If the day Unai Emery was fired was the day angry Arsenal fans were the dog that caught the car, today, the day Mikel Arteta was appointed the club’s permanent coach, is probably the day that the dog goes into the backyard, knowing there’s a bone buried back there somewhere, and starts digging up several different spots in order to find that bone.
That’s not a bad thing, though. There are always expectations and optimism when a new manager shows up, and today’s no exception. Even though Freddie’s still going to be managing tomorrow, this is now Mikel Arteta’s team. So...what does that mean? And what do you want it to mean?
It’s hard to know. I’m not sure if you’ve heard yet, because this angle doesn’t really get a lot of airtime, but Mikel Arteta has spent the last few seasons at Manchester City, working and learning under Pep Guardiola. I can’t sit here and tell you what style Arteta will play or want to play, I can’t tell you how he’ll set up a team, because, well, he hasn’t really done that before, except in a few instances.
His most notable “managerial” day was a day in December 2016 when he wasn’t actually the first team coach, but shortly after Pep was hired at City, he essentially put Arteta, only six months removed from his Arsenal days, in charge of picking the team and the formation, and plotting the tactics, for City’s game against Arsenal, a game that City won 2-1. Arteta took what he knew about Arsenal, and set up City to play against it and beat it, and what he did worked like a charm that day.
By all accounts, Arteta was a very knowledgeable, well-liked, and well-respected coach at City. He’s able to get his ideas across in a way that players respect, and players like Fabian Delph even credit Arteta with rescuing his career and getting him back on the right track:
“One of the reasons I have stayed at the club is because he saw the qualities in me and he knew I was available to do the role they wanted me to do.”
That bodes well for an Arsenal squad whose qualities, in a lot of cases, you reeeeeeeeallly have to squint hard to see. Maybe he can get some blood out of the stones in the brains of Arsenal’s defenders and maybe he can’t (SPOILER ALERT: I think he won’t, not because of him, but because of them), but it seems like he is definitely up for the task of trying, and that’s all we can ask.
The bigger question, to me, is: what are your expectations for the rest of Arsenal’s season at this point? A new manager, a new way of doing things, a shakeup; it’s all good stuff. But how much will it change things this season?
I suppose you could call this a flaming hot take, but in all honesty, as I’ve said before, I kinda hope it doesn’t change much right now. I think Arsenal would benefit from finishing outside the European places this season. Arsenal’s squad is kind of a mess, after all, and Arteta will not work miracles with Matteo Guendouzi, Calum Chambers, and Granit Xhaka overnight, if ever. Finishing sixth or lower would thus leave next season with only the league, FA, and Carabao Cups to contend for.
Don’t misunderstand: I am not rooting for Arsenal to lose, or to tank this season on purpose. I would love it if they could make a heroic charge up the table at this point and end up beating out Spurs for the fourth and final Champions League place. I just don’t know, first, how realistic that is, and second, whether earning a European place next year, in either competition, is the best thing for the club right now.
If Arteta’s first full season in charge just sees him competing in domestic competitions, it removes a lot of pressure from him, for one. The spotlight of even the Europa League is a lot, and without having to worry about that spotlight, Arteta can turn his full attention to fixing the myriad of problems this club has right now.
The second benefit of not being in Europe also ties in with that. If you’re not playing midweek, you have more time in training. Without midweek play, you’re not spending one or two days a week doing only stretching/regeneration work, and you can actually do proper training on tactics and setup, and can make that work pay off in the long run. That’s more time to get your ideas across, more time to work those ideas to the point where they’re muscle memory, and more time to drill the mistakes out of players who repeatedly make them.
While it might be something of a heresy to admit that I’m OK with Arsenal not being in Europe next season, here I am, admitting it. Yes, there are economic implications to the lack of European competition, and yes, not being in Europe means Arsenal won’t attract top-shelf talent for a while, but again, I’m OK with that. It’s not like that level of talent is exactly busting down the doors at Colney right now anyway, so it’s not really a net loss in that regard. There are always soccer players to be found, and Arsenal will not struggle to find them, they just won’t be of the class that some might want to see for a couple seasons.
If Arsenal spend the next season and a half (or even two and a half) putting right everything that’s gone wrong in the last five or six seasons, the short-term pain of the rest of this season, and a mediocre next season, will be worth it to me. I’m willing to be patient.