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The biggest Mikel Arteta impact

On Sunday afternoon, Arsenal squeezed past Sheffield United to reach the FA Cup semi-finals. The team displayed the biggest impact Mikel Arteta has inspired, and it has nothing to do with the football on the pitch.

Mikel Arteta arrived as Arsenal’s new head coach after spending three-and-a-half years as Pep Guardiola’s assistant. Guardiola entirely revolutionised modern football and is widely considered as the greatest manager in world football. He is quite the man to learn from, and his coaching approach is hugely structured and well-defined. He is a tactical system and he unwaveringly implements it.

As such, it was expected that Arteta’s greatest impact in north London would be to instil a similar shape and system to what Guardiola has mastered at City. There certainly have been some City-like changes. Arteta is much more defined than his predecessor, Unai Emery. He has very specific demands of his players and the roles they play within the collective unit.

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However, while the tactics have certainly changed, Arteta’s main focus has been something much more primal and foundational: the attitude, commitment, and culture of the players, squad, and entire club.

He spoke at length about his non-negotiables early in his tenure. These related not to players’ ability but effort. They had to be fully committed to the project and work hard to achieve within it. Anything less would not be tolerated.

And this week, following two competitively encouraging victories against Southampton and Sheffield United in which Arsenal showed a greater grit and resilience than they have in previous years, Arteta again praised the attitude of his players. Speaking in his post-match press conference after the United victory, he said:

“I think the attitude and the commitment of every single player that was involved in the game or that was waiting for his opportunity. There were really good moments where we played and we did the things I asked them to do and the way we dealt with Sheffield United’s play. They are really good at what they do, the way they commit people forward, the way they play in the second phases, the way they defend outside the box. I knew there were some phases that we were going to suffer and how we dealt with that. I am really, really pleased.”

This comes after last weekend’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton in which the team lost concentration and focus after dominating the game and taking a deserved 1-0 lead in the second half. After the match, Arteta was incandescent at the way his team chucked away the victory. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said:

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“I think we did a lot of things to win the game comfortably, but we haven’t competed like you have to in the Premier League, to give the first goal like we did away and lose a few duels afterwards, it’s all our fault. I’m not concerned about our character, but how we compete in a Premier League match. It’s 100 minutes in this case, every ball, every action. The moment you lose concentration the opponent is going to punish you, it’s not the first time it’s happened, and if you want to win matches consistently at this level that’s a must – it’s non-negotiable.”

Arteta was visibly angry with his players. Not because they did not play well — for 70 minutes, they were very good. But because they did not compete until the very last moment, when Neal Maupay sauntered through a statuesque defence and scored the last-gasp winner.

Next: Arsenal Vs Sheffield United: 5 things we learned

Arteta’s greatest impact has not been a tactical one, although he has made changes here. Rather, it is a competitive, character-based demand. He is attempting to change the culture, and as the Southampton and United wins proved, it is working.

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