Mikel Arteta tasked with stopping the rot and restoring Arsenal’s shine after making history for the wrong reason

The former Gunner has already said he sees plenty of promise in the honest endeavours of the club’s younger players

Richard Jolly
Monday 23 December 2019 08:06
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Mikel Arteta ready to be a 'ruthless' Arsenal manager

Mikel Arteta was one year old the last time Arsenal spent Christmas in the wrong half of the table. As he takes control, these are historic times for a club that has lost its eminence, its way and its sense of self. On and off the pitch, there is the hope Arsenal’s new manager can reverse a recent decline and restore the values that made them the object of admiration, not mockery.

The Spaniard spoke to his new charges after the 0-0 draw at Everton. Calum Chambers, who now finds himself playing for a former team-mate, said: “We just need to get our identity back. I know he wants to do that. It will take time but I know he can get that out of us.”

Getting out was a theme. The distinctly 21st-century chorus from a corner of Goodison Park was: “Arsenal Fan TV, get out of our club.” Perhaps the silent majority eschewed silence to object to the hysterical minority, but if Arsenal’s identity has been warped by the ludicrous element of the support, it has also been distorted by away defeats, an inability to keep clean sheets, a lack of organisation and reliability, a reluctance to track back and of supposed star players with too little commitment to the team ethic.

Freddie Ljungberg was an Invincible as a player. Arsenal have been all too beatable in his time as assistant and caretaker manager, and the Swede saw no need to appease those he felt had let him down in his valedictory outing at the helm. The 3-0 defeat to Manchester City persuaded him to axe Arsenal’s best-paid and costliest players, Mesut Ozil and Nicolas Pepe.

“I was not happy against Man City and I felt we were not putting any effort in,” he said. “I made it clear with my thoughts and I made it clear with my selection.” It cut to the heart of Arsenal’s issues. They have no modern-day Arteta, the selfless senior professional who gave a teenaged Chambers advice on positional play. Now too many of the defenders cannot defend, too many of the experienced figures offer the wrong kind of leadership, too many of the bigger names rarely even contemplate replicating the efforts of their Manchester City counterparts who Arteta coached and the decision-makers have empowered them by committing too much of the resources to the attack in forging an imbalanced squad.

If Ljungberg’s conclusion was that the dressing room is rotten, Arteta saw much he liked in the honest endeavours of younger players in an admittedly dreadful draw. Chambers said the Spaniard was complimentary.

“The message before the game was be brave, take responsibility and work hard for each other,” the defender said. “We did that on the pitch. He said afterwards it’s a good start and there’s things to work on. He was proud of the way we worked.” Whether that work is anathema to Ozil and Pepe, to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, whether the cartoonish buffoonery of David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos really qualifies as taking responsibility, whether Arsenal have an experienced core to build around or whether Arteta needs a clear-out that could bring short-term pain in the quest for long-term gain: the newcomer’s choices will be instructive.

If a reboot is required to re-establish the old Arsenal, a man with an innate understanding of Saturday’s opponents feels no need to give Carlo Ancelotti a crash course in all things Everton. “I’m not going to tell him, am I?” said Duncan Ferguson, the other caretaker returning to the ranks.

“He’s got his own way of doing things. That’s why he’s here and why he’s done so much. I’m here to learn from him. He’s going to be my teacher. What he will get is a loyal fella who wants to learn as much he possibly can. The manager will have his own style of play. One of the biggest names in football ever is at our football club. It’s an incredible statement, fantastic, and it just shows you how ambitious we are. We all dream, don’t we?” Everton do. Perhaps Arsenal now do, too.

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