Arsenal used to trust inherently in Arsene Wenger. Now, they have another young coach to place their trust in. Mikel Arteta is changing this team.
Just how good can a first-time head coach who has never even managed a youth team and only retired three-and-a-half years ago actually be? That was the question that hung over Mikel Arteta when he arrived at Arsenal earlier this season. Even he admitted that it is a fair question to ask in his introductory press conference.
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Arteta was hugely respected at Manchester City. Pep Guardiola heralded his coaching acumen, while many of the world-class players he worked with attributed their substantial improvements to his impact on the training ground. But would that translate to being a head coach? Well, six months into his tenure, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
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Of course, Arsenal are far from the perfect team. They lost to Olympiakos in the Europa League, failed to capitalise in the Premier League, and could yet fail to qualify for Europen. Nevertheless, the underlying progress that Arteta has made is clear for all to see. From the tactics of the team to the togetherness of the squad, the Gunners are in a much better place now than when Arteta arrived.
This all came to fruition on Saturday. Arteta faced off against his mentor, Guardiola. He concocted a superb counter-attacking masterplan. The players executed it brilliantly and Arsenal won their fourth FA Cup semi-final in seven years. Whether Arteta leads his team to the final and to their 14th FA Cup in history or not remains to be seen. Irrespective of the end result, though, his progress now thrusts the questions onto the club and board. Will they back him?
After Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool on Wednesday, speaking with Sky Sports, Arteta expressed his concern about the lack of funds available to close the gap to City and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League:
“I don’t know [if I will have the necessary finances]. It’s a big concern. You can see how [Liverpool] build their squad and there is no magic, you need to improve the squad with quality, quality players. And we need a bigger squad to compete in this competition. That is the challenge.”
Following the victory over City, Arteta was again asked in his post-match press conference about the summer plans as the club embarks on this rebuilding project with him at the helm:
“Listen, we have had a lot of conversations and we always agreed with the plan that we have in place, and the current vision is very clear. It’s about the possibilities that we are going to have and at the moment we have some uncertainties. The way we finish the season, if we are in Europe or we win it [the FA Cup], it will obviously help because financially we will be stronger and that’s why we have to be a little bit patient.”
Arteta has proven himself to be the right man for the job. He has brought a fractured dressing room together, resurrected several players who were left for dead in the previous regime, and has built the makings of what could be a very competitive team. Now he needs the backing of the board to take the next step.
The Arsenal fans, as they used to about Arsene Wenger, are singing from the same hymn sheet. ‘In Arteta we trust’. Now, it is time for the club to do the same.