Mikel Arteta has had an undeniable impact on Arsenal Football Club since his appointment on the 20th of December last year. When the Spaniard arrived from the Manchester City bench, Arsenal were in freefall. The side had only won one game since the start of October; a 3-1 victory against West Ham where the team were bailed out thanks to nine minutes of magic. At that point, it was one of only five games Arsenal managed to win in the league.
Since then, the club had a dramatic uptick in form. Since Arteta’s debut as a manager, a 1-1 draw away to Bournemouth, his charges won nine games, lost five and drew the other six. It took Arteta a few weeks in order to truly get going, but there were positives early on. Arsenal lost 2-1 to Chelsea in the former captain’s second game in charge where some poor refereeing decisions and fatigue cost them the win.
The “true” start of the Arteta era came at the turn of the decade, with a very convincing 2-0 win over Manchester United. Since then, there have been gutsy performances against Liverpool, Chelsea and the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City. While the start of Project Restart didn’t go exactly to plan, losing the first two games against City and Brighton, albeit for various reasons. However, a positive vibe started to build as Arsenal lost only two games after, albeit to fierce rivals Tottenham and relegation fodder Aston Villa.
Arteta’s time at Arsenal has been much more than league positions or games won. In fact, results have almost played second fiddle since his appointment. What Arteta’s time at Arsenal so far has arguably been focused on culture and performances.
The way Arteta has been able to change the culture at Arsenal has been exceptional. The same group of players who were devoid of passion, drive or conviction under Unai Emery are now prepared to lay their life down for the team. Players such as Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, who were in the cold during the previous regime, were now integral parts to Arteta’s team.
On top of that, Arteta has introduced a set of “non-negotiables.” These demands have seemingly come into full effect at the club. Pouring blood, sweat and tears into Arteta’s project isn’t expected by the Spaniard, it’s demanded. Anything less, and you don’t deserve to play for Arsenal.
Two very good examples of this ideology come in the form of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Matteo Guendouzi. Maitland-Niles, after failing to impress at first under Arteta, poured everything into the new regime. As a result, he’s put in some of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt at wing-back, subsequently earning his first call-up to the England team.
Guendouzi is on the other end of the spectrum. A regular name in Arteta’s first Arsenal lineups, following poor conduct, including misdemeanours in Dubai. Arteta and assistant Steve Round decided that Guendouzi’s behaviour doesn’t meet their standards, freezing him from the team as a result.
The way Arteta has been able to change Arsenal’s culture has been exceptional. He has done this by bringing in some of the tactics he employed as an assistant at Manchester City. According to a report by The Athletic, one of these tactics was a “wheel of fortune,” where minor infringements would result in punishments like polishing the captain’s car or cleaning the dressing room.
What’s arguably more impressive is how Arsenal’s defence has improved under Arteta. Under the previous regime, Arsenal’s brand of defending was a laughing stock. Prior to Arteta’s appointment, Arsenal conceded on average 17 shots in their first 13 league games, including 18 against Burnley, 31 against Watford, 25 against Wolves and Leicester and 21 against Southampton.
Since then, the defence has certainly solidified under Arteta. Arsenal’s defenders now look more structured and organised. The switch to a back three has brought the best out of several Arsenal defenders, including David Luiz, Mustafi, Tierney and Bellerin. While this change in formation is temporary, it has worked in making Arsenal a better side defensively.
That being said, Arteta’s Arsenal aren’t the complete package yet. The main thing missing is creativity – something evident in some of Arteta’s first few games, the loss to Aston Villa and yesterday’s win over West Ham. As a result, Arteta is looking to strengthen in this area with the pursuit of Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar, someone who many rate highly.
Arteta’s first nine months at Arsenal has been a success. He’s brought home two more trophies, including a 14th FA Cup. He’s taken a group of defenders who previously played as if they just met and made them a solid defence that’s tough to break down. He’s drastically changed a toxic culture that was rapidly getting worse under Emery and Ljungberg.
The only thing that’s missing now is consistent results. To do this, he needs to be properly backed in the transfer market. Arteta has united the current Arsenal squad, but needs investment to take Arsenal to the next level.
Over to you, Stan.