Friday, January 27, 2023

Impressive Arteta gives us something to believe in again

If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch Mikel Arteta’s first press conference as Arsenal’s new head coach, and you’ve got the time to do so before reading this post, I can’t recommend highly enough that you take the 15 minutes or so to do so. You can watch it here.

It was a hugely impressive performance, during which his communication was clear, concise and he said things which should resonate with all fans who are looking for him to make things better at Arsenal. We all understand there’s a massive job to be done – an extremely difficult job too – but what I liked most about Arteta press conference is that he under no illusions about exactly how hard it’s going to be.

He knows he’s inexperienced, and that it’s up to him to prove to everyone he’s up to the task; he knows the club is in a position not befitting of its stature and expectation; he knows there are things that are fundamentally wrong about how we’ve been run – and what’s most exciting to me is that he’s clearly not just talking about on pitch issues too. For example:

“I want people who are accountable for what I’m asking for them to do. I don’t want them hiding, 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.”

Of course this sounds very much like he’s talking about the players, and it very clearly applies to them, but this came in response to a question about what he thinks has gone wrong at Arsenal over the last 18 months. It wasn’t specifically about the performances of the team. I suspect there are people off the pitch who are going to find that Arteta will demand a lot of them, and that accountability he talks about is so important.

Referencing his recent visit to the Emirates when Man City beat us easily, he said:

“The first thing is a little bit to change the energy. Last week I was here with Manchester City and I was a little bit down after the game when I felt what was going on. So we have to try to engage everybody, I have to try and convince the players about what I want to do, how I want to do it, they have to start accepting a different process, a different way of thinking, and I want to get all the staff and everybody at the club with the same mindset. We have to build a culture that has to sustain the rest.

“If you don’t have the right culture, in the difficult moments, the tree is going to shake, so my job is to convince everybody that this is how we are going to live, and if you are going to be part of this organisation it has to be in these terms and in this way.”

On what he learned from working with Pep Guardiola for three years, he said:

“What I’ve learned mostly is that you have to be ruthless.”

Watch out those people at Arsenal who think Arteta is Mr Nice Guy, with nice hair and a nice smile. I’ve written about this before here, but he is someone who has an edge, who isn’t out to win popularity contests, and if there’s somebody not living up to the standards he expects, it will not be tolerated. That can only be a good thing where too much of late has gone on because we’re just too soft to deal with the issues properly.

First and foremost though, before making sweeping changes to the underlying culture of the club (a good thing, just to be clear!), he has to get the team winning football games again. He has to try and restore some semblance of the Arsenal we all hope to see on the pitch every week. When it comes that, and how he’s going to get the team to play, he hit all the right notes for me, particularly after a spell under a coach who never seemed to have a footballing philosophy we could identify with:

“There are some things that have to have a blueprint. We have to have passion, we have to be dominant, we have to be aggressive. We have to play in the opponent’s territory as much as we want.

“I want the ball, I want to attack them as much as possible, I want to prevent them from attacking me as much as possible.

“The direction’s going to be very clear and it’s not going to be negotiable. I will need the players to be on board with the right attitude, with the right passion and commitment.

“Step by step, we will be improving and reaching to find the right identity for us.”

I don’t know what else to say other than I just really like this. I like that it’s his way or the highway. We know this is a high risk situation, given his lack of experience, but it’s clear he doesn’t lack confidence or belief in his own ability to get the job done. As well as that, a coach with a clear footballing identity will be a very welcome change after the Emery era during which his approach has – I strongly believe – contributed heavily to the funk we find ourselves in right now.

That’s not to pin all the blame on him, by the way. When Arsenal hired him they must have known what kind of a coach he was. Someone whose focus on the opposition made him more reactive than proactive, and thus very much the wrong man to do what they wanted him to do – which was build on what Wenger had left.

Arteta obviously has clear ideas about how he wants Arsenal to play football, and with his grounding in the game as player, and his work with coaches like Guardiola and Wenger, it’s going to be much more in line with what we’d like to see on the pitch too. Exciting, attacking, aggressive football, played at pace, and anyone who isn’t willing to get on board with that, or is unable to keep up, will be out the door. See ya, and good luck.

This is not a quick fix appointment. There’s a big job to do here which is going to take time. I think Arteta has communicated that very clearly to us. In doing so, in a very open and honest way, I think he buys himself time. Of course people will remain skeptical, and that’s completely understandable. Nobody can make any assurances here. I’m hugely excited by the potential this new project has, but I’m also very aware it could go wrong.

However, the clarity of his communication is crucial. When I hear other people at this football club speak about where we are and what we’re going to do, I’m not sure I necessarily believe them because we’ve heard it all before. I believe Arteta though. I believe that the things he says are exactly the things he wants to do. He’s not saying what he thinks we want to hear, he’s telling us what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it.

It’s like a light in the darkness. We’re moths to Arteta’s flame in this difficult period in the club’s history. He has a massive job on his hands, on the pitch and off it, because unless he gets both those things working in tandem, he won’t succeed. It remains to be seen how quickly his influence will be felt, but if you wanted someone who was going to shake things up; not tolerate the slackness and half-heartedness at all levels; be ruthless and demanding; and look to return Arsenal to a level that is genuinely competitive again, then I think we’ve got the man to do it.

We do have a match today of course. Normally the post would be a preview of that, but the Arteta news is obviously the key story. Freddie will be in charge, Arteta will be in the stands, and hopefully there’s a response from the players today, because some of them are going to be playing for their futures from this point on. Team news is here, we have no left back.

We could also just really do with three points. As ever, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game for you, join us for that and all the post-match stuff on Arseblog News. Until then.

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