After his record 22-year spell as Arsenal manager, it was never going to be an easy task to replace Arsène Wenger. Three Premier League triumphs, including the unforgettable ‘invincibles’ season of 2003/04, seven FA cup victories and seven Community Shield wins ensures that his legacy will live long in Arsenal folklore.
Unai Emery was first in line to take over the reins, however this proved a difficult task, and with such high expectations placed upon him, the decision was taken for him to be released after a challenging 18 months in charge.
With a variety of managers in the running to replace Emery, there was a desire to reignite the passion into the club. Similar to Chelsea appointing Frank Lampard, the feeling around the club was to appoint someone who was also an admirer of Arsenal, someone who would go above and beyond to develop the club and demonstrate their enthusiasm for achieving success.
The appointment of Mikel Arteta in December 2019 was received very well by the fans. As an Arsenal supporter myself, this was the first time in many years when I felt genuinely excited again to watch my team play. Of course, there are different levels to fandom, and I would assume that many fans have always felt excitement watching them play. However, I believe that this moment was special for us all, no matter how serious or casual the support.
Although important, the results were not of critical value when Arteta took over. Yes, there was an expectation given his success as assistant coach at Manchester City, but this was a new era for Arsenal where the foundations had to be laid once again. The club had become somewhat unsettled, with club captain Granit Xhaka confronting the fans, Mesut Özil rumoured to be on his way out, and the atmosphere around the club was becoming distasteful.
Arteta’s first match as Arsenal manager resulted in a 1-1 draw with AFC Bournemouth. This was not the perfect start to his managerial career; however, he took pride in his teams’ performance, which the supporters warmed to in many ways. It showed his passion and confidence in the players, his strong mentality, and his ability to overlook the score line and take the positives. It was clear that he had a plan, and it was not going to come to fruition overnight. This excited me, and I believe it excited many others involved in the club.
Time is essential for a manager to prove themselves, therefore it is difficult to critique his statistics after 18 games in charge. A 50%-win ratio is nothing to be disappointed about at this stage of the season, however we do hope that this improves instead of stagnating in the coming years.
Liverpool’s first season under Jürgen Klopp in 2015/16 was not the success story which many may assume given their current position. Finishing 8th place whilst achieving no European cup positions was unsatisfactory, however he had high ambitions for the club which he managed to instill into the players, the directors and the fans. Mikel Arteta is currently in the process of building from the foundations and attempting to inspire everyone involved in the club to come together. His four-year deal highlights this desire.
The rise of Liverpool in recent years has been impressive, reaching the Champions League final in the previous two campaigns, beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 last season to seal their sixth victory in the clubs’ history. This could be the team to look up to from Mikel Arteta’s perspective, given both clubs success at the start of the century, followed by fluctuating periods from 2009/2010 onwards.
One aspect of Mikel Arteta’s managerial stance is that he does not shy away from allowing new, young talents to express themselves on the pitch. Giving youngsters an opportunity is something which every fan enjoys watching. A great debut and there are whispers of: “could he be the next Thierry Henry?”; “he reminds me of Patrick Vieira”; “I’ve not seen a better display at left back since prime Ashley Cole”. As a fan, there are few moments more exciting than unveiling a young superstar which grabs the attention of every team in the league.
Since his arrival, Mikel Arteta has allowed Bukayo Saka (18), Gabriel Martinelli (18), Reiss Nelson (20), Eddie Nketiah (20), Joe Willock (20) and Matteo Guendouzi (21) to become household names in the Premier League.
The two 18-year-old stars deserve special mentions considering how vital they have become in reducing the pressure on Mikel Arteta. With his guidance, Bukayo Saka has recorded the most assists for Arsenal in all competitions this season (10), whilst Gabriel Martinelli has become the first teenager to score 10 goals for the club in a season since Nicolas Anelka in 1998/99. With youngsters performing well, I have enjoyed watching the team play whilst remaining positive when the results have not followed the script.
It is clear that Mikel Arteta is preparing for the future, especially with some senior players rumoured to move away from the Emirates in the coming seasons. I, for one, am optimistic about what lies ahead in Mikel Arteta’s reign as Arsenal manager. It is becoming a common theme as an Arsenal fan to be very optimistic one moment, followed by despair and frustration the next, however with Mikel Arteta in charge, it feels like something is destined to change for the better.
It is very easy to criticise managers, from non-league to the Premier League, as expectations for every manager to achieve success are unrealistic. I am not expecting Arsenal to win the league next season, but I have enjoyed seeing Mikel Arteta fit into his new role, and who knows, Arsenal may return to be a European giant in the coming years.
This article has been written exclusively for golear.co.uk