Arsenal are benefiting from the patience shown by the club’s hierarchy as Mikel Arteta’s team seek a Champions League return, according to former striker Alan Smith.
The Gunners face Watford tomorrow afternoon with a chance to strengthen their Champions League hopes.
And Smith believes the decision not to bow to fan pressure when the season began with three straight defeats is paying dividends because there are clear signs that the head coach is learning from early mistakes.
“Somebody else, another owner, might have lost patience with the way things were,” Smith said. “A lot of fans weren’t happy. They’ve invested in a very talented coach. The hope was he’d become a very talented manager.
“There is a world of difference obviously between a coach and a manager. The buck stops with you when the top guy. I’m really pleased they stuck with him. It looks like it will be rewarded now. I hope it will be in a few years.”
For Smith the key to being an elite manager as opposed to coach lies in how to treat players and fostering a strong spirit in the changing room.
But the manner in which Arteta ruthlessly decided to sever ties with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, who is now scoring regularly at Barcelona, shows that he is not to be messed with.
Smith said: “It’s my way or the highway. He’s been very decisive in his decision-making. He’s still getting criticised for the Aubameyang one but he’d have expected that, especially with Aubameyang scoring for Barcelona. But you stick by those decisions and he’s taken a chance by leaving himself a little short of strikers.
“We don’t know what went on behind the scenes. Obviously there were one or two time-keeping issues but it was enough for him to say ‘thanks a lot, we’ll let you go’. He’s made the decision, you’ve got to respect that. The buck stops with him. It could all turn pear-shaped but hopefully it won’t.”
Sealing a first Champions League appearance since 2016-17 is in Arsenal’s own hands but with Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur pushing and even West Ham clinging on to some hope there is little room for error.
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If they were to fall short, Smith believes there would still be reason to consider the campaign a success after consecutive eighth-place finishes.
“There will always be doubters but if Manchester United finish fourth, look at the money they spent,” he added. “It’d be hard to have a go at Arsenal if they were to finish fifth or sixth bearing in mind they finished eighth in the past two seasons. It will be an improvement on that.
“Irrespective of the league finish things are looking better. It’s been a big improvement. Of course you’ll always get some doubters but in the main the Arsenal fans can see what he’s trying to do and they can see the squad is getting better.”