The great leap of Mikel Arteta, visible head of an “author” Arsenal | Sports

Up to three times the Arsenal board of directors debated the dismissal of Mikel Arteta. Signed by the north London club in December 2019, the Gipuzkoan coach crossed a long desert. For almost two and a half years, his work was agonizing. Two eighth and one fifth place in three successive seasons in the Premier pushed him to the brink of settlement after the board provided him with an investment in transfers of more than 300 million euros. The club, which until 2016 had never fallen below fourth place so far this century, did not accommodate the average. This summer, Arteta’s luck and strategy began to change. The causes are not known. The result, yes. Today Arsenal, after injecting another 150 million in new contracts, is not only the leader of the Premier. It is, along with Napoli, Manchester City and Bayern, the reference team in Europe for its dynamic and avant-garde game.

The most visible image of the revolt is not projected by the players, most of them young, but by the pale Arteta and his sudden metamorphoses: from hieraticism to histrionics, shouting slogans from the bench. “Today I see him very excited!” says Luis Fernández, the man who, being PSG coach, became Arteta’s first boss in professional football, when he signed him in 2000. “As a player he was a pivot very calm. He did everything with ease. Now I see him in the band with his passion, getting nervous from time to time, living the game. And I see his team play very well. I love it!”.

Mikel Arteta Amatriain (San Sebastián, 40 years old) was accompanying Pep Guardiola as an assistant at Manchester City when Arsenal called him to make his debut as head coach. He received an opulent and contrasting template. Özil, Pepé, Lacazette, Kolasinac, Aubameyang, Xhaka, Bellerín, Willian, David Luiz, Leno, Torreira, Mkhitaryan, Chambers, Mustafi and Papastathopoulos stood out. Almost all holders, would go through an implacable sieve. All, from a list that exceeded 30 footballers, were sold, loaned or fired, except Xhaka.

“He learned from Pep”

“Mikel saw things he didn’t like,” explains Luis Fernández. “Sometimes footballers reach a certain age and even though they have great potential, they don’t want to make the efforts they did in past years. They can no longer do those runs that the coach asks them to do when a ball is recovered, when they have to go looking for it, when they have to come back, when they have to repeat the exercises. It is not enough to make it a party. You have to do it every Sunday. And in training. Mikel has known how to put together a phenomenal work group”.

The cleanup was unprecedented. The club, owned by American businessman Stan Kroenke, supported the rookie coach through two years of irregular results and strange tactical approaches, generally very defensive, considering the coach’s resume. He played with five defenders and, without the ball, he withdrew like the most conservative teams. If they had to hit balls they hit them.

“He did other things because he found a team that wasn’t his,” explains Domènec Torrent, who before managing Flamengo and Galatasaray shared with Arteta the work of assisting Guardiola in the City coaching staff. “Maybe he had six power plants and didn’t need them, or three nines and he liked one who came to receive and went into space like Gabriel Jesus. He made the team out of it. Many believe that a team is made in five months. It is impossible! Players have contracts that you cannot terminate. If he didn’t like Aubameyang or Lacazette it was for a reason. This year he has his team: he has recovered Odegaard, Martinelli is a bomb, we see the best version of Saliba and Magalhaes, two central defenders who were almost unknown, he has changed the goalkeeper, and now it is Mikel’s team. I told him in a message: author team”.

“The first time we didn’t win anything with Pep was our first year at City,” recalls Torrent. “Because? We had six or seven players over 32 years of age. It was not Pep’s team. We ranked third. The second year we made 100 points, an absolute record. There was Mikel and there was me. It is what it is. It is very difficult for the coach to prevail in large teams. Mikel has said: ‘I don’t want all these, I want young people, that I am going to do them as players and they are going to follow me to the death with my ideas’. This has been a great credit to Mikel, but also to Arsenal. If they bet on Mikel after two years without winning anything, it is because they saw something in him, in training, in how the group led, in his personality ”.

“He was playing it this year”

The signings of Gabriel Jesus and Zinchenko, both from City last summer, injected Arsenal with unknown energy. They also activated the machinery of an order based on 4-3-3. “As a coach, he has traits that excite and drag young people away,” says Juanma Lillo, Arteta’s successor on the City bench. “He didn’t quite fit in with older players who weren’t as willing to do certain things. Although they did them, they didn’t do them with the heart with which these kids do them. Arsenal has put together a team that has been strengthened with the two youngest from City, who are Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesús, plus a man like Jorginho. Young, passionate, enthusiastic, heading towards a way of playing that invites daring and looking at the opponent’s goal. If you then win and win… That invites more!”

“Pep is a genius”, ditch Torrent, when they suggest that the model that has put Arsenal in orbit this season replicates the 4-3-3 that Guardiola has been fine-tuning for 15 years. “Mikel has learned from Pep because he already liked the style a lot. Ten years younger than Pep, with the desire that he has, he is a bomb. He is going to want to sign half of Europe but he is very intelligent: he knows that he would be better off nowhere than at Arsenal. There he is the absolute leader. Do you know how important it is that when they tell you: ‘you have to sign this one…’, you say ‘no’, and the owners accept it, or bring you the one you ask for? That can be done by four or five coaches in the world, no more”.

“Mikel has had time,” concludes Torrent. “Of course, if he finished eighth this year they would have thrown him out. He knew that he was playing it. He has done well and it’s nice to see his team play ”.

Luis Fernández rejoices thinking about his friend: “One day I went to see Guardiola’s City training session and the person directing it was Mikel. I loved it. From that day on I said: ‘This one, one day he will be a football coach.’

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