Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project is ready to go bang in 2022 after turbulent two-year reign

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·4-min read
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal project is ready to go bang in 2022 after turbulent two-year reign
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  • Arsenal
    Arsenal
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  • Mikel Arteta
    Mikel Arteta
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Mikel Arteta has said he could write “a few books” about everything that has happened at Arsenal in his first two years as manager.

In fairness, the Spaniard is probably right and it’s no surprise that Amazon wanted to film a fly-on-the-wall documentary at Arsenal this season. The producers of the All or Nothing series will just be hoping his next year in charge is as dramatic as the past two.

For a rookie manager in his first job, Arsenal has been a baptism of fire for Arteta, who has had to contend with most of his tenure taking place during a global pandemic.

Even as he reaches his two-year anniversary on Monday, Covid-19 is still causing problems for football, and wider society, and that has to be taken into account when judging the job Arteta has done at Emirates Stadium so far.

“I don’t think the world is right for too many celebrations,” said Arteta, when asked last week how he would mark two years in charge of Arsenal.

“I just feel proud and grateful for the opportunity I was given two years ago now. I could write a few books with everything that has happened, not only to me but around the football club, around the world in the last two years.

“I don’t know, probably one day I need to stop and think carefully about what happened and the experience that you take, but it’s been a lot.”

For a long time, those books Arteta could write on his time at Arsenal felt like they would be tragedies. The start of last season was particularly bleak, with near enough every week Arsenal breaking another unwanted record due to their miserable form in the first half of the campaign.

By the time Christmas rolled around, they were 15th in the Premier League and just four points above the relegation places. Fast forward a year and they are in the top four.

That is a remarkable turnaround and it sums up the turbulent nature of Arteta’s reign at Arsenal so far. It has been a rollercoaster, with the pandemic undoubtedly making the highs and lows even greater.

Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season in charge at Arsenal (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season in charge at Arsenal (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Arteta has had to contend with a congested fixture schedule, no fans inside grounds and the financial implications of getting players to agree to pay cuts. People will argue it has been the same for every manager. But not every manager is in their first job.

The start of Arteta’s reign was like a fairytale and a book Arteta would enjoy writing. Somehow, against the odds, he guided Arsenal to FA Cup glory and at that point he could do no wrong.

The second season, however, proved to be the difficult sequel that was unable to replicate the success of the first.

After winning the FA Cup it felt like Arsenal tried to accelerate the rebuild, promoting Arteta from head coach to manager and targeting players, such as Willian, that could theoretically improve the team now.

The sense was the club was in touching distance of getting back into the top four, but instead the 2020-21 season reminded them how much more there was to be done.

Arteta and the club were perhaps prone to getting carried away after the FA Cup win. The solid 3-4-3 formation that led them to glory was swiftly ditched for an attacking 4-2-3-1, which exposed their weaknesses, while the signings were focused on the here and now, as opposed to looking long-term.

But the following campaign was a struggle and showed how much work there was to be done (Getty Images)
But the following campaign was a struggle and showed how much work there was to be done (Getty Images)

Such actions are understandable given the situation. During a miserable time for the whole of society, Arsenal had somehow gone on a joyous run to win a trophy and it would have been hard not to get carried away.

One will have to wait and see, but it may turn out that the 2020-21 season was a blessing in disguise for Arsenal. It forced them to really push the reset button this summer and truly begin the project under Arteta.

The signings have had a clear focus on youth and long-term planning, which is perhaps partly down to Arsenal having a settled executive team after years of instability.

They have gelled well and suddenly there is the makings of a core group of players that can be built around.

Even during the dark times, the one positive from Arteta’s work has been his ability to improve young players. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are, of course, the prime examples of that, and now Gabriel Martinelli looks as though he may follow in their footsteps.

Now Arsenal are inside the top four with young players like Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe starring (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Now Arsenal are inside the top four with young players like Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe starring (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

He scored twice at the weekend against Leeds and 52 per cent of Arsenal’s Premier League goals this season have been scored by players aged 21 or under. That is an incredible achievement and no other top-flight team since the turn of the century has managed such a feat.

It all points to how Arteta is seemingly building something for the future and Arsenal fans are right to be excited.

The Spaniard said back in March that one day “this project is going to go bang” and now, after a turbulent two years, it feels as though he could be right.

One of Arteta’s “few books” could have a happy ending after all.

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