Along with practicing and relaxing (check Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s Instagram stories) during their warm-weather training trip to Dubai, the Arsenal players have been talking to the media. Cutting through the noise and player-speak reveals a common thread: things are much better at the club under Mikel Arteta than under Unai Emery, both tactically and in the dressing room.
“Before I don’t want to say it was a mess, it was a little bit confusing, everyone was doing different things,” said Bernd Leno, “and we were not a team – not in the dressing room, not on the pitch, and you could see this.”
“Mikel has always been very tactical in his work and in his whole life, he’s very professional with very clear ideas...[Mikel] has a new philosophy and the way he has implemented it in the last few games that we’ve played, there’s been a big change,” said Hector Bellerin.
“This year we have had difficult times but I think we are in a good way,” said Mesut Özil, “the things that he is working on with us and you can see [those things] — everyone is smiling, laughing, enjoying their time — it has made us successful.” When asked the biggest difference between things under the two managers, Özil replied, “under Arteta I’m playing,” before flashing a wry simile. Özil also mentioned that the team is much happier and that the mood at the club affects the on-field performance in a positive way.
Alexandre Lacazette echoed Özil, “we are more together now. The way we think as well on the pitch and outside the pitch.”
Taken together, the quotes are an indictment of Unai Emery, fair or not. The players weren’t happy, and they didn’t understand what the manager wanted them to do on the pitch. Whether the players or the manager are more to blame for the discontent and the tactical issues is an open question. Winning probably would have swept away a lot of the trouble, but if the players are confused and unhappy...and we’ve looped back around to where we started. Frankly, at this point, it’s academic.
It was a bad situation all around. There was a fatal disconnect between the manager and the locker room. When that happens, the manager always gets the axe because you can’t fire an entire team. The good news is, as the comments pretty clearly show, the players think things are getting better.