Arteta arrives at Arsenal
Spanish manager and former footballer Mikel Arteta joined Arsenal in late December, following the dismissal of Spanish counterpart Unai Emery. Arteta was a manager who made sense at the time, following his previous 5 year spell at the gunners. Coming off the back of working within the managerial staff at Manchester City, it was a bold move to pursuit a head coach role at Arsenal. Working with fellow Spaniard pep Guardiola was only going to enhance this development.
Arteta’s first proper game in charge of Arsenal was vs Bournemouth, where it ended as an underwhelming 1-1 draw. Following a dismal few months in the 2019 campaign, things weren’t bound to change momentarily. Three days later on the 29th, Arsenal faced Chelsea. Despite the early dominance and opener, two late goals saw Chelsea walk away with the 3 points. The first statement win for Arteta came on the first day of the new year – with a dominant display over Manchester United. Small elements of progression are shown, as Arsenal attempt to gain a true identity and climb up the table closer to the European spots.
An FA Cup triumph in the 3rd round vs Championship opposition Leeds, a series of draws- including against Chelsea reiterated this process wasn’t instant. Crashing out the Europa League in the round of 32 to Olympiacos was far from ideal, and wasn’t to be put on the manager. After a few successful results such as Newcastle and Everton, football stopped due to a global pandemic, COVID 19, with Arteta first to catch the virus in the footballing industry. After a long 3 month break, the Premier League finally got the all clear to carry on the league. It was a bitter start for the gunners, losing 3-0 at the Etihad to Man City and 2-1 away at Brighton despite taking the lead. A 5 game unbeaten streak started, with 4/5 wins against the likes of Southampton, Wolves and Sheffield United to get to the semi final of the FA Cup. Despite some shaky results, Arteta took over with Arsenal in 10th place, so was given a pass for the rest of the season, to experiment with the squad and tactics. Ultimately, focusing on next season.
A narrow loss against Rivals Spurs was quickly overruled by scraping past the champions Liverpool, and against all odds beating Man City 2-0 to progress to the FA Cup final, for his best chance of winning silverware in his first 6 months at the club and bringing belief among fans. The league position was defined of max top 6, so Arteta made the decision to rotate and rest some key players. The defining game of the season was the cup final against Chelsea, who he’d previously lost to. Despite Chelsea taking the lead, a convincing display saw Arsenal win the cup, with another Aubameyang brace – similar to the semi final. Winning a trophy 6 months after arrival as a non experienced coach is very impressive, and explains why many were raving about the Spaniard.
The summer transfer window:
Moving on to the summer transfer window, which saw Arsenal bring in Gabriel from Lille, Willian as a free agent as well as the biggest deal; Thomas Partey on deadline day. Not bringing in a creator was always going to affect Arsenal, but it was generally a positive window for Arteta and his counterpart Edu Gaspar, after Raul Sanllehi left the club. Arsenal had also brought in and agreed the likes of Pablo Mari and Cedric in January, but injuries and competition meant there was little involvement for either. Despite the positive involvements, long term target Aouar wasn’t brought in, which left many fans disappointed.
Thomas Partey arrives at Arsenal
Arteta started the new campaign well, with the same 3-4-3/433 hybrid which was relatively successful and lead to an FA Cup Win by beating Liverpool on penalties to win the community shield, newcomers Fulham convincingly., with debutant Willian getting a brace of assists, and a goal for Gabriel. The good results continued as Arsenal squeezed past West Ham and overcame Leicester at the King Power in the EFL Cup. Arsenal then had to face Liverpool twice in a few days, where they won 3-1 at Anfield, but Arsenal in the EFL cup fixture edged past Liverpool to beat them for a 3rd time on penalties again. A narrow win against struggling Sheffield United followed with a narrow loss vs Man City and soon after Leicester. The most notable result came soon after against the Red Devils, where Arsenal edged past Man United. During all of the league and cup games they had the Europa League to deal with, scoring 20 and conceding 5 in 6 games to effortlessly advance. Scrutiny over Arteta’s future started from a 7 game winless run including Spurs, Aston Villa and getting knocked out of the cup by Man City. The incompetence to create chances and the ill discipline, handling of various situations such as the Ozil conflict and Saliba lack of game time created uncertainty.
The start of the change:
After the very worrying run of form, Arsenal finally managed a win, against a new look Chelsea side. The star of the show was Smith Rowe getting his first start, and the youngsters of ever present Saka and returning Martinelli had brought some belief into the club, and potentially saved Arteta’s job. The good form continued with 3 clean sheet wins in a row. A 0-0 to Crystal Palace broke this trend, as Arsenal struggled to break down a resilient Palace but bounced back instantly by beating struggling Newcastle, followed by getting knocked out the FA cup to a strong Southampton side shortly after. With the arrival of Ødegaard, Smith Rowe coming through, Martinelli being fit, Gabriel recovering from COVID, deadwood cleared out, Aubameyang finding form and Partey coming back from injury, things were looking far more positive for the North London side who had previously had 5 clean sheets in a row prior to Southampton, and are 7 points off the top 4 – where they aim to be.
Saka & Smith Rowe celebrating vs Newcastle (JustArsenal)
Arteta at Arsenal – the pro’s and cons.
During Arteta’s short reign at Arsenal, he has constantly backed the players publicly, saying “my chest is here, hit me”. Even during the insanity of the red cards, he always deflected any blame off his players such as David Luiz’s vs Man City. Having a good morale is vital to turning around a period of bad fortune, ensuring all players are here because they want to be and not to collect their salary.
Arteta has been tactically astute, experimenting with different tactics for the team, most likely learning from Pep at Man City. He has always been a very tactical guy, with “post it notes all around his house” and a long time away from football (the pandemic), he’d be likely be spending identifying new tactics. When he first arrived, he continued with the 4231 used previously, against the likes of Man United. After lockdown however, he transitioned into a 433-343 hybrid in and out of possession, which covered the flaws of certain players such as David Luiz, and had Aubameyang played as a LW, where he flourished. In addition, the 343 allowed for an overload and an ease of passing out from the back – always having an option even against the highest pressing teams such as Man City. Maitland Niles often drifted into unexpected areas, which was far harder for defending teams to mark.
He has shown he is adaptable, as he’s tried a standalone 433 this season but generally needs the personnel, and a 4231 which has been relatively successful as of late. Arteta has brought a pressing side to Arsenal, not allowing the opposition players to get out and making them hoof it long, which most of the time results in a loss of possession. This isn’t easy to maintain for Arsenal however, due to the players not being tested as they should previously so will take the right profile of players Arteta needs, such as Odegaard.
Arteta has completely changed the whole feel at the club. He has brought positivity since he’s come to a sinking ship with the FA cup and his big game records, targeting the right profile of player, given all a chance but gotten rid of most of the players he doesn’t seem to rate, and most notably has transformed the defensive and away record. Arsenal under latter years of Wenger and Emery days struggled for away wins, but Arteta has managed to make Arsenal look a real threat away, beating teams like Brighton who they lost to last year in his early day – with youth (another big positive about Mikel) often given a chance and have been vital this season in particular.
There are very few teams with a better defensive record than Arsenal this season, which is unheard for Arsenal who are usually lacking in this department. Arteta has brought a sense of stability here even with players who were destined to leave not long ago, i.e. Elneny. Arsenal have conceded 60 shots on target this season, with only Man City conceding less at 43 just goes to show the defensive improvements.
The first main and most notable con is overthinking. The best example I can provide is Arteta starting Willian as a 9, instead of on the wing where he’s most comfortable. The tactic didn’t benefit the team at all and the decision was very confusing. Arteta also struggled to previously make an impact with late goals from substitutes when trailing, as he’d often bring on a bunch of attackers ahead of balance, and would often make the wrong decision i.e. taking off a player who is playing well as supposed to one having no impact on the game. Improvement has already been made in this department, with better substitutes as of recent and better starting XI’s, finding what he’s comfortable with. This con generally is due to inexperience and will only improve overtime.
Arteta has often had clear favouritism on many members of the squad. Although this has a lot to do with the lack of quality squad options, he has played the likes of Willian an excessive amount of times despite never delivering what’s required. This could also be seen as faith, but earlier on in the season, players would get far more of an opportunity than others. The area has been improved since he’s come, and I imagine will get better with experience and more players Arteta wants.
Another con isn’t necessarily a fault of Arteta’s, but the amount of responsibility he’s had signifies how hard the Arsenal job is. Sitting 11th currently is far from ideal, but during his short tenure at the club, he’s had to deal with the likes of the Ozil situation, Saliba, Partey injury, Aubameyang lack of form, inability to get a creative midfielder, losing the dressing room at points due to player’s ego’s. This is far more than you’d usually have to deal with for any manager in a long period of time, let alone a short one. This isn’t even factoring in how unlucky he’s generally been, getting red cards for his players which transform games – such as the Xhaka one vs Burnley which changed the game from another unfortunate event. The luck isn’t sustainable and fortunes were bound to change for the better.
Arteta – summing it up:
Despite many tough decisions to make, bad runs, a lot of backlash, he has changed the culture at the club, provided the fans with belief and excitement and always being honest in interviews. Amongst the FA Cup triumph, he has given everyone an opportunity, and has put most faith in youngsters. With a tough run coming up which could ultimately determine the rest of the season, Odegaard coming in, Partey back to fitness and youngsters thriving, there is a lot to be excited about with the future of Arsenal.