Over the past decade or so, Arsenal fans have wondered to themselves on several occasions whether this was all just a bad dream. FA and League cups were not what this club had become used to. They were winners, in the elite category of English football not just after the ‘Invincible’ season but through their historic success under Herbert Chapman, the man credited with changing the fortunes of the club forever. Arteta’s arrival has already signalled vast improvement, however.
Arteta’s Hunger for Success Is Taking Arsenal Back to Best Form
Reinforcements Under Arteta
That had undoubtedly been lost in the years that followed. There was the eventual departure of legendary manager Arsene Wenger that turned ugly at times, with planes bearing messages of disapproval being flown over the Emirates. There were years of laughable transfer dealings, from attempting to activate Luis Suarez’s release clause at Liverpool by bidding £40 million and one pound for the forward, to letting big names like Aaron Ramsey run down their contracts and eventually leave on free transfers.
Fans continued to voice their displeasure at the club’s owners, Stan Kroenke and his group Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, for their perceived lack of interest and investment into the club to ensure it remained as one of Europe’s elite. After starting so brightly, chants of ‘We’ve got our Arsenal back’ soon dissipated as the reign of Unai Emery eventually ended in complete disarray.
Struggles Under Unai Emery
Emery not only took over an ageing, average squad full of stop-gaps or failed signings but entered a club undergoing a huge transition. A change of structure saw former chief executive Ivan Gazidis work hand-in-hand with recruitment specialists Raul Sanllehi and Sven Mislintat leaving Emery to focus on working with the team. In the ‘Arsene years’ Wenger seemed to have totalitarian control over everything at the club, from how the Emirates pitch was cut to what was served in the canteen. It may have contributed to the abrupt departure of Gazidis, who appointed Emery as manager just five months beforehand, to AC Milan.
It was clear, however, that Arsenal continued to stagnate rather than close the gap under Emery. After a miserable 2–1 defeat at home to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League group stages and a seven-game winless run in all competitions, Emery was sacked. People were no longer speaking about Arsenal as a club nailed-on to finish in the top four and pushing upwards. They were hoping for a European spot and looking over their shoulders at the likes of Wolves, Everton and Leicester who have gained ground on them in recent times.
Arteta’s Arrival Signals New Start
“We need to be competing for the top trophies in the game.” Those 12 words from Mikel Arteta’s first interview as Arsenal manager told you everything you need to know about the 38-year-old’s lofty ambitions in his coaching career. After years spent as Pep Guardiola’s understudy at Manchester City, the former Arsenal captain took his first steps into management to forge his own legacy.
Arteta acknowledged how useful he found the lockdown period in getting to know his players and for them to understand his vision. He told the club’s website: “There is the psychological support that they need, which we are giving them, and as well I’m giving them a lot of homework to do because I’ve been reviewing everything that we’ve been doing since I joined. There are things we have to maintain doing, improve and develop, and individually they are really enjoying the challenge.”
Young midfielder Matteo Guendouzi has been the first victim of Arteta’s reign, ostracised for his perceived poor attitude and efforts in training, Arteta had laid down an early marker. As he said upon appointment: “I want people to take responsibility for their jobs and I want people who deliver passion and energy in the football club. Anyone who doesn’t buy into this, or that has a negative effect or whatever, is not good enough for this environment or this culture.” It’s a hard-line that Arsenal have longed for and have been accused of missing since the days of Tony Adams, Patrick Viera and co.
Arteta won his first piece of silverware as manager by beating Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final at Wembley. He became the first manager to win a major trophy in his first season in charge of the club since George Graham and went onto claim penalty shootout success against Liverpool in the FA Community Shield. But after an 8th place league finish for a club like Arsenal, these were not accolades Arteta showed the slightest bit of interest in. These were big games his Arsenal side should come to expect themselves to win now because Arteta had no interest in Arsenal remaining as the plucky underdog in the big games.
Summer Transfer Dealings
Clearly the squad needed improving and strengthening to match Arteta’s high intensity, possession-based football. This summer was never going to be an easy market to operate in, with Arsenal now expected to make a loss of £40 million if fans do not return to the Emirates this season and it was obvious Arteta would have to make do in certain areas for now and develop some of the existing talent.
Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin, for example, now look set to be key parts of Arteta’s plans after doubts over their future at the club. Whilst Guendouzi, who was touted as one of the club’s most promising young talents, has been allowed to go on loan to Hertha Berlin, Mohamed Elneny has started in three of Arsenal’s four league games this season after being frozen out under Emery. Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos ultimately flourished under Arteta’s style of play which has seen him brought back to the club on another loan deal for this campaign. Youngsters like Bakayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah have been afforded opportunities to impress under Arteta with the former earning a new contract and his first full England call-up ahead of the upcoming international break.
Then came the three key pieces of business as Willian arrived at the Emirates on a free transfer from Chelsea. The transfer divided opinion in the football sphere with some arguing the club handing out a bumper three-year deal for a 32-year-old did not align with a long-term vision. But to be a winner you need to surround yourself with winners and after a trophy-laden spell with Chelsea, Willian knows exactly what it takes to be a part of a title-winning side which can only benefit the dressing room.
Aubameyang Commits Future Despite Speculation
Then there was an end to the long-running contract saga concerning Arsenal’s captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The forward is one player who is genuinely world-class in the Arsenal squad and tying him down to a new deal was pivotal for Arteta. The fact Aubameyang, who was subject to attention from Barcelona, opted to put faith in the Arteta project and commit his future to the club was an unequivocal vote of confidence in the new direction. A player of his quality heading towards the later stages of his career is intent on taking some silverware with him and he clearly feels that is possible under Arteta. Had that not been the case, Arsenal would have faced having to cash-in on the player and attempting to replace the irreplaceable.
With the departures of both Sanllehi and Mislintat in recent times, former player turned Technical Director Edu has been in charge of overseeing transfers this summer alongside Francis Cagigao who has now left the club. It was Atletico Madrid’s Thomas Partey that they have had their sights set on all along with interest in the midfielder even stretching back to two years ago.
Since then Partey has become one of the most highly-rated midfielders in the world in Diego Simeone’s Atletico side. With good legs, great defensive nouse and the quality to also get forward and make late runs into the box, at 27 Partey is a buy for today. It is a deal, when including wages, that could end up costing them close to £100 million. But this was a compromise Arteta, who sought for experienced players in key positions across the pitch, is unwilling to make.
Partey Is Arteta’s Buy for Today
Signing Partey in the prime of his career in makes perfect sense. The old Arsenal may have taken the safer option or decided not to do business at all. But this is the new age of Arsenal, the must-win attitude of Arteta’s coming to the forefront. Kroenke and the board have demonstrated a willingness to back their man that many have questioned over the years. Those years of degradation both in terms of the squad and Arsenal’s name as a European football heavyweight won’t be an immediate fix. But it’s clear now Arsenal have got their vision back and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Arsenal fans deserve world-class football they became revered for all over the world. But not until they start lifting trophies again will Arsenal fans have their Arsenal back. Arteta’s reign has already pulled Arsenal up the table.
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