, as he said on his first day in the job, it is all part of changing the culture at the club. That already shows he is a good manager and one who promises to be greater than just good.
Arsenal appear to have lucked out. But they have made their own luck. Now the question is how they will try to capitalise on their good fortune.
Backing Arteta fully this summer as he begins to rebuild is the right way ahead – the only way ahead. Anything else would be a backward step and more of a risk than the one the head coach is suggesting by spending some money in the first place.
Encouraging signs: Mikel Arteta has changed Arsenal’s style and culture