“I’m planning two or three different scenarios that we can face. Depending on one of those three, we will be able to do more, less or nothing,”Mikel Arteta
It doesn’t take a ‘beautiful mind’ to workout what’s at play with a quote like that, nor many leaps and bounds to suggest ‘more’, ‘less’, or ‘nothing’ are almost directly linked to the three potential outcomes Arsenal had at the time of the quote – Champions League, Europa League, nothing.
As Arteta and Arsenal walk a tightrope on their last remaining strings of hope for European qualification, the dispute over how beneficial the Europa League would be for Arsenal’s future continues. While I can hardly pretend I, or anyone else, would be excited at the opportunity to mark the calendar for a heated matchup between Arsenal and Vitoria S.C in Portugal on a Thursday, it is evident there is more at play.
After Arsenal’s odd win over Premier League champions Liverpool in which Arsenal were dominated in every aspect aside from goals, Mikel doubled down on his message by calling out the board and executive team to truly care about the footballing aspect of the club and look to invest in it’s future.
“The gap is enormous. But the gap in many areas, we cannot improve it in two months. The gap between the accountability, the energy, the commitment and the fight of the two teams now is equal. Before it wasn’t like this and I’m very proud of that.”
“I have everything to do and we need support, we need belief and we need to go in the [right] direction, it doesn’t matter what happens. You need to improve with quality, quality players to the squad and you need bigger squads to compete in this competition. That is the challenge.”
It was a clear and transparent message from the manager in one of the most public mediums possible. It’s a level of transparency and honesty that has won Arteta a lot of support from Arsenal fans and is a major change from Arsene Wenger who would often opt for discretion when it came to topics like this. But it is clear that Arteta feels he has no time for discretion and has the need to publicize his opinions. He holds nothing back with that quote.
The gap is enormous. A message we have heard a lot lately, but he adds in that the player’s fight and energy and effort is revolutionized. He takes responsibility for the role that that he will need to play in rewarding those efforts and cultivating this cultural change around the club, but that he can’t do it alone. He can’t close the gap without injecting more complete, natural quality into the team.
The message brings us back to the Europa League and the closing of this season. How symbolically important is it for Mikel to demonstrate what this current side is and isn’t capable of, while showing his ability to work with what he is given to get the best of its abilities. There is little doubt that this team is lacking the quality it needs in each position to compete with teams Arsenal claims to want to be competitive with, but managing to get back into Europe, given the difficult task at hand, would symbolically go a long to way pressure those withholding the money.
The counter argument that is easy to foresee is that Arsenal have spent a fair amount of money in recent years. They have opened up the purse and splashed cash. I question the effectiveness of that spend, who doesn’t, but as far as expenditures go, Arsenal are high on the list compared many other clubs. This makes their problem almost two-fold: dig deep to find more spending and alter what they are spending it on.
A large chunk of Arsenal’s spend was on ‘band-aid’ purchases. People who may have provided a quick fix to a problem in the side in an effort to get Arsenal back into the top 4 and then with Champions League money, start to properly build. It didn’t work. In fact, it failed pretty miserably. Which means there is a need for a change in the method of madness and a bond between Arteta, Edu, and Raul. An understanding of the players needed, the long-term goals, and parties at the top to listen and acknowledge the wants of Arteta.
The worrisome fact, like him or not, is that Emery may have been overruled when it came to getting the player he felt he needed to win. In fact, they not only overruled him in the exact player, Pepe instead of Zaha, they filled the need with a player on the opposite side of the pitch. I’m not saying Pepe was a bad purchase, far from, I have have high hopes from him – but the willingness to stray so far from what the manager feels he needs suggests a lack of trust and differing goals.
So where do we go from here?
With each game, each win, each lineup and formation alteration that leads to success, Arteta is showing the flexibility and promise he has as a young manager. The fact that he was capable of absorbing the injury devastation that Arsenal received in the opening two games of the restart, alter the formation successfully to a 3-4-3 in one week, and manage to put the team back into a great run of form is the mark of a promising manager.
Many have cynically said they would hope a top manager is capable of making alterations like this, but thats just it – we don’t yet know if Arteta IS a top manager. Many managers get jobs at big clubs and prove in time they are not truly a top manager. If Arteta is showing early signs of something you would ‘expect’ of a top manager, he is showing signs of being capable of becoming a top manager and those types of managers deserve backing to retain them.
Arsenal face a two options. Back Arteta or don’t back Arteta, watch the team struggle, and back the next manager when Arteta moves on or is sacked.
For me, Arteta has proven to be a coach worth backing. That backing may not be all in one window, but Arteta called out his willingness to wait for the right players. Arsenal likely wont be competing for the league next year, but taking the results from a 7th place team to a 4th place team? A huge and realistic stride. Obtaining the right players over 2-3 year and 4-6 transfer windows? A huge and realistic stride.
I can sympathize, to an extent, what COVID-19 has done to increase the financial difficulties of a club, but folding over and throwing your hands up with a shrug because of it isn’t an option when your job is running a football club. Finding ways to inject more quality for next year, setting up future success in the next round of transfer windows, and putting the same efforts into team building as Arteta is showing in team setup – thats expected.
If getting into the Europa League loosens the choking feeling around Arsenal’s neck then they have set the bar high given the circumstances, but can’t falter and push the goal posts back when Arteta achieves it.
4 more matches, 4 results needed. Keep looking out for the footballing side of the business Arteta.