Mikel Arteta at the full time whistle after Arsenal's 2-1 victory over West Ham United.

Honest thoughts on Mikel Arteta’s contract extension

What a huge morning in the world of Arsenal news… Mikel Arteta has put pen to paper on a 3-year contract with Arsenal which keeps him at the club until 2025!

To say this came as a surprise would be a lie. No matter what you think about Arteta, from the club’s point of view, they always saw him as the guy to be here for the long term. The process at Arsenal was quite clear. The first step was to clear out the toxic elements of the dressing room, then reduce the squad size along with the wage bill and finally, build a team with specific profiles suited to the manager’s style, with the right technical and mental attributes. The aim would be to make these players grow together, whilst creating a high-performance culture and adding to this base with quality in each window. Whether we like it or not, this takes time.

Initially, Arteta placed big trust on the seniors. He also had a more pragmatic approach and this was key to us winning the FA Cup. However, that proved to be unsustainable. The club needed to find a way they could be successful in the long period. And to do that, you need to take corrective actions. That can mean you go a few steps backward, but with the pathway to go several steps forward which wouldn’t have been possible otherwise!

In Arteta’s first full season in charge, I actually gave him a free pass, even after finishing 8th and getting knocked out to Villarreal. That team was absolutely shocking – in terms of the profile of players and attitudes within the changing room. We didn’t have a single creative midfielder. The moment Emile Smith Rowe came in, we looked a much better side. Boxing day 2020 was somewhat of a turning point for me. It was also the first time that I felt that we could more than survive without Aubameyang.

This season, I have been critical of Arteta, but he’s proved me and so many others wrong. We’re 4th, 2 points clear of Spurs with 4 games left – the race for the top 4 is on! Anyone would’ve taken that before the season began. Arteta has done this by developing a core of youngsters and rebuilding the connection with fans. Even if he did make some mistakes, in hindsight I hold my hands up and say that I was very harsh. Youngest squad in the league. Youngest manager in the league. And we’re competing for a Champions League place with a thin squad, without a quality striker. Just imagine where we could be in a few years’ time… Scary potential!

Our starting 11 is easily Champions league quality. The injuries to Kieran Tierney, Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu have hurt us. With our best 11 playing every week, as we saw December-March, the level of the team is probably 3rd. But we haven’t had that throughout. While Mikel can do better at times to adapt to a less than ideal circumstance, the reality is that Arsenal need to strengthen their squad as a whole. Absolutely essential. There is no secret to Man City’s success – 2 quality starting 11’s, maintaining a high standard no matter who is available.

We might not have the financial muscle of Man City, but what we can do, is to recruit smartly. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. Arteta deserves huge credit for the signings we made last summer. Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White and Odegaard are brilliant purchases that will be part of Arsenal’s core for the years to come. Gabriel and Partey, who were signed in 2020 have also become integral players. Half our best starting 11 have been signed in the last 2 summer windows and that’s testament to the recruitment.

When Arteta has paid decent money to sign a player, he more often than not gets it right. And believe me, that’s an underrated quality. Just look at the way Man United have thrown close to £200m on guys like Wan Bissaka, Fred and Maguire! Apart from those 6 key signings in the last 2 seasons, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka are all having their best seasons with the club. They have all doubled their Premier league goals/assist stats from last season. Superb player development.

Just look at their improvement from last season in the league!

When Arteta became Arsenal head coach in 2019, he spoke about ruthless decisions having to be made. The culture at Arsenal was in the mud. Unai Emery, in a 2020 interview with France football confirmed this, stating: “Some players did not have a good attitude and asked for more than what they were giving back.”

Players mocked Emery for his accent, smoked helium balloons in the dressing room and didn’t do enough to contribute to the team’s cause. Arteta has ruthlessly binned these toxic characters (prefer not to name them) and created an environment where no one gets special treatment.

Everyone is now punching in the same direction. I believe we’re seeing the fruits of that process this season. Arsenal won 5 away games in a row for the first time in almost 8 years. To win away from home, you need to show character and resilience which this team has aplenty!

Arteta has taken Arsenal from the gutter and brought us back into a position where the foundations are in place. The ceiling is undoubtedly high, but time will tell how far we can go. I did think it might have been better to give the extension after securing the top 4, but I don’t believe Arsenal will make decisions based on what happens in 4 games. They trust in the process and at this moment, as a fan, it’s hard for me not to!

Congratulations and best of luck to Mikel, my fingers are crossed that he will take this club back to where it belongs.

Arsenal FC is Life.

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