Mikel Arteta has received the time required to shape a squad over two and a half years. Everyone wants a quick fix in football but sometimes changing a club’s strategy takes time and Arsenal could be about to reap the rewards.
We are only two games into the new Premier League season so no one should get too carried away with six points against Crystal Palace and Leicester but the signs are promising. The victories have set the platform for a great start to the campaign, especially with winnable matches against Bournemouth, Fulham and Aston Villa before the month ends. If they could get maximum points it will help build momentum and confidence, two incredibly important traits.
This summer has seen another successful window for Arsenal, adding players with experience of winning the Premier League. Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko know what it is like to fight at the top of the league and can lead the team to reach higher levels. Managers always want to add winners to the dressing room, they’re resilient. Arteta signed two players he worked with previously at Manchester City; his methodologies are not identical to Pep Guardiola’s but they come from the same ilk so the two will know what is wanted from them. It was a smooth transition for Zinchenko and Jesus and both wanted to play in this type of football environment.
The technical director, Edu, has to take credit for the work he has done in the market. When recruiting Jesus, he explained how he thought the striker had lost his spark and wanted to get it back at Arsenal – Jesus agreed with him. I like that interesting way of recruiting and the two goals against Leicester indicate it is already working.
I was always told a manager should be given three transfer windows. I realise Arteta has had more than that but each has been used to carefully plot the squad’s make-up. Last summer the goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was recruited to be the long-term No 1. Some people were surprised by the signing, especially considering he arrived following back-to-back relegations with Bournemouth and Sheffield United.
But during the lockdown I went to watch a few games where he was in goal. I thought he was a breath of fresh air; his communication was something I had not heard before. He was providing information, knowledge and fine details to his backline. It wasn’t just a one-off, I went to a lot of games during that period and since and have not heard that much detail coming from a goalkeeper.
I always feel the best defenders don’t have to defend because they are organised by the best goalkeepers, who should be coaches that can see everything and articulate it – it keeps them switched on. I think the confidence of being selected for the Euros has really helped him. Sometimes a player has to feel at home somewhere and he looks right at home at Arsenal.
Martin Ødegaard is another player who was carefully selected by Arteta and he has been allowed to find his feet in England and settle in his role at Arsenal. The Norwegian was appointed captain over the summer aged 23. I always think it is a risk having a creative player with the armband but he is incredibly experienced for his age because of his time at Real Madrid and various loan spells and has already earned 43 caps for his country. Arteta obviously loves him and what he believes in. He has picked him for a reason.
A lot of the time – as pundits, fans and ex-players – we don’t know exactly what happens inside the club; internally they know what he offers, whether it’s calmness, attitude, leadership or all of the above. Arteta, a former captain himself, must have seen something in the Norwegian that makes him captain material and so far it is working well.
I enjoyed watching Arsenal in pre-season; I saw them against Chelsea and they impressed with their patterns of play and fluidity, something they have carried into the start of the season. I have enjoyed their resilient moments in the first two games and I am really looking forward to seeing what they can do this season.
I am sure there are elements Arteta is not happy with and it is really good to avoid complacency and keep pushing them forward. They conceded two against Leicester and they will be disappointed with that. Ramsdale certainly will be because goalkeepers and defenders always want clean sheets. There will be elements where Arteta will be telling his players they need to be better, but momentum is all important and they have had a good start and the confidence is key to this group succeeding.
To get to that next level, after finishing fifth last season, they will need to do better against the teams that finished above them. They picked up six points from their eight matches against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs, indicating they are a long way behind the teams they aspire to beat. They face Spurs on 1 October, a moment to judge the progress they have made.
Arsenal need to aim to finish in the top four this campaign, without a doubt. They have had a good window and start, but it is a long season. If they can break that top four it allows them to bring in a few more pieces of the puzzle and push on to be competitive at the next level. Arteta will want a top-four finish foremost and if they can get a trophy along the way that would be a bonus. To go to that next level, they need Champions League football.