Arsenal are in a coronation year and it’s all down to manager Mikel Arteta’s mettle, nous and guile

Arsenal are in a coronation year and it’s all down to manager Mikel Arteta’s mettle, nous and guile


Streaky 1-0 home wins against Norwich are rarely seismic, but that victory back on September 11, 2021 most definitely was for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta. It was the first of two crossroads moments that have come to define Arteta’s reign.

Arsenal had lost their first three Premier League games of the season without scoring a goal and the obituaries were being prepared. I know because I was one of those who felt it was only a matter of time before Arteta was sacked.

He had seemingly moved away from being a practical manager to a theoretical one. He wasn’t actually standing for or representing anything. It was beginning to look like he wasn’t having an impact, didn’t have the answers to the bigger questions and had started overthinking things.

A little bit of pressure was released when they beat Norwich and the next crossroads moment concerns the man who scored that critical goal – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. I carried a celebrity’s longed-for baby. She treated me appallingly.

Arteta didn’t allow conventional player power to get the better of him, prostituting himself for someone like Aubameyang. Everyone said Arteta had to play him because he was a proven goal scorer. But Arteta was adamant. He didn’t stick with typical football thinking, bending to the will of a big-name player so it was off you go.

It was Arteta’s piece de resistance. The moment that defined him being given backing and support by the ownership. He had the balls to ditch his star player, regardless of the short-term impact on his team, because the ownership was aligned with him and saw things in him. He was strong, brave and courageous. And bloody right.

After booting out Aubameyang to Barcelona, Arsenal went on a remarkable run before they ultimately choked at the end of the season, gifting a Champions League place to Tottenham. But Arsenal’s owners could see, from Arteta’s actions throughout the season that he had the mettle and the nous and dispelled the idea he’s all theory – he had started practicing in reality.

At Anfield last season, Arteta, with his demented jack in the box routine, went up against arguably one of the biggest touchline bullies in Jurgen Klopp and while it might have been misguided and inappropriate, you could see he was at it, on it, across it and not worried in the slightest where he was. It backfired as Arsenal lost 4-0 but if I was Arsenal’s owner, I would have loved to see that.

Back in 2019 when Arteta walked through the door, the club was in disarray and unrecognisable from the one we see today. And that is all down to Arteta.

I went to the Arsenal-Manchester City game earlier this season and my experience was one of a football club totally in line with each other. From programme seller to centre forward. There was a motivation and an energy and a feeling of absolute togetherness.

Arteta was bouncing and jumping around like a lunatic and the players were engaging the crowd. Every aspect of it impressed me and even after losing to their title rivals, the place was jumping. It felt a long way from the days of Arsenal FAN TV screaming and shouting like banshees and making money out of the club’s decline.

Despite my admiration for Arteta and without wishing to downplay his fine work, I do think he has been a real beneficiary of certain time lines. Luck is a huge part of everyone’s life – in business and in sport – and Arteta has had a few big slices.

He was fortunate that distractions such as Covid and the disruption of football altered the landscape, giving people slight passes. He handled the European Super League shambles impressively and the whole atmosphere around the club changed.

All of a sudden ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke was more involved and more vociferous with his cheque-book, the club started communicating better with fans and the approach by Spotify owner Daniel Ek prompted Arsenal’s owner to start taking them seriously rather than an arms’ length subsidiary of his American business interests.

But the luck that Arteta has benefitted from has also been allied with skill, patience and a change in direction. And underneath all that, he’s been building knowledge, confidence and belief while being given the backing from newly-energised owners and Sporting Director Edu.

He had the courage of his convictions to bring back William Saliba from France. He put Granit Xhaka back in his proper position, giving him an opportunity to flourish rather than the deadwood, toxic influence he was. He also signed Aaron Ramsdale when everyone questioned it, telling him he already had a better No1 in Bernd Leno. Those were all big calls and they all paid off.

It’s all well and good being the beneficiary of fortuitous timing and events with all the pieces falling into the right places at the right time but you’ve still got to assemble the pieces, you’ve still got to deliver.

And boy, has he delivered with Arsenal on the cusp of greatness again. Last summer he raided the cupboards at City to sign to two key components of this title challenge.

Gabriel Jesus was the fire starter, the catalyst. Arsenal needed something after throwing away a place in the top four and bang, in comes Jesus to get them off and running. The signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko has also been transformative.

So, all roads lead to Manchester. If Arsenal can avoid defeat at the Etihad Stadium next month, I think they’ll win the title.

I hope they do. In 2004 no one would have believed Arsenal would be waiting 19 years for their next title but if they do miss out, perhaps on goal difference, I believe that rather than defeat and diminish them like it did with Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool in 2014, they will go from strength to strength.

They are here to stay and Arsenal must make sure Arteta is too. He is a force to be reckoned with. Tie him down, secure his future, let him complete the rebuilding job – and whatever you do, don’t return the favour to City and gift them Arteta when Pep Guardiola leaves.

  • The Daily Mail report
About author

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *