While it may not have made as big of a splash as the Premier League Doctors Group’s concerns and questions about starting training at clubs again, Arteta’s sit down with Arsenal legend Ian Wright on Adidas’ #hometeam was a bit of Arsenal team news that I found refreshingly, COVID-free.
In the episode, Wright speaks to Arteta, Arsenal Women’s coach Joe Montemurro, and Arsenal fan John Dear. I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t jealous of the opportunity John has had. Who wouldn’t kill for the chance to have a sit down with Wrighty?
Arteta and Wright shared a pretty relaxed short conversation to discuss how Arteta’s isolation has been, how the family is, what is being worked on and there were three takeaways I had from the discussion that show promise for what is to come.
Clarity, understanding, and chemistry
Arteta made it pretty clear from the start that this period of time has been far from a relaxing one, void of work. Aside from when he, himself, tested positive for Coronavirus, Arteta has had his nose to grindstone working with the club, players, and staff. He even went as far as saying that Mrs. Arteta has said the amount of hours he is spending on work is “worse than during normal training”.
Arteta elaborated by discussing the lack of time he has had since joining the club in December to hold conversations with players and verbally check in and understand them. It makes sense. He was hired as manager in the midst of a heavy part of Arsenal’s season and at a point where things needed to change quickly.
From December 26th to February 2nd, Arsenal played 9 matches and were in a pretty steady cadence of a match every 3 to 4 days. As Arteta points out, this doesn’t leave much time to understand his players, understand what they have soaked up from this brief time, or what they think of the identity Arteta is attempting to bring to the club. A period like this allows him to have these one-on-one conversations with each of them regularly.
In addition to understanding that, it allows him to get to know them. “Most of them are kids,” says Arteta, it’s important to understand their family, their support network, how they feel about the club, and get to know them. This builds clarity and chemistry.
This aspect of clarity is not only something that is clearly important to Mikely, but something that many pointed out was missing under Unai Emery. “When there is a clarity in what they have to do and what is expected of them, its not a debate. It’s very valuable for them”
Taking this time to build that understanding, ensure there is clarity, and create chemistry will be critical to the team’s success should games return next month, the one after that, or long into the future. Arteta doesn’t know what football is going to be after this. It could be stricter with more protocols, but he is clearly focused on being ready regardless. As he said, “we need to be ready for whenever they say go ahead, open the door, and hit the gas”.
Sticking to the “Non-negotiables”
It was only a few months ago, but at this point that might as well have been a different lifetime. However, if you remember Arteta’s first day and some of his first interviews, you will remember he hinted at some internal, personal expectations from players he considered “Non-negotiables”. It became a buzzword and something that Arsenal fans latched onto immediately. To double their excitement, he hinted at one of those “non-negotiables” being energy.
In his conversation he spoke about the difficulty of coming to the club when he did. He could sense that the energy wasn’t right or missing completely from the training ground, stadium, team, and by proxy staff and fans. It was a top priority to reenergize the team, get their buy in, and sell them on the fact that if the energy of the club was going to return it had to start with what they did on the pitch.
The effects of this could be seen and heard on matchday when the crowd let out a euphoric cheer not for am Aubameyang goal, but form him tracking back the full pitch to put in a tackle in the defensive third. It would be seen when youngsters like Saka, Martinelli, or Nketiah began to hit their stride and make plays for the team through pure work rate. But what about the other aspects of “non-negotiables” and were they really not negotiable?
Ian Wright commented and asked, if it is easier to convince players to come and to be a part of this process once there is a clear identity. Arteta – “The moment we mention Arsenal, you know what it means around the world. Everybody wants to come here and we have a really clear idea of what we are. It doesn’t take much convincing and if it does, its not a good starting point. If I have to convince a player to stay or to join us…” it causes Arteta hesitation over whether he really wants them. Arteta wants players to know they want to play for Arsenal, to understand the values, what Arsenal play for, how they do things, how they play, and be confident in those points being a fit with them.
It’s a strong list of demands and his hesitation at players that don’t meet them is a sign that he is sticking to his belief that those players don’t belong at the club or on the field. It not only will be interesting to see what type of player that translates to in the transfer market, but also what it means for players already at the club that have fallen out of favor. Top of that list could be Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Maitland-Niles has been a point of interest for many fans wondering why he fell out of favor so sharply after beginning Arteta’s tenure so strongly. This could highlight the fact that his public dislike of playing at right back followed by the suggestion of work ethic issues at training have created a situation where he is not meeting the non-negotiables. Something that is abundantly clear, here, that Arteta will not accept.
Normally a specific player wouldn’t make a takeaway list like this, except it became a critical part of the interview when Ian Wright specifically called him out. It was an interesting point in the interview and sheds some light on Arteta’s opinions of the Scottish defender.
The conversation arose when Wright gave his opinion that despite having seen little play from Tierney due to injury, recovery, and the pandemic – he believes Tierney will be magnificent and Arteta “totally agrees”, adding “His attitude, commitment, his willing – it’s incredible.”
When it comes to his injury woes, Arteta urges Tierney to view it as part of his development and challenges him to, quite frankly, “deal with it”. Arteta bluntly asks Tierney, “how he is going to deal with it? He is at a big club, with big expectations. He has everything to be successful, he has the best possible attitude I know for a player.”
The conversation may be centered around Tierney healing, but the look on Arteta’s face and passion he speaks with surrounding Tierney suggest his desire for Kieran to be on the field frequently. While some fans may view this as a direct replacement of the star youngster Bakayo Saka, it doesn’t need to be. My takeaway is that Arteta has intentions of seeing Saka receive opportunities in the midfield where his natural position is.
The fact is, as good as Saka was, Tierney is still the better option in many ways. Not only is this role his natural position, he is a stronger defender that requires less midfield cover from someone like Xhaka, who had a responsibility of dropping into the backline when Saka overlapped, he has a keen ability to pick and choose when to get into the attack and overlap versus staying home to prevent the defense from being exploited on the counter, and when he is in the attack he showed he is very capable of delivering a well picked out cross. I often found myself this season saddened that two of our better crossers were playing the same position.
The prospect of seeing these two develop a chemistry on the wing, both within the same lineup is very appealing and with Arteta’s identity of work rate, aggression, and technical play – Tierney has a lot to offer.
Arteta concluded toward the end by saying “I have to convince them to follow me but with a ‘why’, with a purpose. Why are we doing it?” If he can do that and the players buy into it, then together Arteta and the team can convey this energy to the club, the staff, the fans, and the world.