Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal side have begun to show what they are capable of in the Premier League under his stewardship, currently sitting fourth with the cards in their hands for a Champions League place next season. Add to those results some impressive performances along the way as well as young, up-and-coming talent showing their ability and it makes for the perfect storm.
The likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Martin Odegaard and Takehiro Tomiyasu joined last summer and have added to the impact felt by Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe improving week on week. It leaves the Gunners three points ahead of north London rivals Tottenham in fifth with a game in hand over them, with a clear advantage, though they do still have to face one another this season.
However, despite their position, Arteta has remained coy when discussing the chances of finishing in the top four. Following the Watford game in early March, he said: “I don’t like to look at the table a lot because we have games in hand, we’re going to play different fixtures and I know the objective and it’s only one, to try and improve tomorrow on what we’ve done today and go into the next match and that’s it. I cannot control results and I cannot predict which matches we are going to win, draw or lose, it’s impossible. If I start to do that I think we’re going to lose focus in what we want to do.”
Given the way the side are playing, it comes as little surprise that they are being tipped for a top four finish though. However, looking at quotes from 2014, the vision Arteta has had of his style of play hasn’t changed and shows his planning and thinking ahead as much as eight-years ago when he was still playing.
When asked by the official club website in 2014 as to whether he was manager material, the Spaniard said: “My team-mates are always going ‘What are you going to do Miki? You’re going to be a manager, you should be a manager!’ I know what the job means and I know how hard it is, especially when I look at the boss and see how many hours he puts in here.
“You need to sacrifice your family all over again, which I’ve done since I was 15. But I would love to manage a squad of players and staff – I’ve got it inside me, it’s true, and I want to do it. First of all I want to make the most of my playing career, because I’m 32 and in this game you never know whether you’ll end up carrying on until 34, 35 or 36. After that, I’m certainly going to stay involved in football because I think I’ve got something to add. I would like to prove myself, and prove my ideas about managing and encouraging people to do things in the way I believe is best.”
While his teammates may have seen that raw managerial ability from the midfielder, he learnt a lot as an understudy to Pep Guardiola as the assistant manager at Manchester City. After some time working at the Etihad, he made the move back to the Emirates Stadium after Unai Emery was dismissed. It’s been a battle for the Spaniard, who came under fire for his team missing out on European football last season, but has since rebuilt the squad in his image. The side are now playing the way he wants to, for the most part, and it’s something that he has also outlined in the past: “My philosophy will be clear. I will have everyone 120 per cent committed, that’s the first thing.
“If not, you don’t play for me. When it’s time to work it’s time to work, and when it’s time to have fun then I’m the first one to do it, but that commitment is vital. Then I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition. We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative, and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us. I’m 100 percent convinced of those things, and I think I could do it.”
That may explain why the likes of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were shipped out on loan and why William Saliba has struggled to secure a first team place.
While there’s very clear evidence that these ideas from eight-years ago are starting to filter into the club, it remains to be seen just how successful his philosophy will be. However, for now, it’s providing a blueprint of how the side will play and act, bringing successful results so far.