Mikel Arteta is getting there when it comes to transforming a hotchpotch of a mess left by Unai Emery at Arsenal. But, whatever you do, don’t think the former Gunners midfielder is done yet. You only have to listen to the last couple of post-match interviews to know the Spaniard is merely at the beginning of his journey at the Emirates Stadium as head coach.
Reading between the lines, the message coming through loud and clear to your correspondent is that Arteta is getting the best he can from the tools he has at his disposal. How he is doing this seems to be two-fold; the first aspect he changed when he arrived in north London from his role as No.2 to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City was the work ethic. The second being tactical. The players seem to know their jobs; their roles are defined and they are flourishing in the systems insisted upon by the boss.
Under Emery players with flair were never asked to put in the hard miles; they weren’t told, ‘earn the right to play’. That has changed immeasurably — you only have to look at the distance covered by that most gifted of Gunners, Mesut Ozil, to see this for yourselves. As well as the finesse and penchant he displays in abundance, Ozil is fully prepared to set off on lung-busting runs deep into his own half to help his team-mates, as a collective, to retrieve possession. After all, without the ball, players such as this have no chance of showcasing just what they can do.
That stands for the other players in the group who are known more for their ability than industry. So, you will see Nic Pepe tracking back; you’ll see top goal scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang digging deep to put in his fair share of hard work. That ethic of graft first comes more naturally to defenders and defensive midfielders, of course, but they too are raising their game skill-wise thanks to the team’s desire to work for one another.
This digging deep was evident in the last 15 minutes or so of Sunday’s thrilling 3-2 win over a resurgent Everton at the Emirates Stadium in a Premier League clash. Arsenal, clearly weary from their exploits securing a 1-0 win (thanks to Alex Lacazette’s goal) in the first leg of their Europa League encounter at Olympiakos, had to call on every last drop from the tank as their energy levels ran dry — but they managed to hold on to the win and the precious three points. Many observers subsequently opined that this may not have been the case from a Gunners side under Emery.
The victory was earned from a double from Aubameyang, who put in a true captain’s performance, and a strike from Eddie Nketiah. Arsenal, thus far unbeaten in 2020, now go on to Thursday night and the home leg of their match-up with the Greeks in the Europa League. Arteta will refresh his side for the game, no doubt, but once more he will be asking the team to work hard first.