It was late on a Sunday evening in Manchester. The rain had started to pour down toward the end of the game, but little could dampen the elated mood of Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
He had ended his goal scoring drought from the penalty spot, delivered the game winning goal, and sent Arsenal and Arteta home from Old Trafford with 3 points for the first time in 14 years.
After the match, he spoke to the media and delivered his post-match thoughts, echoing a sentiment that has become routine from players and coaches alike that interact with Mikel.
“We knew since the beginning that we had to trust the process. Mikel is bringing something very nice and everyone wants to follow him.”
Fast forward just 17 days and the mood in the room may feel a bit stodgier. Arsenal went into the international break after their worst performance under Arteta, their statistical output in the attack sees them in the lower-third in nearly every category, fans are left to wallows for two weeks, and some even question Mikel’s appointment. Yet, the belief in Mikel from Arsenal’s senior players continues, as Willian adds his name to the list of those who sing high praises for the young, learning manager.
“He’ll be a top manager, I’ve no doubt about it, The potential is there, as is the ambition. In a few years he’ll be considered one of the best managers in the Premier League – and the world.”
“Obviously you must win trophies to be considered one of the best, and it will happen for him sooner rather than later.”
Trophies are one aspect that have not evaded Arteta. With an FA Cup to his name, followed by a Community Shield, Arteta’s life as the man in charge has been fruitful. But the concerns from fans lie within the fear of another false dawn. A second coming of Unai. Another manager that rampages through matches to begin their tenure, but lack the ability to adjust and alter in response to opposition figuring out their tactics.
That’s sports. It constantly moves, adjusts, and mutates. The best managers stay ahead of to get results. “I’m impressed with the way he talks and explains his tactical thoughts,” said, Willian. “He’s quick to read the game and make adjustments when needed. It’s been fantastic to train under him so far and I’m learning a lot.”
It’s possible a person can chalk that up as simply ‘words’ from a player showing support for the manager and club they selected…and one that offered him a 3-year deal they may come to regret, but he didn’t need to go as far as, “will be one of the best in the the Premier League – and the world” if he didn’t want to.
It’s high praises, and yet the most important part of the quote may be “In a few years…” which is exactly what Arsenal signed up for and believed in when they hired him, right? The club would undertake two projects, having them meet in the middle, and produce a simultaneous result.
When the Unai Emery program was deemed a failure and Arteta was hired, Arsenal fans were relatively in agreement that “the Arsenal project” was far from an overnight fix, and that the historical influences and experiences of Arteta suggested he could be a prospective great.
The issue we are seeing now is that the inherent nature of the modern football fan is one that is reactionary and has a short-term memory and view. Combine that with the success of winning two trophies early in his tenure, with this team, then suggested Arsenal maybe weren’t as far from the mark as they initially believed. Suddenly, it was back to top-4 or bust mindset for many.
I’ll grant a person some forgiveness for the fact that the club itself has not helped the cause by making some questionable, short-term decisions that I truly believe suggest they have learned little from their recent mistakes, and sends the message that Arsenal are committing to competing this year, but the fact is, that remains unlikely. Arsenal are 1 season into their 2-3 year overhaul, and while fans may not get a specific timeline laid out for them, Arteta’s answer this week in response to the Aston Villa loss tells a story.
“We’re a long way, I’m afraid,” he said. “It’s part of a process. The results have to be immediate, and the challenge we have with the club we are representing is that we have to win as quickly as possible every game in every competition.”
“There are a lot of things to do, short term and medium term, we have seen a lot of changes not only on the pitch but structurally as a club as well, it’s been difficult, it’s been a challenging time in the last three or four months, a lot of things have happened.
“We have to settle and everyone has to realise where we are now, but I see the future as really bright.”Mikel Arteta, ‘I learn more when things don’t go so well’, arsenal.com
There are two aspects of this response that are interesting. One that fans will like, the other not so much. “The results have to be immediate, and the challenge we have with the club we are representing is that we have to win as quickly as possible every game in every competition.” It’s fair to say this there is an element of truth to this when you are part of any major club that expects results.
It’s what is leading to much of the heat Arteta is facing. Not only results on the scoreboard, but results in the stat sheet that show a team succeeding at what they are working toward.
By far the more daunting aspect is the admission of just how far Arsenal have to go in the eyes of a man that sees the team every day. There’s short term and medium term changes that need to be made, but we are a long way away. Message sent. Loud and clear.
It’s something that really shouldn’t come as a shock. We almost all admitted this was the case 11 months ago! It’s a call to realign ourselves, acknowledge it’s a work in progress, adjust our end goals, and brace ourselves for a few more bumpy weeks like these.
This doesn’t mean Arteta can’t be criticized and that we have to “back the manager” blindly. You can voice concerns and criticisms, and you can point out solutions you’d like to see. It’s the reasons we are fans. I find suggesting otherwise silly.
I was sick of the phrase “trust the process” long before it ever was attached to Arsenal, and I’m not even sure it’s the right phrase. If there was a phrase I would use, it would be, “acknowledge the projects”. That’s what this is, that’s what we are in the midst of, and we have players lining up behind Mikel with their own belief that the Arteta-project will be more than worth the wait.
There are week-to-week aspects we can judge and assess. There are simple solutions that are worth exploring. But this still remains a project that will take time. It’s not what football fans want to hear, but I believe this more than clearly lays it out.
We are a long way away, but “Mikel is bringing something very nice and everyone wants to follow him.”