Mikel Arteta is embarking on a rebuilding project at Arsenal. At the heart of it is a crop of exciting young players. Whether they are ready or not, however, he has no choice but to trust them.
Mikel Arteta has a lot of work to do. The Arsenal manager has inherited a squad that was in wretched form and structure. Overpaid, old, underperforming, and miles behind the quality needed, he encounters a huge challenge to rebuild the team to the level that it can compete at the sharp end of the Premier League once again.
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After the Gunners defeated Liverpool, Arteta highlighted the disparity between the two teams. Yes, his team were victorious on the night, but the difference in quality was clear to see. Liverpool were dominant, as they have been throughout the season.
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Arteta, perhaps frustrated at just how much ground he has to make up, seemed to suggest that he needs backing from the Kroenkes. Of course, that is very much true, though a manager would not usually openly discuss it. A week later, a plane flew over Arsenal’s loss to Aston Villa stating: ‘Back Arteta, Kroenke Out’.
Some suggested that Arteta’s previous comments, asking for spending and investment in the squad, motivated the banner. However, in his post-match press conference, Arteta deflected pressure away from the owners, stating that it is also his responsibility to ‘improve the team’:
“I don’t know but if that’s the impression then it’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to emphasise – and I’ll do it again – that we need to improve in many areas. The first of all is my responsibility, to improve the team and everything with the mentality of course as well. After that, we have certain areas that we need to get better.”
This improving the team moniker will revolve around the young talent already in the squad. Of course, Arteta and the club recognise that the best way to improve the team is to simply buy better players and add talent to the team. That is what the transfer market is there for, after all. But in the current situation, with the financial restrictions that the club is dealing with, especially in a post-COVID world, a more realistic approach must be taken.
In Arsenal’s case, the more pragmatic path is defined by the young talent already in the squad. The reason is quite simple: there is no other path. Unlike where Chelsea are set to spend lavishly again or Liverpool were able to offload key assets to raise funds for future moves, Arteta will not have that freedom. The club does not have the money to freely spend and the squad does not feature the type of assets to offload to raise substantial funds.
Instead, Arteta must ‘improve the team’ through his coaching skill. He must develop the players that he has at his disposal. This means turning Eddie Nketiah into a reliable, prolific centre-forward, fine-tuning Bukayo Saka into an elite central midfielder or winger, pushing Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson into more influential roles, making the most of Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ outrageous natural skill set, and leaning heavily on William Saliba and Gabriel Martinelli.
As the Arteta rebuild looms, the only advantage he has is the quality and variety of the young players in the squad. In every other department, he is fighting an uphill battle. For that reason, whether they are ready or not, Arteta must turn to them. And it is by his coaching of them and their ultimate performance that he will sink or swim.