Mikel Arteta – 100 games in: has his appointment been a success?

Mikel Arteta is 100 games into his tenure as Arsenal manager, and whilst his ‘process’ finally seems to be bearing the fruits of its labours, the journey to this point has been a bumpy one, to say the least. The jury remains out as to whether or not his appointment has been a success.

To give Arteta the benefit of the doubt, steadying the ship left half-sunken by Unai Emery was always going to be a gargantuan job. Poor cyclical squad building at the club meant that a major squad overhaul was required at Arsenal upon his arrival. The squad was imbalanced, over-relying on an injury-prone Kieran Tierney at left-back, and too often fielding players void of the creativity required to play for Arsenal. Below-par or troublesome players on sizeable wage-bills like Mustafi, Sokratis, Guendouzi and Mesut Özil, to name a few, were littered throughout the squad, and were perhaps who Arteta was referring to when speaking of “egos” present at the club.

Whilst his transfer record has by no means been perfect (the signings of Willian and Alex Rúnarsson can attest to that), generally, the Spaniard has managed to clear the club of its ageing deadwood, and instead, has instilled young, committed players in their place. His bravery in going against the grain to sign revelations Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White, amongst others, must also be praised. If there’s one aspect of the job that Arteta has succeeded in, it’s transforming the squad, culture and feel of the club.

But what about the results on the pitch? In his first season in charge, Arteta won the club a record 14th FA Cup, with an FA Community Shield to boot. To win a trophy alone can’t go unnoticed, but to do it by beating the three best teams in the country in Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, is some achievement.

Nevertheless, Arteta’s doubters will point to his abysmal start to the following season, which saw the club sitting 15th in the table come Christmas Day 2020, as a reason to question his ability. Yet, I merely put this down to Arsenal’s squad still not necessarily being ‘his’ by that point. The 3-4-3 was the formation of choice, but was fielded merely to accommodate for the lack of players, especially in the #10 position, capable of playing in Arteta’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system. Since Emile Smith Rowe was promoted to the starting eleven on Boxing Day during a 3-1 home win against Chelsea, the club hasn’t looked back. Arsenal have diverted from the 4-2-3-1 just once since this fixture, and their form has thanked them for it, with the Gunners having since accumulated the third-most points in the Premier League, equal to West Ham, and bettering the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Leicester City.

Barring the three opening league games of this season where key players were either missing or yet to have joined the club, Arsenal have largely looked a team whose attacks, both in patient build-ups and counters, are more fluid and convincing. The Gunners have also become more difficult to break down defensively, and finally have a backline which more or less picks itself every week. The club is also grinding points out of games where they mightn’t have in the past, which will be a welcome sight to supporters.

Given the context, Arteta has done a decent job as manager in his first 100 games. He’s provided solutions to several of the problems left to him by Wenger and Emery, has won silverware in the process, and looks to have assembled a promising squad for the future. He’s done enough to be branded successful thus far, but with a squad he can confidently now call his own, the expectations for his next 100 games will understandably be much greater.

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Metin Yilmaz

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November 2021
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