In the two years and eight months since Mikel Arteta took the reins at Arsenal, there cannot be many Premier League managers who have experienced the support of their club as strongly or as often as the former Gunners captain.
Arteta has been given the freedom to revamp his squad, with 18 players arriving and the same number leaving on permanent deals since replacing Unai Emery in the dugout. According to Transfermarkt, only Chelsea has a higher net spend on players than Arsenal since the summer of 2020.
Two of those who left the club were Mesut Özil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, former fan favorites on huge contracts who Arteta not only dropped from the squad but then allowed to leave without a transfer fee, such was his willingness to move them on.
Arteta has also been backed when questions have been raised about his management of the team and his lack of managerial experience, particularly as Arsenal started the season with three defeats, no goals scored and nine conceded in the first three games of the 2021/22 campaign. .
But despite the esteem Arteta clearly holds in north London, there is one case where he was seemingly powerless.
“I had no choice!” Arteta claims when asked in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports whether he had any reservations about the recently released documentary charting the club’s 2021/22 season.
The cameras reveal the manager’s thoughts, tactics and team conversations with fans and rivals alike, but he said: “If we’re going to do it, we wanted to do it in a natural way that reflected who we are.”
Establishing – or perhaps re-establishing – Arsenal’s identity has been at the heart of Arteta’s thinking ever since he took up the job in December 2019. The club was still adjusting to life after Arsene Wenger, whose final seasons saw a schism develop between those who continued to support the legendary manager and those who believed he was holding the club back.
Wenger’s successor Emery lasted just 16 months, while his departure came just weeks after Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy for clashing with his own supporters during a game against Crystal Palace at the Emirates Stadium.
Throw in the fact that a number of supporters had issues with the Kroenke family – the club’s owners – and it’s fair to say that the relationship between Arsenal and their fans was damaged.
Healing the relationship with the supporters has been crucial for Arteta, who explained: “Everything we have done in the last two years is to fix that and build a completely different relationship with them. They are the soul of this football club and they have to be at the front of the decision-making process in everything we do.
“The fulfillment and how you feel when you play in front of your fans and you feel that energy – it makes everything click and makes people happy, I think.”
The hard work is paying off for Arteta, with a combination of the refreshed relationship, Arsenal’s impressive start to the season – they have won their first two Premier League games after claiming victory in all five of their pre-season games – and five new signings help create an atmosphere that has not been experienced in the club for several seasons.
Asked if this is the most optimistic he has felt since taking charge, Arteta admitted: “Probably about the environment, yes.”
However, the manager is determined not to get too caught up in the optimism swirling around the Emirates and warned his side to maintain focus for the trip to Bournemouth on Saturday, live on Sky Sports.
“We don’t have to get carried away,” Arteta said. “We have played two games and we will have another difficult game tomorrow against Bournemouth.
“You know how tough this league is so there’s still everything to play for – we haven’t done anything and we have to be very conscious of that.”
Arsenal’s perfect pre-season
- Nuremberg 3-5 Arsenal – Germany, 8 July
- Arsenal 2-0 Everton – United States, 17 July
- Orlando City 1-3 Arsenal – USA, 21 July
- Arsenal 4-0 Chelsea – United States, 24 July
- Arsenal 6-0 Sevilla – England, 30 July
Arteta was similarly wary of suggestions that Arsenal – whose only meeting with another Big Six team before October comes away to Manchester United on September 4 – live on Sky Sports – has been given an opportunity by the fixture to generate some momentum at the start of the season.
“When you see the fixtures and the results in the first two games of the season and you had to bet, I’m sure you would lose a lot of money!” he said. “It’s not like that in the Premier League, unfortunately.
“All we have to do is play and perform as well as we can to earn the right to win. It doesn’t matter who we play against.”
Arteta will be hoping to avoid one of those unpredictable results when his side take on newly promoted Bournemouth. But while Arsenal have seen off Crystal Palace and Leicester so far this season, the Gunners remarkably have not won three games in a row to start a Premier League season since the 2004/05 campaign.
“These are statistics and they are there for a reason,” Arteta said. – Our aim is of course to go there and win, and we know that they are not going to make it easy for us.
“It’s a team that’s started the season pretty well – they had a really good win against [Aston] Villa and they have performed consistently for over a year. It’s going to be tough.”
One of Arsenal’s key weapons at the Vitality Stadium is likely to be new signing Gabriel Jesus, who produced two goals and two assists in a remarkable performance on his home debut in the 4-2 win over Leicester last weekend.
There’s no doubting Jesus’ quality on the pitch – he also registered the most league assists for Manchester City last season despite not being a regular starter – but it’s also his qualities off the pitch that attracted Arteta to the Brazilian striker.
“That’s one of the biggest reasons why we wanted to sign him,” revealed Arteta, who worked with Jesus at the Etihad Stadium during his time as Pep Guardiola’s assistant.
“Of course we know what he is like as a player and what he would bring. He has won everything in the last few years, he knows the standards, what it takes to win.
“Obviously we had to change his role and what he had to do at this football club and now he is one of the leaders. He is a natural leader but he is also someone who is prepared and I think is at a stage in his career where he is able to do what we require him to do.”
Arsenal’s busy summer
- Marquinhos – Sao Paulo, £3 million
- Fabio Vieira – Postage, £34 million
- Matt Turner – New England Revolution, £7.5 million
- Gabriel Jesus – Manchester City, £45 million
- Oleksandr Zinchenko – Manchester City, £32 million
Jesus has gone from a Man City team with experienced title winners to the youngest dressing room in the Premier League. However, Arteta says the opportunity to establish himself not just as a regular starter but as a leader was key to Jesus’ decision to move to north London.
“That’s what he needed,” Arteta said. “Obviously he’s played a lot of games in this league over the last few years, but not that many starts, especially the last two years.
“He really wants to feel like the player who can make the difference for the team and that’s the next stage.”
No one embodies Arsenal’s youthful approach under Arteta more than Martin Odegaard, the 23-year-old Norwegian playmaker who was named the Gunners’ captain this summer after just 18 months at the club.
While Arteta was reluctant to compare Odegaard to Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, his predecessors as Arsenal captain, the manager was effusive in his praise for the former Real Madrid prodigy.
“Everything he has done in the last 18 months since he joined us,” Arteta said as he explained why Odegaard got the armband.
“The way other people look at him, the way they respect him, the way they admire him, the values he has as a person and how he represents those values through the club.
“He’s an exceptional footballer who wants to play the way we want to play and he’s so hungry to make this club successful. That’s why.”
Odegaard’s hunger to bring the good times back to Arsenal is matched by the manager’s. Arteta led the team to FA Cup glory at the end of his first season, but further silverware – as well as a long-awaited return to the Champions League – has been out of reach.
It is easy to believe that a top four finish towards the end of the season will be enough to satisfy Arteta. But while that would certainly represent continued progress under his leadership, the manager has set his sights even higher.
“This club is built on – and history will tell you – you have to be the best,” he insisted. “That’s the goal we have every day.
“You have to win trophies and you have to play your best every day to make the people who support you proud – that’s the goal.”