Arsenal boss on transforming Gunners

LONDON – Arsenal may have surpassed all expectations to top the Premier League in mid-March, but manager Mikel Arteta is just getting started.

When Arteta, 40, laid out his blueprint for restoring the Gunners’ supremacy in discussions with the Kroenke family following his appointment in December 2019, his plan consisted of five distinct phases. By this time Arsenal were out of the Champions League, 10th in the table and swallowed up in the shadow of their earlier successes. Arteta’s predecessor, Unai Emery, had proved unable to pull her back into the light.

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Monday night’s London Football Awards were a reflection of how far they’ve come. Arteta was named Manager of the Year, Martin Odegaard Premier League Player of the Year, Bukayo Saka Young Player of the Year and Aaron Ramsdale Goalkeeper of the Year; It is the first time in the history of the awards that a club has won all four categories in the same year.

It would therefore be tempting to assume that Arteta’s five-point plan is close to being realised. But when he sits down backstage at London’s Roundhouse to speak under his tutelage about Arsenal’s journey, the response is different.

What phase are we in right now? “Phase 3,” he tells ESPN. “Phase 3 is a period of time and we are a little ahead of schedule.”

Just a little bit.” Arsenal sit five points clear at the top of the Premier League and are aiming to reach the Europa League quarter-finals against Sporting CP on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium, a draw that comes after drawing 2-2 in the first leg in the slightly in their favor last week.

Arteta is notoriously protective of the club’s inner workings but it seemed worth trying to ask a little about the stages of his plan that have already passed, the reasons why he has sat with one of the first major accolades of his fledgling managerial career.

“It’s something a little bit private,” he continues. “It’s just my understanding and vision of what the club was and what we need to capture and develop.

“I like to do it when I look forward first and then you have to do it backwards. It’s just my idea of ​​the club and the decisions we have to make to move it forward. Obviously you need a team that’s all together thinks the same way and in the same direction and we’re lucky to have that at the club.”

Some of the elements of these first two phases are public knowledge. A dramatic overhaul took place at several levels of the club, most evident for the players as no fewer than seven players, including big names like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Özil, had their contracts torn up amid Arteta’s concerns about divisions within the group. The recruitment strategy has been streamlined as many of the club’s foreign scouts moved, while clearer pathways were laid down by Arsenal’s Hale End academy to maximize internal development.

Arteta, a player and captain at Arsenal between 2011 and 2016, was trying to forge a new spirit steeped in the club’s values, trying to bring people closer together at a time when COVID-19 demanded that we all stay separate. Arsenal won the 2020 FA Cup final which proved valuable proof of a young manager’s methods, but by the end of the year the Gunners were languishing in midfield, the football was flawed and Arteta was under pressure.

Perhaps he would not have kept up the job without the FA Cup success. “I don’t know,” says Arteta. “Looking back, a lot has obviously happened. Starting your managerial career with no experience at any level and immediately facing that success and then having two years of COVID with all the challenges we have internally at the club and externally at the club, I’m probably lucky to be sitting here today and looking back at how it could have turned out.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the journey and life, living every single day as if it were your last and I think you have to embrace this job especially because there are lessons and challenges every day.

“But there are also great opportunities. I like to think outside the box and learn from that straight away and just try to be the best possible manager for Arsenal and what Arsenal need from me today to make them better. In a month, it will be different and in two years they might need something different, but it’s about today.”

Arteta is deeply rooted in Arsenal’s history. Arsene Wenger was a long-time supporter of Willow, the charity behind the London Football Awards, through a long-standing friendship with co-founders Bob Wilson and his wife Megs. A former doubles winner with Arsenal in the 1970s, Wilson was the club’s goalkeeping coach and remains closely associated with Wenger. Arteta has sought to build on that relationship with the club this week by inviting Bob and Megs to their London Colney training base to further strengthen Arsenal’s relationship with Willow, which marks unique special days for terminally ill young adults aged 16 up to 40 years. It’s another aspect of that sense of community that Arteta was keen to build. None of this would have been possible, however, if the owners hadn’t kept their nerve.

Arteta was under significant pressure but the emergence of Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, among others, began to create a new identity, while successive transfer windows focused on younger players – including Odegaard, Ramsdale and Ben White – helped ensure a rapid transformation to accelerate. Kroenke Sports Enterprises has faced heavy criticism since Stan Kroenke took a majority stake in 2011. Some fans will never befriend their American owners, many of whom feel that finances take precedence over football. Arsenal’s status as league leaders makes it easy to forget that less than two years have passed since widespread protests took place at the Emirates Stadium, initially sparked by a backlash against the club’s inclusion in the failed European Super League project. In reality, it only fueled long-standing grudges. But with Arteta so firmly backed and around £270m spent on transfers over the past two years, is it time the owners eased up a bit?

“It has taken some time to position themselves where they wanted in terms of how much of the club they own and how much they could decide and how much they could really benefit the club in the way they do it in the right way hold. ‘ says Arteta. “I think they have been very patient in just the right way. Now they have shown that they are fully committed, have big ambitions and are fully behind the club to give everything to make it successful. “

“I am convinced that the owners will continue to do everything they can to make us very successful and continue to invest properly in the club.”

Arteta believes the support will continue this summer. Arsenal finally signed Leandro Trossard and Jorginho in January, two smart acquisitions but alternatives to higher-priced targets they missed. Mykhailo Mudryk joined Chelsea for £88.5m from Shakhtar Donetsk while Brighton kept Moises Caicedo despite Arsenal’s £70m offer. Arteta insists the club remains ready to compete at the higher end of the transfer market.

“If it’s necessary for the right player profile and we can afford it, it will make sense,” he says. “But only if it’s the right profile and price and we can afford it without harming ourselves. It’s a really, really fine line and I think we have to be very disciplined.”

But before that, there’s the small matter of winning a Premier League title race. Arteta’s innovative team talks were a feature of Arsenal’s recent Amazon documentary, All or Nothing, and he continues to tap into the club’s lifeblood to keep its players on course. Following last Sunday’s 3-0 win at Fulham, a picture of Arsenal’s players emerged in the visitors’ dressing room with a replica clock symbolizing the final clock time, which originated at Arsenal’s old stadium, Highbury. The hands pointed to 11 and 2, which some interpreted as indicating there were 11 games left in the title race, but Arteta insisted those numbers didn’t mean anything.

“It was something I shared a few days ago about where we are as a team and club and what we need to stand for,” he said. “It was something private in the dressing room just before the game and something that is in the history of our club. We have to be really aware of that, and when we have that story and we use it properly, it’s a really powerful thing to have.

“The reality is that every game is so important, the margins are so slim and now we have to do something incredible by the end of the season to earn the right to be there.”

Winning the title would cement Arteta’s legacy. It would also give him a chance to build a similar dynasty to that of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, under whom he served as assistant before taking the job at Arsenal, and Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Is that something he wants to do?

“If I were in this position, it would mean that we’ve done a lot of great things,” says Arteta. “But I take it every day. It’s the only thing you can do if you’re a manager. There are so many decisions, so many things happening throughout the day that you need to focus on them. And don’t lose yourself too much. The overall picture is clear. I know what I would like to do and how I see the club going in certain months, but we have to influence today’s decisions in the best possible way to be where we want to be.”

Perhaps “building a dynasty” is phase five. Arsenal boss on transforming Gunners

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