Dissecting Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal Century
Arsenal’s 1-0 win against Watford was Mikel Arteta’s 100th match in charge at Arsenal Football Club. Over his first century of games, Arteta has gotten plenty wrong — pushing for the signing of Willian, throwing Nicolas Pepe under the bus after a red card, and a blood-boiling collapse against Unai Emery’s Villarreal in the Europa League are some of the more notable gaffes. But there have also been some exhilarating highs with the former captain at the helm. In his first season, he oversaw victories over City and Chelsea on the way to winning the FA Cup. That was followed up by defeating Liverpool via penalties in the Community Shield. The Boxing Day win over Chelsea in which Emile Smith Rowe announced himself to the world will live on in the memory for a long time.
After a hundred matches as manager, Arsenal are in 5th place in the Premier League, two points behind Liverpool and six points off the top of the table. They are currently undefeated in ten matches in all competitions. Those matches include 3-1 defeats of Spurs and Aston Villa, and a 2-0 victory over Leicester. The run also includes frustrating draws against Brighton and Crystal Palace.
However, there has been plenty to love about the Arsenal team that Arteta was at the forefront of assembling. Not only have Arsenal’s summer signings elevated the quality in the team, but they have also inspired support from Gooners that is heartwarming to see. Aaron Ramsdale has established himself as a cult hero. Ben White’s partnership with Gabriel has been touted time and time again by the Arsenal faithful. The likes of Takehiro Tomiyasu, Albert Sambi Lokonga, and Nuno Tavares impressed almost instantaneously upon their arrivals. And then, of course, Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, the golden boys of Hale End, have led the way. On and off the pitch, Arteta has noticeably worked to help cultivate a harmony between the fans and the club. Now, over a quarter of the way into the 2021-22 season, there is a palpable feel-good factor at the Emirates.
All in all, where do things stand with Arteta? What should we make of his recent performance? Below, writers from You Are My Arsenal answer those questions and more about Mikel Arteta after he reached the landmark of 100 matches in charge.
How impressed are you by Arsenal’s current run of form?
@fromdialsquare: How often have you ever seen six summer signings come into a first team and make such an exciting and dynamic impact as Arsenal’s have? Five of our signings started the last two premier league games against Aston Villa and Leicester City and the sixth came on in the second half. All have been playing extremely well and seem to be improving with every passing game.
This is hugely impressive, especially when you consider the age of them all individually and the average age of the starting eleven as a whole. Take Aubamayang and Lacazette out of the equation and then the average age drops again significantly. You can’t underestimate the performance of the team when you take all of this into account.
@dopegooner: Very impressed. Not only are we unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions, but we have beaten Spurs, Aston Villa, and Leicester along the way. Outside of West Ham and maybe Everton, those three are our biggest competition for European places. And if we beat Watford on Sunday, that will be 20 points out of a possible 24 in the Premier League since the close of the transfer window. Especially now, in an ultra-competitive PL landscape, that is top-four form.
@peckpeckly What Arteta has done after the start to the season has been spectacular. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the issues from the first three matches transcended “tactics,” but the Arsenal of past years struggled with responding to adversity. Arteta’s squads seem to enjoy defending and stopping progression up the pitch. The hope is that things continue and the squad show resilience this week and next at Anfield.
@jtfisher34: I have been extremely impressed with the current form, especially due to the fact we’ve beaten some of our top 6 rivals in the process. The emphatic wins against Spurs, Aston Villa, and Leicester highlight the improvements the squad has made since the opening three matches of the league. What I am most impressed about is how the underlying numbers back up our unbeaten streak. During previous runs, it seemed Arsenal just got lucky to eke out 1-0 wins or barely hold onto draws; but the xG for/against data is impressive showing we are outplaying our opponents convincingly.
@CruciateBlog: One of the big frustrations with Arsenal in our period of downturn over the last few years has been an inability to capitalise after hoisting ourselves into strong positions. We have also seen that there was no sense of sustainability with previous squads. Our current form seems to be built on fundamentals of being extremely drilled and compact out of possession and expansive as well as exciting in possession. These principles are a rock hard basis for Arsenal to play their way. Will they win every game? Perhaps not, but we know what they want to do and how, that’s what we have asked for in the past.
Arsenal’s first three Premier League matches resulted in three defeats, nine goals conceded, and no goals scored. What has changed since then?
@fromdialsquare: The whole starting eleven changed! The back 5 was totally transformed, Pierre Emerick Aubamayang and Alex Lacazette came back from Covid and finally, Mikel Arteta could put out a much better team, a team better suited to the way he wanted to play.
@dopegooner: To put it bluntly, Arteta was no longer forced into relying on the worst players in the squad. Instead of Chambers or Cedric, Holding, Mari, and Kolasinac, the manager was able to deploy Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, and Tierney or Tavares. Instead of being stuck with Elneny, Sambi filled in for both Partey, who also returned, and Xhaka. Ramsdale showed up and pulled Leno’s starting spot out from under his feet. Essentially, Arsenal’s best 13 or 14 players have been regularly playing.
@peckpeckly Things settled. Players returned from injury and illness, purchases were finalized, and Arteta seemed to get what he wanted from the window. For a period of months last season, supporters asked “does Arteta even know his best 11?” It’s clear now that he does and he has found a groove in selecting those individuals. The individual position battles (i.e. where does Pepe fit in; can Odegaard play consistently with ESR tactically) will continue, but things look stable and set.
@jtfisher34: Arsenal are in the middle of a rebuild, and were coming off a summer where the club invested heavily in the squad and signed 6 new first team players. Even without the COVID-19 induced absences, the squad was undergoing significant change and the incoming players simply needed time to settle in and get fully embedded into the first XI. To put it simply, the first three matches saw Arteta forced to play a first XI that was ~suboptimal~ with the likes of Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Balogun (even though he is a bright prospect) forced into the starting lineup.
@CruciateBlog: Losses to Brentford away (who have proved a difficult opponent for everyone), City (Premier league champions), and Chelsea (hate to say it but, European champions) make sense on their own but the context within which they happened is explainable. The sceptre of Covid reared its ugly head on the opening day and pretty much ravaged the team in that period. A consistent back line, a consistent defensive pairing being picked has bred a sense of trust among the players. They can play braver within the confines of Arteta’s system and not be too safe for fear of exposing the weaknesses of players that aren’t good enough or a good fit.
How much of the team’s status of being undefeated in their last ten matches in all competitions do you attribute to Mikel Arteta?
@fromdialsquare: Mikel Arteta has to be praised for his bravery in picking the youngest team in the Premier league and sticking with his beliefs. The squad harmony and togetherness is there for all to see and not one player, even those not starting is not backing the Manager 100%. His comment regarding the win against Aston Villa when he said that the match was won in the changing room after the fortunate draw and disappointing performance vs Crystal Palace, was a great thing to hear as a fan. It shows that there was a strong passion amongst the squad to put things right straight away. The same went for Albert Sambi Lakonga who made his mistake which lead to a goal against us verses Crystal Palace. He said that he couldn’t wait to make amends for his mistake by getting back on the pitch in the next game which shows a lot of maturity and belief. Credit goes to the Manager for giving him the opportunity in the next game to start, and make amends he did with a great performance.
@dopegooner: A lot of the credit has to go to Arteta here. He was heavily involved in the recruitment of Ramsdale, White, Tomiyasu, Tavares, Sambi, and Odegaard, who have all been highly impressive in their first seasons at the club. He clearly knew how he wanted to use those players, too; all six summer signings have been impressive in their own right. At the time of writing, Arsenal are still undefeated since the close of the summer transfer window. Arteta had plans for how his squad would progress this season, and so far, it looks like he’s executing. He’s getting the best out of both the new boys and more established players by doing things like establishing the threat of effective distribution from the back five and switching to a 4-4-2 to get the best out of both Aubameyang and Lacazette.
@peckpeckly Blame and praise should always start and end with the manager. Sure, the board signs off on big decisions, but the manager makes the tactical and play-time calls. So, in this run, Arteta deserves much praise. According to reporting, he was key in getting Ramsdale, White, and Tomiyasu at the club and all look to be solid players. He has tinkered with line-ups and positioning and has landed on a back four that has been playing extremely well. After rough performances from Pepe, he switched to Saka; after watching Lacazette single-handedly save the Palace match, he began to start the Frenchman. It truly seems as though he is adjusting much more seamlessly than previous seasons and is more settled in general.
@jtfisher34: Arteta has certainly got to get a lot of the credit during this run. Arteta has found a formation which finally sees both Aubameyang and Lacazette playing together in a way that suits both players’ skill sets quite well. The pseudo 4-4-2 formation is one that somewhat came out of nowhere after months of Arteta sticking to his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation quite stubbornly. Now, it seems Arteta is making the necessary adjustments, both in terms of entire formation changes, but also in style (more pressing, transitioning etc).
@CruciateBlog: There’s something deeper to be gleaned from Mikel Arteta’s passionate celebrations after Arsenal sank 3 goals in half an hour against Spurs. Yes it was a derby, but it was probably the most convincing and textbook performance his team has produced since he arrived at the club almost 2 years ago. He felt vindication that his vision was finally coming to fruition. Can you blame him? Everyone in the starting 11 for spurs, he has either signed or tied up to a new contract, they are HIS players. Arsenal are now using their resources to overwhelm opponents where possible and this has been a consistent theme during this run, which can be attributed to the structure and environment created by Mikel Arteta.
What do you think Arteta is getting right?
@fromdialsquare: He’s showing that he’s a very quick learner, he corrects mistakes and he is a good leader. He’s brave and more than anything, he’s a good motivator, pulling results out of the bag when under immense pressure. He’s built a squad with character, strength and belief in itself, players who have bonded with each other and who are building relationships all over the pitch and that deserves a lot of credit. The team is likeable too and they’ve got a very strong bond with the fans, and that’s brilliant. It’s been a long time since we last had that at Arsenal, a team we can really love and enjoy to watch.
@dopegooner: Arteta seems to have undergone a transformation as a man manager. Perhaps it was the woeful start to the season or perhaps uncertainty behind the scenes spurred this change, but Arteta is more openly a forgiving and warm character in the Arsenal camp these days. Several players have gone to bat for him, including critical figures like Saka and Tierney and budding talents like Martinelli and Balogun. The players trust in Arteta and his plan for them. Gone are the rumors of players harboring resentment toward the Arsenal manager. His players are battling hard for him week in, week out. That only happens when the squad have fully bought in to what they’ve been asked to. Arteta’s concerted efforts to connect to his players and get them to commit to his vision have so far been successful, and that is a critical first step toward success down the line.
@peckpeckly Selection and locker room cohesion seem to be sublime. After selection issues in the spring of 2021, Arteta let his words of “getting the right personnel” ring true by selecting and rewarding his chosen players with game-time and getting strong results. When played, Partey has yet to lose a premier league game and the most recent arrivals have been nothing less than immaculate.
Additionally, it really appears that he embraces each player after wins and they seem to embrace him. Reports of Wenger and Emery locker rooms seemed to be disjointed and fragmented. Under Arteta, success is rewarded (regardless of age and prominence) and that seems to be resonating with players. Watching Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang’s phoenix-esque resurgence has been a joy, with both Pierre and Arteta hailing his change in play-style and performance. Those changes are not likely to occur in a chilly locker room.
@jtfisher34: Much of what Arteta is getting right stems from the summer recruitment. If reports are true, and Arteta had a significant role in player recruitment- especially in Aaron Ramsdale and Tomiyasu, then Arteta knew the specific roles he needed in his ideal system- and went and got them. During the season, Arteta is much more flexible, adjusting the formations, and the style of play when needed away from the positional football to a more countering and transitioning team.
Additionally, Arteta clearly has complete locker room buy-in and has gotten all of his personnel decisions spot on. To me it is overlooked the transformation that specifically Ainsley Maitland-Niles has made this season. It was barely 3 months ago that AMN was posting on social media about his desires to leave the club, and now he has turned into a very capable midfielder. This sort of man-management is an often overlooked part of the manager remit, especially at big clubs, and Arteta has gotten it right so far.
@CruciateBlog: I think for such a young and inexperienced coach. Arteta knows what he wants. I think he has known what he’s wanted since he came to the club. The dynamics of a club like Arsenal, however, have overwhelmed stalwarts like Unai Emery and Emirates era Arsene Wenger.
Mikel speaks about “unity”, there needs to be a common goal, a common purpose. I believe Arsenal are always going to get it somewhat right with recruitment. The location, resources, and history make it a not too insurmountable task to get good players into the club. What is more difficult or invisible is the type of characters you get in and will that build the right environment?
That’s what I feel Mikel Arteta has done well, the profile of the recruits suit his philosophy but their personalities really add to that. If you also look at age then you have a team that is ready to grow with a young manager, who is also improving. It bodes well.
What do you think Arteta is getting wrong?
@fromdialsquare: He’s still learning. It’s not ideal for the Manager of Arsenal to be learning on the job, but he is. He’s going to make mistakes, and he does, but he’s doing very well and learning quickly. The team is young and they’re going to be inconsistent too, but we need to stick by them and show them we support them. That’s why we are called supporters and not just fans.
@dopegooner: It’s tricky right now to pinpoint any major mistakes Arteta is making, but one thing that might be problematic is his continued tendency to give minutes to non-critical players who don’t have a future at the club. This mainly applies to usage of Nketiah, but you could potentially include Kolasinac, Pepe, and Elneny in that conversation as well. Going with youth has proven effective so far for Arteta, so it is occasionally frustrating to see the likes of Balogun, Martinelli, Maitland-Niles, and Tavares. But again, this is a complaint only found when scratching around at the bottom of the barrel.
@peckpeckly The only worry I have at the moment lies with the lack of a clean slate with certain players. Obvious examples are William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi, but Mavropanos and Torreira come to mind, too. As mentioned above, success and failures lie with the manager and whether these determinations are “successes” or “failures” remain to be seen. But, I do hope that the choices to keep or sell are being given the utmost time and attention.
@jtfisher34: Currently, Arteta is not getting anything specifically ‘wrong’ however there are traits about him that worry me a bit. To be nit-picky, although I spoke about how his man management is spot on currently, that has not always been the case. There will be quite a debate regarding William Saliba next summer, and thus far his handling of Saliba has been less than ideal especially during the previous season.
@CruciateBlog: What is Arteta getting wrong currently? Probably nothing, however it could be said that there are a number of decisions which hang in the balance in deciding this. The rationale behind trusting Pablo Mari as squad depth before the promising Konstantinos Mavropanos or allowing the Saliba situation to fester and become a debate as to whether a high potential central defender even has an Arsenal career.
However Arteta has shown enough over the last few transfer windows to assauge any fears regarding squad building and has been impressive in rehabilitating Ainsley Maitland Niles, as a useful squad player, so his man management can be good.
If there is anything that requires improvement, it is probably substitutions but I have a sneaky suspicion that it is down to an implicit distrust of the options outside his first 11. How that is built will be telling.
Do you think Arteta is still the man to lead the Arsenal project?
@fromdialsquare: Yes, I’ve had my moments of wavering, but I’m glad I stuck by him. Like our team, he’s got bags of potential and I really like him and I’m desperate for him to succeed. If he’s doing well then Arsenal are doing well. He’s shown in the summer that all six signings have been extremely well scouted and they all look like potentially great players. That’s a good sign. He now needs time to finish the job he’s started. We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot closer.
@dopegooner: At the moment, it is highly difficult to argue against that being the case, although there are some among the Arsenal faithful who appear desperate to do so. It’s important to stress that he’s not impervious to criticism, however. After all, we are undefeated in ten matches, not a hundred. Should things start going down the drain, Arteta should expect to hear about what he’s getting wrong. But after playing City, Chelsea, Spurs, Leicester, and Aston Villa, we are six points off the top of the table. We have beaten the latter three, who all were viewed as direct competitors for European places entering the season. We have one of the sturdiest defenses in the league. Our attack is beginning to click. There is a unity and togetherness in the squad that arguably hasn’t been present since the club moved to the Emirates. Where the team is right now is nearly a best case scenario. For all those reasons, it’s only fair to put some trust in Mikel until he gives us a big reason not to.
@peckpeckly More than ever before. I think one only needs to shift their gaze to Manchester to see what a project without “vision” looks like. United made huge splashes in the transfer market this summer, nabbing all big names on large weekly wages and yet, they seem to lack an identity. Arteta has made both shrewd purchases and shrewd tactical decisions, letting his principles guide both his play and his man-management. Our team seems together and united and I truly believe that Arteta has this club’s best interests at heart.
@jtfisher34: It has certainly not been easy to stick by Arteta, however I think he has shown enough during the last few months to earn the trust of the fanbase for now. We don’t know what is down the road for Arsenal or Arteta- but to me he is the man for the job. It is clear that the players really respect him, and enjoy playing for him, and he certainly ‘gets’ what it means to be the Arsenal manager. We have hopefully been through the worst of the growing pains as Arteta adapts to being the man in charge, and I believe this Arsenal team is only going to get better.
@CruciateBlog: Whatever happens, Mikel Arteta was always going to be the right man after Unai Emery because he is a talented coach and also because he knew the club and probably had the inside scoop on why it became so difficult in the latter Wenger years to compete.
What has now happened is there has been an overhaul of the playing and coaching staff as well as the club overall. Arsenal are not standing still and overly reliant on our status as one of the biggest football clubs in the world, we are trying to ensure that we have a strategy to compete. Arteta has had to do all of this without the blueprint of how you manage in a pandemic. He showed his tactical acumen with the Cup win in 2020.
It is now time to show he can build a team that is capable of showing up and competing week in week out. Arsenal will lose games and Arsenal may not make the champions league this year but the trajectory is up, if the right adjustments can be made and performances are prioritised, the squad profile is such that the lofty goals that supporters once set the team may not be a distant memory.