How united Arsenal became the real deal in Mikel Arteta revolution

How united Arsenal became the real deal in Mikel Arteta revolution

As the Arsenal players celebrated in the dressing room after their win over Chelsea on Sunday, they were greeted by director Josh Kroenke.

Kroenke is in London on one of his regular visits to the club and wanted to congratulate the squad on the 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge that sent them back top of the Premier League. The American, who was also at last Thursday’s win over FC Zurich that secured Arsenal top spot in their Europa League group, will be thrilled with what he is seeing right now.

After some difficult times under Mikel Arteta, things have clicked this season and there is a growing sense the project that started when the manager joined in 2019 now has lift-off. There are a number of factors behind Arsenal’s new-found success, but the overriding feeling from those within the club is that the togetherness among players and staff is key.

That was evident as the Gunners celebrated wildly on Sunday, with players and staff hugging and dancing in front of a jubilant away end, but the unity was also witnessed a few weeks ago, when they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw away at Southampton.

There is growing belief that Arsenal can sustain a Premier League title challenge this season (ES Composite)
There is growing belief that Arsenal can sustain a Premier League title challenge this season (ES Composite)

In years gone by, music would sometimes go on in the dressing room after a draw, but the mood at St Mary’s was one of defeat, with Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard sat in the corner intently discussing where the game had gone wrong tactically.

The fact a draw felt like a defeat is an indication of the new standards Arsenal are trying to hold themselves to, and Oleksandr Zinchenko is a big reason for that. The Ukrainian spoke this week about changing the mindset at the club, and he and fellow summer signing Gabriel Jesus are two of the drivers behind a shift in mentality.

The pair operate in different ways, though, with Zinchenko vocal in his calling out of standards and Jesus instead quietly leading by example. Jesus has established himself as one of the club’s leadership group and both he and Xhaka have played a key role in helping Odegaard develop as a captain.

The Arsenal captaincy has been something of a poisoned chalice in years gone by and it was a bold call by Arteta to hand it to a 23-year-old in the summer, but Odegaard is growing into the role.

The Arsenal captaincy has been something of a poisoned chalice in years gone by but Odegaard is growing into the role

He has brought a togetherness to the squad and that was shown recently after defender Pablo Mari was attacked in Italy while he is on loan at Monza. The defender was stabbed in a supermarket attack in which one man died and at least five others were injured. Mari underwent surgery on his back but his injuries are not life-threatening.

The Arsenal squad wanted to show support for Mari and before their home game against Nottingham Forest it was decided they would hold up his shirt when they scored. Odegaard led the talks and then organised the shirt with the club.

Arsenal’s growth off the pitch has coincided with their development on it, and improvements at the training ground have helped, too. A giant new TV screen, around five metres tall, has been installed by the pitches at London Colney and can be used to play video clips during sessions, which has proved particularly useful for set-pieces. It has helped players understand positioning and the winner against Chelsea came from a corner, as Bukayo Saka’s flat delivery was touched home on the line by Gabriel.

Arteta has always been one for innovative new methods and is in a WhatsApp group with England rugby boss Eddie Jones and coaches from other sports, such as basketball and American football.

The Arsenal manager has visited Jones at England’s base at Pennyhill Park, exchanging training ideas with him. Arteta has also spoken to LA Rams head coach Sean McVay about ideas and during a trip in January to the United States, where he met owner Stan Kroenke and observed how NHL ice hockey team Colorado Avalanche operate.

It has always been the view of the Arsenal hierarchy that Arteta was the man to lead them back to the top. The Spaniard initially had to weather some turbulent times, but he has built something that Zinchenko described this week as “special”. The challenge now for Arsenal is maintaining their fast start and proving they are the real deal over the course of the entire season.