Wednesday, September 22

Mikel Arteta follows an uncertain path at Arsenal after a year of ups and downs | Nick Ames | Football


AA cool December breeze swirled through the stands at Goodison Park, a cool wind blew into the Arsenal. Mikel Arteta looked on from the front row of the directors box, flanked by CEO Vinai Venkatesham and then-football director Raul Sanllehi the day before he officially took office. He wasn’t the only one to scowl during a tedious stalemate between his new side and Everton, who were about to begin their own renewal, but inside his heart was racing. “I remember sitting in the stands and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to start working with the players and the club,'” he said on Friday.

Exactly 52 weeks later, he will be on the visitors’ bench. The sight will be more immediate and problems will hit you harder as well. At the end of July, when Arsenal were about to win the FA Cup, Arteta joked that he could write a book about his first half in charge. He would need at least a second volume by now, and there was certainly reason to sympathize with him this week when he reflected that he has “experienced things in one year that in a normal job would be experienced in 10 or eight.”

But the story has taken an unexpected turn: if 15th-ranked Arsenal fall on Saturday, and again when they host Chelsea on Boxing Day, they will almost certainly be within a hair of the relegation zone; the bare facts suggest that a reign that promised so much has turned sour more quickly than anyone expected.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mikel Arteta with the FA Cup in August



Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left) and Mikel Arteta with the FA Cup in August. Photograph: Reuters

“Our recent form in the Premier League is taking away from what we have done in the calendar year,” admitted Arteta. They’ve taken 47 points from the 33 top-flight games he’s overseen this season and last, which would extrapolate to 54 points over a full period and a boring mid-table finish.

At this natural point for making judgments, how can we evaluate Arteta, the manager? Are you the fast learner novice who was conferred borderline genius status when you put together a heartbroken group in the right way to outwit Manchester City and Chelsea at Wembley? Is he a hyped upstart whose hype preceded him, ultimately leading to Arsenal’s worst start to the season in 36 years? Or have you been held back, to a large extent, by events beyond your reach, meaning that well-informed conclusions should just wait?

If there is a tendency to look more kindly at Arteta’s record than visual evidence would suggest it deserves, then it owes a lot to the tornado it entered. It has yet to fully pass and it may still get worse. Arteta chatted with Sanllehi in Everton’s main stand, but eight months later his compatriot had left, having played his part in a dysfunctional transfer policy and the hollowing out of key hiring personnel. That was the last executive shakeup of several in the last half decade and the dust has yet to fully settle.

The Arsenal defense cannot prevent Harry Kane from scoring Tottenham's second goal in the derby earlier this month.



Arsenal’s defense is powerless to prevent Harry Kane from scoring Tottenham’s second goal in the derby earlier this month. Photograph: Glyn Kirk / EPA

The club’s struggles to shed a string of disappointing but high-earning players over the summer have significantly crippled its rebuilding efforts, with Sead Kolasinac, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and evidently Mesut Özil not to budge. Those problems can be attributed in part to mistakes made by previous regimes, but also, perhaps, to a lack of genuine experience and expertise in soccer business today.

That’s why, in part, Edu, the coach, who is part of a four-man leadership team with Arteta, Venkatesham and academy director Per Mertesacker, was asked on Monday if any heat the coach feels It should also apply to him. “It’s not about Edu or Mikel, it’s about stability,” he said in one of several responses that emphasized the great strides being made at Arsenal below surface level.

Perhaps you did not understand that stability for the sake of stability is just as undesirable as constant flow if the structure doesn’t work; Certainly, Edu is pushing for arrivals in the next two windows to resemble Thomas Partey and the excellent Gabriel Magalhães rather than an expensive and aging Willian, a probably superfluous Pablo Marí and a third-choice right-back in Cédric Soares.

Few in the club would place the coach’s competence among their problems. “The coach is not a problem in the locker room, there is no criticism of him,” Bernd Leno said after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton, which stopped the rot of four consecutive home losses at best, and that reflects the broader situation. mood. But Arteta cannot escape without any rewards given that Arsenal’s league position did not reach these depths even with Unai Emery, whose tenure showed promise from the start before plummeting. The mood for boot camp may be more cheerful than it was 15 months ago, but that hasn’t stopped family mistakes from repeating.

Arteta looked for “quick wins” on arrival and got them, but Arsenal are now caught between approaches. They want a mix of ready-made experience and youthful spark, but, to set a positional example, Willian has failed while a younger option on the wing, Reiss Nelson, has barely made an impact despite Arteta speaking up from the start. Arteta said in outlining his vision for management in 2014 that his sides must be “expressive, entertaining… taking the initiative”, praising in particular the risk taking encouraged by his friend Mauricio Pochettino, but Arsenal are miles away from that.

Instead, they tend to appear over-trained, a natural consequence of the discipline Arteta felt he needed to instill early on, and fearful of making mistakes. A year ago solid logic appeared in solving defensive concerns before allowing those at the top to let loose: the problem is that it just hasn’t happened, a fact brutally exposed when goals don’t flow for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Those problems are not news to Arteta. That’s why Lyon’s playmaker Houssem Aouar was his main target during the summer before a deal for Partey got easier. But he has been dogmatic in refusing to offer exile Özil a bone before any creative chivalry arrives, and while that decision drew a fine line between self-sabotage and the common good, the fact that it was done speaks volumes for his confidence that Arsenal will. give it time.

“We all knew, at least the decision makers knew, that this project was not a quick fix,” he said. “When you’re shaking things up, it can take a while.” One look at Carlo Ancelotti might remind you that sometimes this is not the case, even if the obvious answer is that the Italian is not famous for leaving behind a long-term weak point. Goodison would be the right place for Arteta to show that she can balance the two approaches successfully, which she will have to do if her position is to remain secure.

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“I have not seen anything that goes against what we are trying to do,” he said, referring to the attitude within the club. “But in this industry we need results.” That’s the crux of the matter, and while Arteta’s first year contained an unimaginable amount of potholes, the road will get a lot rockier if you don’t start getting there now.


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