Is Arteta as good as Arsenal fans think he is?

Here’s a thought experiment: how would you feel if Mikel Arteta’s record for the next 21 games was as follows: Won 16, Drawn 5, Lost 0?

Most of us, I think, would feel that we finally had a manager who had put us on the right track after several years of drift and missed opportunities.

It would likely be too late to achieve much this season (apart from scraping into the Europa League places) but it might well fill us with optimism for the 2020/21 season.


Well, and here’s the kicker, there is a manager in Arsenal’s recent history who had a run of W16, D5, L0 early in his career. That man, as you may have guessed, was Unai Emery. And we all know how that turned out.

We started the 2018/19 season with two defeats under Emery (home versus Man City and away at Chelsea), but from August 25th to December 8th (three and a half months) we had an impressive unbeaten run in the Premier League, the League Cup and the Europa League.

The run ended with a 2-3 loss at Southampton on December 13th and a period of inconsistency and slow decline set in from them onwards.

Here’s my point: after the woeful final months of the Emery regime, we supporters have been quick to laud the obvious improvements in team shape, discipline, effort and confidence under Mikel Arteta.

But how can we be sure this improvement will last?

As that 21-game spell early in Emery’s stewardship of the club shows, false dawns are common in football, and fans (who are always eager to clutch at any straw) are in danger of placing too much hope in what may turn out to be a temporary uplift.

Was Emery’s unbeaten run a result of what he brought to the party? Or was it simply a group of players who had become demoralised in the final Wenger years going up a gear partly to impress the new boss and partly because ‘a change is as good as a rest’?

And if it’s the latter, who’s to say that we’re not experiencing exactly the same phenomenon now?

In fact, Arteta’s record in the short time he’s been in charge doesn’t even have the sort of clear up-tick in results that Emery achieved. Yes, we’ve stopped losing so often, but we are having a great deal of trouble pulling out wins.

I’d appreciate your thoughts on how and why we should feel more optimistic about early Arteta, although I have some ideas of my own.

For a start, I well remember that, in that long run of unbeaten games under Emery, we seldom felt we were playing well as a team. We were getting results, but usually it was as if we had ridden our luck to come away with the points.

Supporters responded to this is two different ways: the ‘glass half full’ types like me thought: “This is great! We’re getting results even though we haven’t properly hit our stride yet. When that happens there’ll be no stopping us.” The ‘my glass just smashed’ types thought: “We’re getting lucky wins, but you can tell from the way we’re playing that the underlying problems are still there.”

It turned out the pessimists were right.

In this happy morning of the Arteta era, the feeling is exactly the opposite: we are playing well, but not getting the results. That makes me hopeful and explains why some who were pessimistic during Emery’s good run are now optimistic during Arteta’s average run.

Another big factor is the demeanour of the head coach. Emery seemed a decent man, but he never came across as a strong one. Language difficulties clearly didn’t help, but his personal qualities seemed ill-suited to delivering a kick up the derriere when required or for wrangling a difficult and fractious bunch of individuals into shape.

Arteta, on the other hand, has been virtually faultless in all his public statements since taking over. He exudes confidence, strength and authority in a manner that appears to be communicating itself to the players.

Finally, I would hazard that the tactics Arteta is employing seem more likely to work with our squad in this league than those of his predecessor (although the more tactically astute among you may wish to weigh in on this point).

Am I deluding myself again with falsely-grounded optimism?

Over to you.





38 Responses to Is Arteta as good as Arsenal fans think he is?

  1. LBG says:

    Cheers Rocky
    Despite fooling the powers that be with his dossiers on our squad at the time, Emery did not “understand” our players. He did not understand their strengths, and more importantly their significant weaknesses.
    Mikel saw the weaknesses first hand both individual and team. The individual problems are only corrected long term. The team weaknesses he started on first. Weaknesses that went way back into the Wender era and that some players had been “taking advantage of” for years. Teamwork, shape, discipline, backbone, belief (in themselves and in him) is what Mikel has added. This is where we are. I believe Mikel has the passion for our Club , knowledge and even experience to bring us back to top four status, to make us smile, and even win the odd thing. He needs time, our backing, money and good luck……and all will be good. COYG.

  2. Desislav Yordanov says:

    Very well written piece in regards to summarising every opinion out there. If any current prediction of how things will develop from now on turns out to be correct, it will be simply down to pure luck. There are so many factors that could make things go right or wrong. For me, the most important thing is to not make any more mistakes in the process. Mistakes like keeping Emery for too long, leaving Freddy in charge in the current mess (for too long), not having a plan for a successor and/or sabotaging that successor with limited (yeah, right!) funds. Not addressing clear issues on so many levels is not what a big club does, and we have been in that state for many, many years now.

    Overall, text above is spot on without abusing the facts, with one in particular that is missing for me – luck. Hate the word, hate to bring it up when it comes to My Arsenal but since Arteta’s arrival we have seen none if it. We’ve seen lucky ricochets and bad refereeing, and injuies, and red cards… pretty much every game. And yes, longterm this is not an issue for the big team, the big club. But when in turmoil and confidence is shaked, little things can be somewhat important in turning the things around. Luckily, it just feels right. That is what makes my day brighter, it feels good that the right things are said and done on the training ground. Forget the Board and the owners. Forget the players that are not good enough. It hurts when you have to deal with them, but if Mikel is a man of his word (as it he seems to be), and if Martinelli signs a new 10 year contract – I’ll be happy to wait a few more years to see my beloved club rise again and stand where it belongs.

  3. RockyLives says:

    What an excellent comment Desi.

    I agree with all you say – and most definitely regarding the luck issue and its impact.

    To offer a grain of hope, maybe Kante’s slip on Tues night was the moment our luck turned. And with it – and the resilience our players showed in getting back in the game twice with 10 men – maybe our season turned too.

    Your point that this is a long haul process is spot on.

  4. Rasp says:

    Thanks Rocky, I can’t imagine there is a more balanced view of our reaction to Mikel than you present.

    I often find it hard to respond to your posts because I generally agree with it all. Today’s is no different.

    In the past I have taken objection to luck being cited as a reason for repeated poor results because I viewed it as the last argument available to those who couldn’t bring themselves to blame the man in charge … but in Mikel’s games so far I would agree with Desilav’s view … we’ve been unlucky – surely that will change some time soon.

    In Unai’s early days I thought I could see what he was trying to do – but LBG makes a good point, he was rigid in his ethos but blind to the failings in some of the players he wanted to execute his plan. When the plan failed he floundered opting to change personnel and formations and lost the dressing room and the supporters.

    We can all see what Mikel is trying to achieve and we hear him tell us in his interviews with great clarity and intelligence.

    I’m never always right, some would say I’m wrong most of the time. but I do believe we’ve got it right with Mikel.

  5. Silentstan says:

    Pointless negativity

  6. Rasp says:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself Stan.

    Seriously, have you actually read the article?

    To me it reads as positive and measured … or maybe my glass is half full and yours ‘smashed’ – read the article to get the reference!

  7. RockyLives says:

    Read beyond the headline.

    The communication thing may actually be more important than it seems on the surface. Even taking into account the language issue Emery never really was able to explain what he was trying to achieve. Mikel Arteta has been crystal clear. And one suspects that Emery’s vagueness transmitted itself to the players, as does Arteta’s clarity.

    Good point about ‘team weaknesses first, individual weaknesses second.’

  8. Rasp says:

    Hi Rocky I agree. No doubt when Arteta assessed the areas in need of improvement, communication and clarity came close to the top of his list.

    From what RC has reported in the past, Emery’s tenure at PSG went along similar lines to his stint in charge of Arsenal. Maybe his managerial style is better suited to Italian and Spanish football.

    We don’t need to look any further than Pep and Klopp to see what’s effective in the EPL in terms of getting the best out of the players.

  9. Gööner In Exile says:

    Afternoon all. Lovely post Rocky and certainly makes me think.

    And in short there are two reasons I don’t see this going the same way.

    1) Emery’s sideline antics – often cited as a manager with passion, or one who really wants to win, kicking every ball. I had a bigger question. Why do you have to do so much organising from the sideline, why didn’t you get your message across before game, and do the players know what your sign language means. Now fast forward to both Leeds at home and Chelsea away, in both games we started poorly, but there was no footage of Arteta jumping up and down and creating a scene, he simply waited, let the players try and work it out and then at half time have his message again when they could hear and were ready to listen.

    2) we were never very good under Emery, even on that unbeaten run we were not playing well, we were easy to oppose once the opposition had seen enough of us. And that is what happened opponents worked us out, and we didn’t have another way of playing so over drilled was the training, you do this then this then this, and if it breaks down you do it all again. Players can be allowed to find their own way, they proved on Tuesday night that it is possible, Arteta will give more freedom to do that as long as they do the basics right.

  10. Mike M says:

    Hello again All. Sorry for the delay, I have been working like crazy. To be honest, it’s totally been my loss, I’ve been missing my daily Arsenal fix and craving it!!. Not sure things are going to change work wise any time soon but I’ll be on when I can.
    Excellent article Rocky. Pointing out facts and framing them with a perspective can never be a bad thing. i’m not even sure the perspective is yours ??!! More just something to be considered.
    Undoubtedly the verdict should stay out for a while as there’s a lot to be done. Looking at what Arteta has done so far SHOULD actually be compared to Unai, it helps illustrate what we see as the same or different.
    In my eyes, i see the passion factor as huge. I think Unai wanted to have it, but no one bought in in the longer term. So is this a new manager “bump”? Hardly in terms of results really, yet many of us see it as that. Arteta HAS the passion and I believe the players, fans,and tea-lady all see it. That’s what makes me so optimistic right now. And for those of you that know how I feel about Granit Xhaka. therein lies the greatest illustration of the difference. Xhaka’s recent performances have passion as well as no little ability. Arteta is getting the best out of a player that I felt was done at Arsenal. There’s got to be something in that. Not to mention Ozil and pretty much every other player.
    Go Goooooooooooooners !!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. fatgingergooner says:

    I think some of the optimism comes from the fact our players themselves seem to be a much happier bunch under Arteta. Özil is the obvious barometer in this but just listening to the likes of Luiz and Bellerin after games you can tell that they enjoy having Arteta as the coach. This positivity can only bode well for the future and its spreading out into the stands. Everyone seems to be buying in to what Arteta wants to do and if he can convince the board to do the same then we are definitely on the up.

    I also think that the fans were sick of having a team with zero football identity. Arteta has talked about and implemented changes to our style and shown the fans what he wants from the players which is a huge reason for optimism. It will take time to get the pressing game right, but already we’ve seen huge improvements in that department but also in the way we played with the ball. Everything we do just seems to have a purpose to it right now whereas under Emery nothing made sense and a lot of our passing seemed pointless.

  12. RockyLives says:

    Well observed about Emery’s touchline antics. I should have included that.

    I hope the workload eases soon – your comments are always thoughtful and passionate. I agree the jury has to still be out on Arteta at this stage, but there are some very positive signs.

    Identity. Excellent. We lost our footballing identity in the last couple of Wenger seasons and we never acquired a new one under UE. But like you, I now feel there is an identity to the team (regardless of results) and you can really sense the supporters responding to that. Again, I wish I’d touched on identity in the post.

  13. RA says:

    Hi Rock of Ages,

    I wrote a comment yesterday, of GB length, and somehow it went whizzing off into the aether when I submitted it. [My fault I fear].

    It was unlike your fine article, presented today, and you certainly had not pinched it for your Post, mainly because it had nothing to with your subject matter, and I mention it only because I was glad it had not made it onto AA, as I would probably have been labelled Misery Miriam – something to do with my favourite accoutrement, a red gingham dress and high heels that I occasionally twirl about in, but my comment also posited that we, as fans, are conditioned to see the very best in every small positivity that the team or the manager presents to us, as we want, indeed we demand, to see great improvements in the team’s continual insipid performances,

    On the contrary, every relatively small negative occurrence, can be blown up, by some, to be earth shatteringly ruinous for the team and the club, and some are driven to running around naked carrying placards saying “woe is me – we are undone’ which given the disrobed condition of the bearer (barer) seems entirely self evident.

    In short – as fans we find it very difficult to maintain a sense of proportion when assessing events, because we care a great deal for our club/team – too much, maybe?

    Fans are not the greatest judges, or, in fact, are perhaps the best judges of the value of individual team members, the manager and the owners of the club — and that choice might augur whether we are …… negativists or positivists.

    Anyhoo – I am glad the forerunner of this commentary claptrap did not reach AA, I would never live it down.

  14. Sue says:

    First of all – great post, Rocky – I’m sorry to go completely off topic but I’ve just seen something which has excited me a little – no, not RA in his gingham and heels – but an article stating that a year ago Wolves beat Liverpool at Molineux and how they can do it again! Omg!! I’m pumped… please Wolves, Nuno, Adama, Willy (oo-er 😜), all of you, please, please, please!!!!!

  15. RA says:

    I have never promoted myself as a master of tactical strategies, but something that is screaming to be recognised, and yet hardly creates a murmur, is the appearance on the beautiful green sward of the Emirates pitch, are the clear defensive lines of that fabled 4:4:2 sometimes/often (?) used by Mikel, with defenders, midfielders and forwards maintaining their positions when the opposition attack, or moving forward together when we attack.

    That is such an improvement on the abject ants in their pants mindless running after the ball like a bunch of errant school kids, with only the GK remaining in his allotted position symptomatic of both Arsene and Emery that we have endured for years.

    I think the above helps explain why we have cut down on some of the ridiculous, self inflicted ‘goals against’ statistics since Arts became our manager.

    At the next televised game, try to drag your eyes away from the immediacy of the game, and look at the beauty of the lines of players across the pitch, performing as they always should have.

  16. fatgingergooner says:


    100% agree with both your points. The outrage and elation seen these days is never in proportion with the event itself. A manager shouldn’t be immediately sacked for losing a couple of games and we are not suddenly the greatest team of all time because we win a few. Frustrates me that people seem incapable of understanding more than one point of view. Not just in football….

    As for our defensive shape, it’s not just the pretty lines that are good to see but also the location of those lines. Having 2 banks of 4 sat on the edge of the 18 yard box may be needed when down to 10 men and under siege, but what I’ve enjoyed is how compact we are from back to front. The high line has been a liability in the past due to the fact we allowed the opposition too much time to pick a pass, but it’s a great tool when used correctly and our attackers and midfielders are making sure that the opposition are hustled and harried and don’t have time to lift their heads. How many times has our high line been broken or looked a problem since Arteta came in? I can’t think of many. The way we stepped 15 yards further forward in the second half against Leeds was a prime example of how important it is to be compact. I hope that it continues.

  17. RA says:

    Glad I am not alone in those opinions FGG, and just to confirm the point you made about the discipline in maintaining the two banks of four and their positioning, I did say; — “with defenders, midfielders and forwards maintaining their positions when the opposition attack, or moving forward together when we attack.” — you said it rather better! 😁

    Hope you are keeping well.

  18. RA says:


    I was so jealous of your witch’s broom, I bought one myself.

    Training is hard work but going well, altho bystanders have noted that I seem very happy because I have always got a split-assed grin on my face – but, as you would know – that is more a consequence of sitting astride a piece of wood! 😳

    Ooo la la.

  19. RockyLives says:

    I’ve noticed those neat lines across the pitch too.

    Very pleasing on the eye: more Mondrian than Jackson Pollock these days.

  20. Gööner In Exile says:

    15 yards makes a huge difference on the football pitch, as long as everyone pushes. No point in it just being the defence the midfield have to go further forward too which pushes the forwards up.

    In the last years of Wenger the problem was the midfield not pushing up, so even when Alexis was hunting it was a fruitless exercise because the midfield two/three were sitting on top of our back 4 who had pushed up.

    It was always the same on attack too, with too many bodies intermingled in a straight line with very little late runs.

    What we see now is waves, so if a forward does lose a ball there is someone 10 yards behind ready to compete the loose ball, rather than it be easy for the opponent to pick up and go forward.

  21. Sue says:

    You have bystanders, RA? Oh that has to be down to the gingham and heels surely?! 😝 Nice 😉

  22. Sue says:

    Podolski is back in Turkey, having just signed for Antalyaspor. Still miss him 😍

  23. Great post Rocky, thank you.

    I don’t have anything different to add to the various comments already made.

    I feel that clear communication is the most important thing that Arteta has brought to the squad. They all say that they know what he expects from them and that he has given them the clues to achieve that.

    We have to trust that he knows what he’s doing and that the team trust him.

    The energy that he has brought to our team, giving them a focus that was definitely missing for a couple of years …… we have to buy into that. Hopefully we can start winning some games too ………. soon 😉

  24. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Rocky, a very challenging question with regard to that run with Emery. I find it hard to totally explain how a manager can get us on a run like that but then within 1 year serve up what we witnessed at the end of last season and this season.

    I think GIE is right that even during that run there were things going on that were far from convincing, and the net stats with shots on goal and on target were poor throughout Emery’s entire period. How did we put together a run like that with those stats against us? Did it always have a limited time before it wouldn’t work anymore?

    I think probably the answer is yes, that Emery’s approach wasn’t self sustainable. In contrast I also think, as others do, that Arteta has had luck against him in terms of the run of games he stepped in for being trickier, the injuries, and the refereeing decisions.

    As I said on the last post, it only takes a correct sending off for Jorginho and a penalty for Pepe last weekend for Arteta’s run to read DWWDWD. Now given the state of the team he took over the tough run of fixtures and the injuries that would represent a great run and, although it didn’t happen, it is also not wishful thinking because those results should have happened.

    Just as the good run under Emery always still left me with nagging doubts as to its sustainability, largely due to the performances I was witnessing, I am pretty much full of optimism at the moment despite the not so favourable results for Arteta. It is as others have alluded to, that it felt like the poor performances frequently didn’t merit the results during Emery’s good run, but it is the polar opposite with Arteta that the results haven’t been rewarded by the performances.

    Like others have said, I just have the feeling that Arteta is shaping something that will be greater and will have longevity, that we are creating a new and modern identity that will bear fruit provided we are patient with it.

    I didn’t get to respond to LBG’s fine post the other day about why we can’t keep a lead like Liverpool do but I wanted to turn that slightly on its head. I think that Liverpool are the best example to use to analyse our position and where we are potentially heading.

    Klopp’s first season was all about changing Liverpool’s focus and identity as a team. It didn’t all fall in to place immediately and he actually only achieved 60 points in his first full season in charge.

    I know some Liverpool fans that were muttering about Klopp being the wrong one, who would now probably tuck him in and give him a cup of Horlicks and a good night kiss if they found him in bed with their wife.

    His trajectory was steady for the next two seasons and then made a quantum leap as the team became more refined in his playing style and key players arrived or matured through the ranks and pieces of the jigsaw puzzle slotted in to place.

    This is how I envision our trajectory under Mikel, but we must be patient and not start to question whether he is the one or not too soon. It won’t be too long before we are tucking him in and giving him a good night kiss.

    Now just to do a word count……yep still more than that short paragraphed amateur Redders……GoonerB satisfied….submit comment

  25. Sheila says:

    Loved this thread, great to read all your posts
    I always thought that Arteta was going to be a great coach & would improve our players , but had no idea about his tactical awareness, which some of you have mentioned he seems to have. I love it that he is playing the team in their right positions & that he is sticking more or less with the same players which also helps them to get to know each other better. & his substitutions etc in the Chelsea game were perfect
    One big thing I think a manager needs though is Emotional management. I had no idea how he would be with that, but so far he has excelled my hopes all the players seem to be happy with him even the ones that were ‘difficult’ under Emery who just never had
    emotional management skills either with us or at PSG

    So far he ticks all the boxes for me

  26. Rasp says:

    Great comment Sheila … welcome.

  27. fatgingergooner says:

    I found it interesting when Luiz made a point of Arteta having been a player. Not a player from 30 years ago, but a player who understands what it’s like to be a footballer in 2020. He understands what the lads have to deal with and he will know how to help them concentrate on their football. I’ve been really impressed with everything he’s said to the media since getting the job. He appears very level headed but still has that bit of excitement about him when we do well. Can’t help but like him. I really hope he succeeds.

  28. Sue says:

    Nice try, Wolves 🥺

  29. Be still my beating heart

  30. RockyLives says:

    Oh Peaches – could we take him in loan?

    It would be the best return since Henry.

  31. Wole Esan says:

    Emery tinkered with the shape of the team after the Spurs win. He started to bench star players. In the new season he added to play out from defence as a new strategy. And they never got the hang of it. Always too slow to.make up their minds. Arteta is a new prospect. A gamble still but ɓecauae he is young in his career, he is learning and will yet fashion a team strategy both in offence and defence. And he is lucky he has this season of low expectations to cut his teeth. Let’s wait and see.

  32. Mo says:

    Great article!
    Slightly off topic but I was having a look at this CB we’re linked with from Ukraine, for me it’s quite a frustrating situation. Why would we pay 30m for a short 23yr old player that’s had limited experience and plays in a subjectively poor league? Sure he can surprise us all an be brilliant but theres just so much risk involved.

    upamecano.. I’ll say it again.. upamecano.
    Why cant we just address the issue once and for all.
    Here we got a big stong experienced leader of men, defensively brilliant, ball playing tall.. the list goes on..
    And then his contact is up soon so going into negotiations we would be In the driving seat! 60m done. Sorted. No more mustafis.. no more david luiz.. no more errors penalties redcards! Finally we could watch our team stress free and confident!

    We got a really good manager in mikel, let’s just hope the board backs him with upamecano’s and not mustafi’s.

  33. Sue says:

    Can’t see us coughing up 30m, Mo. We’re considering a bid of 15m. I’ve heard some good things about him from other gooners, but yes, he’s a little on the small side and we could do with a big unit! Time will tell…..

  34. Sue says:

    So, Tranmere overcame Watford last night and will now face the Mancs. Will they pile even more pressure on Ole? I bloody well hope so 😀

  35. Rasp says:

    What about Tyrone Mings? He’s 26 and 6ft 5in?

  36. Sue says:

    I’d take Mings all day long, Rasp. He’s been brilliant for Villa.

  37. RockyLives says:

    I haven’t seen much of Upamecano but if he’s as good as Mo says he might be the sort of signing we need. As he’s only 21 he could be the defensive mainstay for years, perhaps alongside Saliba.

  38. RockyLives says:

    New Post…

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