Arteta took his place and readied himself to do yet another press conference. An aspect that has been routinely built into his schedule due to the compact timing of Project Restart’s schedule. The demanding grind of playing games every 3 days and having 10 games in a month only surpassed by the stress of three major games in the span of 6 days. But today’s press conference would be better than the last.
At the weekend Arsenal lost in a frustrating game to not only bitter rivals Tottenham, but to a modern-day arch nemesis – Jose Mourinho. Not only did they lose, they lost in a manner that exemplifies the Jose Mourinho script down to the very minute. Let Arsenal have the ball, concede few good looks, pressure early, sit in late, sucker punch very late. A rotten way to start the week.
At the midweek mark, Arsenal went again. This time against Premier League champions Liverpool, in a match that many fans will have felt grim about at the onset. In the end, in a more laughable manner, Arsenal managed to get all 3 points while being dominated start to finish. In the post-match interview, Arteta used his spotlight to make what appeared to be a direct call to Arsenal’s board and executives to invest in the offseason to close the gap on top tier competitors like the one everyone watched outshoot Arsenal 24-3 that evening. To literally put their money where their mouth is and help the footballing side of the club compete at the level they claim to desire.
The statement was noted by many and yet again saw Arteta win points with an Arsenal fanbase that is desperate to see their beloved club compete in the Champions League and make runs at silverware with a competitive squad.
However, in Arteta’s press conference on Friday, when the moment arose to confirm his intent, to continue his campaign for financial support – he altered paths. Asked directly if that message was meant for the owners, he denied it and stated it had been “misinterpreted”.
“No, that was misinterpreted. It wasn’t my intention. We work so closely with everyone at the club, with the owners to put the plan that we need to take the club forward. Everybody has the same ambition, we are in all of this together.”
“It’s not about sending a message, we all have the same objective which is to try to bring the club back as quickly as possible, fighting with the top teams in the country and in Europe and that’s it, and I want to do that as quickly as possible.”
It is a bit of a mixed message. Yes, it is possible that people misinterpreted the response. Yes, there is a chance the intent was not to galvanize owners to pay attention and respond accordingly. But why not? To add to the confusion, Mikel stated, “But if you ask me if I know right now what do I have and how can I do it, I’m sorry but I don’t know because there are a lot of questions that we cannot resolve right now with the situation we have. One is financially and the other one is because we do not know if we are in Europe, and because we have players that we don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s the reality”
On the surface, this statement absolutely makes sense. Without the exact knowledge of financial losses due to Covid, without the knowledge of where Arsenal will finish or if they will manage the qualify for the Europa League, it is impossible to some degree to fully understand the task at hand. But part of Mikel’s message was that it shouldn’t matter the size of the task, it has to be done. In some way, to some extent, now is the time.
Whether it is investing money and there is a level of ease added to enticing players because Arsenal are back in the Europa League or whether it will be more money out of Arsenal’s pocket with the challenge of no European play – it needs to be done. Sitting on hands and waiting won’t get Arsenal anywhere.
So why back down? Why state the message was misinterpreted?
I am not so naive to not understand there could elements of not wanting to publicly state he is challenging his bosses and challenging the owners. That Mikel has to maintain a level of discretion and respect for those in the organization. But there feels like better ways to maintain that without denying the intent to motivate.
It makes me wonder if denying it damages the progress he had been making. If denying his intent sullies the efforts just as the movement was beginning.
Later in the interview, when asked about the changes to assurances he was likely given upon taking the job, Mikel launched into the needs of the squad and his role in aiding those needs. “We want to move this forward and I am very ambitious because I can only think about this football club moving in one direction and I am going to push with everything I have. My job is to do that, first of all with the players that we have. It’s not just about the players, if we can improve with a staff member, with somebody who is going to give us an extra yard on something, I will push to do that.”
“The first thing is to improve the players that we have, and I think we have done that so far, and we can go to the next level, of course we can. But in the meantime, as well we need sometimes some specificity to move the club quicker into those positions.”
There are certainly some hints at the needs he has, but when the headlining statement of these answers is that we, the people, have misinterpreted their intents, that we have misunderstood the message, that it wasn’t for Arsenal’s owners and it wasn’t to light a fire under them to create action, it feels as though we have gone one step forward, one step back.
Mikel is clearly one of the few people at the club with power, whose entire job is to focus on the footballing side of the club, less the business side. It was fantastic to hear him state the need for better players, but worrisome to deny it was a message to the others to help make it happen. Something that has left me wondering if he will be ready to push on people if denied the funds he needs.
We will have to wait and see.