Why Mikel Arteta could thrive where Emery failed
It feels like an eternity ago that Unai Emery took over Arsenal from the outgoing Arsène Wenger and set out on a voyage to turn Arsenal into a more modern football outfit.
Early days showed signs of promise under the former PSG manager but the further the boat travelled the less direction we ultimately saw.
As the waters got choppy and the storms grew violent, Emery tried to captain the ship in his own way but he never managed to steer the ship in the right direction.
Mikel Arteta has stepped up to take charge and his first position hasn’t been to captain the ship but to act as the lighthouse that is steering us home.
David Luiz gave a very revealing post-match interview after Wednesday night’s 2-0 win over Manchester United at the Emirates, where the Brazilian confessed the biggest differences between then and now is that they weren’t fit enough, happy enough and they weren’t inspired to believe in the philosophy:
“We showed that second half against Chelsea and we showed that today. But when physically you are not there you have to put your hearts and this team is in the moment now to change a lot of things.
“We can not change zero to 10 in one day. one week, or one month. But it is beautiful to see the kids how they start to understand the commitment, the behaviours and what they have to do every single day to achieve big things in life and big things in football.
“So I think we showed that today and we are going to do big things in the future, but step-by-step.”
In Emery’s first season we saw him set out with a large preference to press high, play out from the back, keep possession and use overlapping wing-backs for offensive threat but that had completely changed by the start of this campaign.
Emery now preferred us to sit for the counter, the wing-backs were more restricted, our pressing was inconsistent at best and any attempt to play the ball out from defence seemed more off the cuff that referred and perfected.
Where Emery’s message was muddled and irresolute the voice of Arteta has shone through the mist in a way that has given the team instant clarity.
Mikel Arteta could succeed where Emery failed in just the fact that the players already know his philosophy and have already bought into it, as have the fans.
If you told me a month ago that it would take Arteta three games to change the mentality and feeling of the whole club I would have laughed in your face but here we are – seemingly reborn and renewed.
This is the start of a long road – players will come and go as the squad is reshaped, results will fluctuate at times but as long as the team show this level of commitment on the pitch, something Arteta labels as ‘non-negotiable’, we should feel proud to back the team to the hills and back.
Seeing Granit Xhaka smile and applaud the Emirates crowd while being cheered in return marks one of the most unprecedented returns of an Arsenal player to favour in recent memory and it’s not without fair reason:
Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira gave a performance that epitomised heart against United and both ran over 11km as proof.
However, they were bettered by a revitalised Mesut Özil who covered more ground than any Arsenal player. (11.54km)
Özil has always covered a good amount of ground for Arsenal, contrary to popular opinion, but what the mercurial German has usually lacked is intensity and it’s Arteta’s ability to coax this out of him that has been one of the catalysts for the much-improved performances.
Arteta admitted that Sead Kolasinac and Nicolas Pepe weren’t physically ready for this game but both said they would play if the team needed them and both should feel very happy with their contribution.
Lucas Torreira playing through injury so Lacazette could be subbed instead showed so much of the team’s newfound togetherness and resolved, they fought together and for each other.
It feels like every Gooner from the stands, to the players, to the coaches and photographers have all instantly fallen in love with our former captain at the helm and it feels like something special could finally be happening for us.