As you might expect, an interview with Mikel Arteta on the official site about the training camp in Dubai is always going to focus on the positives. It would have been a big surprise to me if he’d gone in two-footed on himself for not bringing in a forward before the end of the window.
He spoke about the conditions there being optimal for the training work they were out there to do; he referenced the clarity of what lies ahead – with just 17 Premier League games remaining it’s fairly uncomplicated; and he talked about ensuring everyone was together, fostering team spirit, saying the trip was about …
“….building the unity and the spirit that is in the group and that has to be maintained. There’s no better way to do it not only with the players but as well with the families because they are a big part of what we do and we need them on board to keep pushing every day.”
To be fair to him, it has been a consistent message since he arrived. When he first came he spoke about having to change the way ‘we live together’ as a team, and in the time that has followed those who aren’t on board get jettisoned. You know the names as well as I do and I’m not here to re-litigate any of the individual scenarios, but at this point every Arsenal player must be fully aware of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Your status, profile, age, experience, or even the fact you were a former teammate won’t matter a bit if you cross the line.
I’ve seen a lot of talk about the frequency of these incidents, and of the three cases I think can accurately be categorised in this way, two of them were with very high profile players who are always going to make headlines. The other involved a young midfielder who had some talent and who might have been useful in January of 2022 for a couple of weeks but one, in truth, I haven’t really missed.
There is obviously something to the contention that when you’re the manager of a football club, you have to be able to deal with big characters, difficult personalities, overblown egos and all the rest. I think that’s absolutely true, but it occurred to me that there’s a thing nobody talks about, a thing that’s completely missing from any discussion of Arteta’s ‘hard line’ approach.
This is a football club, and like any other football club in any other league in the world, there are going to be disciplinary incidents, transgressions of rules, training ground scraps, and countless other things that managers and coaches have to deal with on a daily basis. I simply cannot countenance the idea that in the two years+ he’s been here, there have been three ‘major’ incidents that have played out publicly, while behind the scenes everyone else is a perfectly behaved schoolboy. It just doesn’t work like that.
We’re talking about young men, with lots of money, working, playing and living an industry which is really quite weird. The fame, the lifestyles, the temptations, living under the always watchful eye of every mad bastard who has a phone, a camera and a Twitter account. Not to mention the gotcha culture of the press and certain sections of the media. Things happen, not just at Arsenal of course, and football clubs work hard to make sure they don’t become public knowledge.
I’m not talking about egregious things here, but perhaps the routinely daft stuff that young men can do when they have a lot of money and a lot of leisure time. Those are then coupled with the things that go down in a competitive, high pressure environment of top level football under managers and owners who are hugely demanding. Which is to say that absent from the discussion of how we’ve dealt with these big names whose time at the club has come to an unhappy, perhaps even acrimonious end, are the smaller things which we never hear about. Not every problem has been dealt with in nuclear fashion. There have to have been things which have been dealt with in-house and we’ve simply moved on.
There’s a curious dichotomy between Arteta making the Aubameyang thing public and much of everything else he does. He will never divulge anything that happens in the dressing room, I think he believes strongly in a kind of training ground Omerta. I mean, he will barely tell the press who is injured in his pre-game press conferences, so I think he absolutely prefers to keep things behind closed doors as much as possible (hence his comments about how he wasn’t the final decision maker on the All or Nothing series).
I know some won’t agree, and it’s hard to see decisions made which impact a favourite player and which may end up being detrimental to the team. I suspect Arteta’s rules are clear, and the players are fully aware of them, but I don’t think the slightest infringement automatically means banishment forever and ever. We may not see the nuance, and from a public facing perspective it may not be apparent, but it has to be there. I think he could have said more on the various situations that people reference which would have made people better understand his decisions, but he never did and I don’t think he ever will.
Maybe he still has to find a better balance, and maybe that will come with experience, but as with everything, there’s a lot of stuff that exists between the two extremes of Sergeant Major and Captain Indulgence.