Mikel Arteta is desperate to instil serenity at Arsenal. He wants a culture of calm professionalism which, matched by extremely high standards, will restore the Gunners as a genuine threat in the Premier League and solve their ongoing issues.
The way he has dealt with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s most recent misdemeanour should be viewed not only as a warning to his team-mates but also to those who have revelled in what has become known as Arsenal’s banter era.
In effect, Arteta wants to make Arsenal the club they were at their peak under Arsene Wenger, or the all-conquering Manchester City side he left to take over at the Emirates Stadium in 2019. It isn’t about the money or the style, it is about the way of doing things which give off the impression that everything is under control and will be regardless of whatever conditions or variables lay in wake.
Pep Guardiola is so far ahead of everybody else and he has begun to have questions asked of him, which City fans have bore the brunt of. “It must be boring”, they’re told of the constant winning, which is just taken for granted by those on the outside. The squad depth, as a result of extreme expenditure, is undoubtedly a factor, how could it not be?
His studious obsession with tactics and formulaic approach set him apart too. But the real reason Guardiola has dominated in a country that prides itself on being the most difficult challenge physically, mentally and tactically for any manager and has, but for the odd exception, made it look incredibly beneath him, is the lack of circus he brings.
Crisis and drama is actively encouraged within English football and almost every club seems to go through it, some more than others. It isn’t to say that Guardiola hasn’t had issues fall at his door, he has and that is the point. It never distracts from the mission of winning in the right way.
In a sport increasingly obsessed with identity and a nation filled with those who jealously attempt to undermine Guardiola’s while eliciting nostalgia over cold Tuesday nights in Stoke, really, it is the certainty of knowing a team will always perform to a high level that makes the difference.
That is the environment Arteta began coaching in before joining Arsenal, his first job saw him engulfed in the perfect storm for success. Unfortunately for him, he now finds himself at the club who arguably least represent the same values. Arsenal are the club with the soft centre, with no leaders, who fold under pressure and in difficult circumstances.
From Bolton to Stoke, there have always been places in which they’ve struggled to cope for a myriad of reasons, feeding into their ‘weak’ narrative and the idea that certain smaller clubs can use physicality as a great leveller.
You only need to look at the number of times Guardiola’s City have beaten Sean Dyche’s Burnley, the Premier League’s most recent snarling, bitter ‘difficult place to go’, to see how meaningless the rhetoric is when combatted by sensible professionalism. That then allows the quality to tell.
For Arteta, it isn’t just the questionable attitude of Aubameyang at Arsenal, it is the worrying discipline of Granit Xhaka, too. That these two players have been recent captains says a lot. From the top down, his players often incite chaos upon themselves. Throughout the ‘banter years’, dating all the way back to the end under Wenger, quality has never been a problem.
There is an untrustworthy feeling about Arsenal in a number of way and they have long been seen as needing the right setting to perform, able to look like world beaters when he sun was shining at home but cower when forced out of that comfort zone. That is what the current boss is desperately trying to change.
He wants them to be a reliable side, for them to be able to go to Nottingham Forest in the third round of the FA Cup — having only once previously been knocked out at that stage in 26 years, ironically to Forest — and progress with minimal fuss. There was a reason that game was televised. They lost 1-0 and left back Nuno Tavares was hooked off after 34 minutes. Both the ruthlessness of Arteta and the ease in which standards drop at Arsenal were on full show that night.
Xhaka’s action in getting sent off during the Carabao Cup semi final to Liverpool was just as typical. It was rash and needless and indicative of a man not fully in control of his emotions at the most crucial moments. Nobody was shocked when he did was he did. Xhaka was ridiculed widely on social media; there was no anger, no disbelief, just laughter. That is how deep the issue is ingrained, nobody gives it a second thought.
Arsenal are having a strong season and the Arteta plan, as well as his signings, have begun to show signs of improvement. But the feeling remains that the Arsenal way, the soft centre and the stupidity have not fully departed. They cannot be trusted and no matter how much progress they make, they’ll not win again until they can.
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