In Arteta, Arsenal Might Have Struck a Goldmine Again by AI
“Arsene Who?” Blared that iconic headline in 1995. 19 trophies later, including several doubles and an unbeaten league season, everyone knows the answer to that question. Arsene Wenger captured minds, the zeitgeist, and England with a prescient, liquid approach to football unlike any other. Despite a fall off in the latter years, Arsene Wenger has cemented a legacy and a generation with his consistency and ideals.
Football has since changed. The landscape has tilted, inexorably as always, towards money and the state. State-sponsored football clubs now loom more than ever. Billionaire-boosted clubs have shot to the forefront. In fact, every little change to football has seem to favour only the richest and the biggest. And we ask ourselves where the soul of football has gone. Has it retired with Arsene Wenger and the 2014 World Cup and what is this shiny, broken thing that has replaced it? Is it another 350,000 pounds-a-week footballer in crutches?
Mikel Arteta met with none of that irreverence that met Wenger’s appointment. Doubts? Yes. But as a skillful ex-player who has studied under the greatest modern coach in football, he has been given far more goodwill.
Arsenal before Arteta had grown lethargic, both on the field and off it. Wenger’s once golden touch had grown archaic and arthritic. Football had caught up and was threatening to leave Arsenal behind.
While fresh changes are being done off the pitch, Arsenal needed a change on it. Arsene Wenger still played a vibrant brand of football but new tactical developments had left it behind, making it brittle, vulnerable and easily repulsed. Mourinho, with his low-block counterattacking football, always bested Wenger while he struggled hard to hold at bay the likes of Pep Guardiola with his modern interpretation of Juego De Posicion. Arsenal needed a tactical rejuvenation. A new infusion of style that adheres to the legendary legacy of Wenger.
Unai Emery spoke about being protagonists but his Arsenal conceded over thirty shots to the likes of Watford. While fitness improved under the Spaniard and a lot of youngsters were blooded, the club remained in a post-mortem gauze, still trying to find itself. This was crystallized by Emery’s constant reshuffle of tactics and personnel, the imprecise vague speech, something something about protagonists.
Midway through a disastrous campaign, Mikel Arteta was given the job, and almost immediately, he began to peel back the gauze. He was lucid and confident. He spoke in certain terms. He had a vision of what his team needed to be and what needed to change for that to happen. Arteta asked something of everyone. From the fans, he needed their unwavering support, that sense of unity and the power in it. From the players he asked for commitment. They were going to try to do something and they needed to be focused, to buy into it. Else they have to be gone. From the executives, Arteta asked for the same. For them to buy into what was coming, what he intended to do. To give their very best to it. He needed their support, their respect.
Those are the demands of a protagonist, of a leader with a dream. The entire club had to reorientate itself around this vision. Arteta may not be the managerial revolutionary that Wenger was, but his intensity indicates he could be a coaching genius with complete self-belief in his ideas. Pep Guardiola hired him to be his assistant for a reason.
Since 2001, Arsenal have not beaten the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Chelsea in the same season. Only months into his tenure, Arsenal have won the FA Cup trophy. Formerly maligned players are back to it. Skhrodran Mustafi looks salvageable, after all. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has been used in several complex and interesting roles. The team has morphed from ball-hoggers in the early part of his tenure to impenetrable counter-attackers in the COVID-era. Arteta is incredibly flexible, tactical, and sure of himself.
He knows what he wants. He wants to win and he knows how to win. All he asks for is for everyone to be on the same train; then maybe we can all go to El Dorado together.