It’s Friday morning at Arsenal’s headquarters in London Colney and Mikel Arteta has just spent half an hour answering questions on everything from the Covid epidemic that has upended his opening plans to critics trying to ” bury him and his side.
The fallout from Arsenal’s 2-0 loss to Brentford has been intense, but Arteta is defiant. The reaction from his players has been “incredible,” he said at his press conference. Sunday’s clash with Chelsea is being described as an opportunity to change the mood.
If Arteta feels the pressure, he doesn’t show it. “I just have enthusiasm, passion and a desire to work, to make this project a magnificent project,” he says. Air sports with a smile. “It’s my responsibility, that’s why I’m here, and that’s what I love to do.”
The loss to Brentford was a setback, but Arteta’s belief in what he is trying to achieve at Arsenal is stronger than ever – “from day one until today there is no difference”, he said – as was his determination to establish the club in place for long term success.
This shows in their recent transfer transactions. Just an hour before this interview, Arsenal confirmed the final signing of Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid. The subsequent arrival of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale pushes their spending north of Â£ 125million.
Odegaard and Ramsdale are following Ben White, Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga through the door this summer and one similarity emerges: They are all 23 years of age or under.
Arteta raves about Ramsdale’s “huge, huge” potential. He speaks of Odegaard’s âimmenseâ capacity for improvement. The focus on young people has significantly lowered the team’s average age. The hope is that the new recruits will flourish in Arsenal’s colors.
It is a strategy designed for the future.
âWe have to be sustainable,â says Arteta. âWe need to perform now and we also need a medium and long term plan.
âA lot of the decisions we have made over the past 18 months have been due to the fact that we had a big imbalance in certain areas which put the club in a difficult position.
“Then we wanted to recruit talents, specificity and players with a great capacity for interaction with the players who already exist here and who could become potential starters and increase the level of the team and the workforce. “
Arteta is happy with the way his squad is shaping up – “it’s starting to look a lot more like what we want,” he says – but he described this summer’s transfer market as one of the toughest in years. years and insists that the navigation has not been easy.
We have to be sustainable. We need to perform now and we also need a medium and long term plan
In fact, it has at times been overwhelming. Arteta is grateful for the support from the club’s Kroenke owners and for the support of technical director Edu and director of football operations Richard Garlick, who helped secure deals on the line.
“I was in constant contact with the club hierarchy, with Eddy [Edu], with Richard [Garlick] and with our coaching team, trying to find the players we want to recruit and try to be on top of every deal to make it happen under conditions that we can afford.
âI think we’ve created a really strong team that really enjoys working together. I hope you will see the fruits of that.â
Arsenal supporters are still waiting for these fruits and patience is running out for some, but the club have certainly been busy.
âWe’ve had seven starts compared to last year, maybe eight,â Arteta said. “With five arriving, we’re already talking about a 13-player turnaround, so it’s huge.
“We’re just trying to have the best quality and the best balance possible. It’s about increasing the quality and having a healthy team, which is also very important.”
Having a healthy team means downsizing and there is still work to be done in that regard. Arteta is also aware that after a consecutive round of 16 in the Premier League and a failure to qualify for Europe last season, immediate improvement is needed as well as long-term promise.
He credits senior players like Granit Xhaka for helping Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe shine last season, but in addition to helping this summer’s rookies adjust to the new campaign, these senior players will need to offer more in terms of their own performance.
“We want to be really competitive from the start, but in some cases it will take a little longer than others, so we have to get from the senior players what they can give,” said Arteta.
âLast season there were times when the team weren’t at the right level. We had other issues that I’m not going to talk about now, but we have to get the best out of everyone.
“It’s our job and it’s my job in particular.”
A senior player who falls into this category is of course captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The 32-year-old struggled in front of goal last season and his preparations for the new one were interrupted by the positive Covid test which caused him to miss the Brentford game.
Arteta admitted last week that he wasn’t sure Aubameyang’s poor form last season was a one-off event or evidence of a trend. So, does he believe he can get back to his best?
“Absolutely because he’s been doing it his entire career,” says Arteta. âThe past year has been a really special time for a player. He has had to go through a lot both professionally and in his private life.
I think he’s a player who needs the fans. He is very committed and emotionally linked to them so I think this is something that will help him
âWe try to give all the help and support we can to make him happy – which I think is a very important word for him – in order to perform, sink, play with confidence and do whatever it takes. ‘he always has. “
Aubameyang was not helped by a lack of creativity behind him last season – Arsenal placed 12th among Premier League sides in created chances – but Arteta hopes Odegaard’s permanent signing will improve them in that regard. and insists that responsibility for Aubameyang’s form must be shared.
âI think it’s a collective thing,â he says. âI think every ingredient, every detail we can add is going to help, between all of us, every department here at the club and him individually.
“It depends on his personal life, how it’s going to be, professionally, how he is doing and his level of motivation.
âI think he’s a player who needs the fans. He’s very committed and emotionally linked to them, so I think that’s something that will help him.
“I get the impression from him that he’s ready to go but he’s had Covid and been gone for a while, so now we have to physically get him back to his best condition because that’s also something that is very important in his game. “
Aubameyang’s form could prove to be decisive one way or another, and at the other end of the pitch there are high expectations for White, a Â£ 50million signing from Brighton whose aerial prowess were called into question following his battle with Brentford forward Ivan Toney. Friday.
Arteta, however, is quick to defend the 23-year-old.
“Yes he can improve [in the air], but he also won many aerial duels against him in the game, âsaid Arteta. âYou highlight the ones he didn’t win, but Toney will win heads against any defenseman in this league because that’s a great quality on his part.
“You have to accept that this is an area of ââthe pitch where if you concede those heads it obviously becomes more dangerous for the team. But he made a good start.
Ben is an exceptional defender. He can play in a back four, he’s very comfortable in a back three, he’s experienced in the league, he’s fast, he’s nimble, he’s really aggressive in duels
“He hadn’t trained a lot. Bukayo Saka couldn’t figure out from the start and he was in the same training plan as Ben but Ben put in a big effort. Physically, he still isn’t where he is. must be, but I think it got off to a positive start. “
Arteta expects White to become a key figure on his team and is keen to stress that it’s not just because of his eye-catching cast and ability to carry the ball out of defense.
âBen is an exceptional defender,â he said. âHe can play in a four back, he’s very comfortable in a three back, he’s experienced in the league, he’s fast, he’s nimble, he’s really aggressive in duels.
“And then with the ball he has special qualities that I needed for the way we played, to improve all the processes and for us to be calm and dominant in the games as we wish.”
It will be a challenge, of course, to play with poise and dominance against a Chelsea side likely to be led by Â£ 97.5million Romelu Lukaku at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Arteta knows that a second loss in a row would increase the pressure, but he’s not fazed by the criticism he and his team have been facing in recent times and remains adamant, after a summer of investing in the club’s future, that his Arsenal project is heading in a positive direction.
“It’s a great challenge and we have to take it up,” he said. âWe know the competition we have in this league and we know what the expectations are.
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