Yesterday marked two years since Mikel Arteta arrived at Arsenal for the second time. Too inexperienced was my opinion back then, certainly to get Arsenal back into the Champions League and definitely as far as winning the League title goes. To go up against Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola was always going to be a challenge too much for someone who’d never managed a football club in his life. Throw in Thomas Tuchel and more recently, Antonio Conte – that’s four extremely experienced managers with a lot of silverware behind them.
Arsenal needed a squad overhaul but after the early wheeling and dealings which went on with players old and new, I didn’t think either he or Edu really knew what they were doing. Didn’t stop Arteta from leading us to Wembley twice though and both times we took away a trophy in the May of 2020. That summer, we signed Thomas Partey and Gabriel Magalhães. We also snapped up Willian for free and made deals for Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares permanent. Not all turned out great I know but that’s football sometimes.
If the job was already tough for a novice, it became even tougher when Covid 19 arrived. He was one of the first in the game to contract the virus and soon after, football, like so many other things, stopped. Even when it resumed, it wasn’t easy because Arsenal’s 12th man was missing. A blessing in disguise in hindsight. The fact that Arsenal missed out on a European spot in May might also turn out to be a blessing in disguise, but only time will tell.
Then the overhaul kicked in. Out went the likes of Ozil, Willian after just one season, Luiz, Bellerin, Guendouzi, Torreira, Willock, Mustafi, Sokratis, Martinez, Saliba and a number of younger players too. Despite four of the exits being loans, I can see only one coming back and that’s Saliba. In though came Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard, Sambi Lokonga and Nuno Tavares.. All of whom have made a difference to the team. For a few, that difference has been huge.
I still have moments when I think the Arsenal job is too big for Mikel Arteta, especially when the team has limped its way through a defeat but there are times when I feel differently and start to believe we’re going places. Inconsistency does that I guess. There are things he does which I’ll never understand, like leaving certain bad performing players in the team for as long as he does, and the timing/choices of his substitutions. Not being more pragmatic against teams we know are better than us is another.
Yet here we are, sat in 4th place on the table and if last season is anything to go by, the best of Arsenal will arrive after Christmas. It needs to if we’re to keep hold of a European qualifying spot. Plus, there are two domestic cups to try and win so there’s hell of a lot for this group of Arsenal players to fight for.
Tonight the fight for one of the domestic cups continues with a quarter-final fixture against League One club Sunderland. Division three in old money. Both Pablo Mari and midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga are ruled out after testing positive for Covid. Sunderland too have an unnamed player for the same reason.
I know zilch about Sunderland other than they used to be a Premier League club many years ago, their manager is a chap called Lee Johnson and they’re 3rd in their League, hoping to earn a return to the Championship. Johnson’s footballing philosophy is “a high press – an attack with intent and with pace, power and passion running through the team”. I read that on a Sunderland forum – SBNation. Interestingly, as I read on, it became apparent that Sunderland are similar to Arsenal in a way. Give them time on the ball and their game is good but press them, get at them and don’t give them time on the ball, then their game suffers.
I’d like to think that whatever team Mikel Arteta puts out tonight will have too much quality for Sunderland to deal with but if anyone walks onto the pitch thinking they’re in for an easy night, they are going to be in trouble.
See you in the comments.