On 31st August 2011, Arsenal completed a surprising FOUR deadline day signings. It was a busy day for the North London club, with many pundits and fans claiming that these were ‘panic buys’ as Arsene Wenger frantically looked for reinforcements.
It was a summer of change at The Emirates stadium. There were notable departures including club icon Cesc Fàbregas, who returned home to Barcelona, and both Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri moving up north to Manchester City.
Despite the high profile departures, there was little sign of The Gunners reinvesting that money back into the squad. Prior to the deadline day deals, Arsenal’s only arrival was the underwhelming and lacklustre signing of South Korean international Park Chu Young from Monaco. Park would go on to make just 7 appearances in 3 years, including a one year loan spell with Celta Vigo.
As deadline day loomed ever closer, it became apparent Arsenal needed to inject some fresh impetus to their squad, but time was wearing thin. It would end up being a hectic day in North London with Arsene Wenger recruiting the likes of Per Mertesacker (Werder Bremen), Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea, on loan) and Andre Santos (Fenerbache). A hardly inspiring trio, with only Mertesacker, who formed a formidable partnership with Frenchman Laurent Koscielny, going on to achieve anything with the club.
There was a diamond in the rough, however. Minutes before the 11pm deadline, Arsenal completed their fourth and final signing. Step forward Mikel Arteta. It would be fair to say Arteta was the only household name that came through the doors at Arsenal that summer. A seasoned Premier League player with Everton, Arteta spent six years on Merseyside where he picked up three consecutive Player of the Season awards for his club.
Despite not winning any silverware with The Toffees, his numerous personal accolades, including Premier League Midfielder of The Year (beating a certain Cristiano Ronaldo), North West Footballer of The Year and the Liverpool Echo’s Sports Personality of The Year, demonstrated his influence for The Blues.
It was his creativity and calmness in midfield which brought him to Arsenal, a side who were desperate for someone to pull the strings after the departure of Cesc Fàbregas.
In this article we’re going to take a look at Arteta as a player and a man, and now in his new role as Head Coach, how he is the right man to lead Arsenal into a bright future.
The Early Years
Born in San Sebastián, in the Basque region of Northern Spain, Arteta grew up alongside legendary Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso. Mikel showed early promise and was signed by giants Barcelona aged just 15. It would become apparent later in his career, how the time spent at the famous La Masia academy, shaped his playing style and most recently, his coaching style.
Unfortunately for Mikel, it dawned on him that first team opportunities would be scarce in Catalonia. Arteta was subsequently sent on loan and made his senior debut in professional football with PSG in 2001, where he would go on to help them win the UEFA Intertoto Cup. He impressed and despite interest from PSG to make the move permanent, Scottish club Rangers offered a more financially lucrative offer for his signature.
His debut season in Scottish football gave Arteta his first taste of proper silverware: the Scottish Premier League and League Cup double. He spent just two years in Galsgow before brief stint at his hometown club Real Sociedad, where a dream reunion with Xabi Alonso failed to materialise as he made his move to Liverpool. Arteta did not feature much in first team and found himself sent on loan again, this time at Everton. Not quite the reunion Xabi Alonso and Arteta would have planned!
Despite beginning his career as a “pivot” and central midfielder in Barcelona, it wasn’t until his stint with PSG where he was moved into a more attacking role and began to flourish. On arriving at Everton, David Moyes would have been aware of this, hence opting to deploy Arteta on the wing, believing his creativity would be best served further forward. He was duly rewarded as the Spaniard was rated as the sixth most effective player in the Premier League in 2006/2007 by the official player ratings system (now known as the EA Sports Player Performance Index).
Statistically, the 2006/2007 season would be Mikel Arteta’s most prolific season. He contributed to 9 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League. Only Cesc Fàbregas and Cristiano Ronaldo assisted more. Arteta was also fouled 100 times that season, the most of any Premier League player.
After a series of minor injuries, notably to his stomach and knee ligament, which kept him from the end of the 08/09 season and first five months of 09/10, his return to the side saw him deployed in central midfield. Perhaps this was due to his injuries, or a preference of David Moyes to deploy Pienaar and Osman on the wing instead. Regardless, Arteta excelled in his new role with a defensive midfielder along side him, he had the freedom to dictate the tempo of the game.
Everton began to suffer a bit of a slump in the 2010/2011 season, and Arteta was moved back to the wing where he began to show glimpses of his creativity once more. Once again Everton had failed to make the top 4 and it would only be a matter of time until the likes of Arteta moved on to pastures new.
There can be no doubt, however, that it was on Merseyside where Mikel Arteta made a name for himself. After some great performances and goal contributions, a flurry of individual honours followed:
Everton’s Player of The Year (3x) and Premier League Midfielder of The Year 06-07.
However, there would be more honours to come…
The Big Move
“It is a big opportunity for me and my family and I think it is the right time for me to take it.
It is a big challenge, a different challenge, fresh for me and I want to see myself on the biggest stage, the Champions League.”
At 29 years old and after 6 baron years with an Everton side that consistently tried and failed to finish in the top 4, a chance to join an established Champions League club (at the time) arose.
It was left late, but just a few minutes before the 11pm transfer deadline, Arsenal announced that Mikel Arteta had joined from Everton on a four-year deal. It was estimated to be a £10m fee, which would prove to be smart business for The Gunners.
Despite his versatility, being able to play on the wing or centrally, it was evident Arsenal needed to fill the huge void left behind by midfield maestro Cesc Fàbregas. This was a man who, barring Robin van Persie, single handedly carried Arsenal into the top 4 and latter stages of the Champions League during beginning of The Emirates era. Shoes don’t come much bigger to fill…
Arteta was an older statesman compared to Fàbregas however. His maturity and discipline, made him a totally different player to his compatriot. Arsenal had been lacking a disciplined holding midfielder for many years. Alex Song was tasked with the role until his departure in 2012, but often found himself too far up the pitch, leaving The Gunners vulnerable to counter attacks.
You’d have to cast your mind back to Invincible midfielder, Gilberto Silva, who’s selfless attitude allowed his more creative teammates the ability to express themselves further up the pitch.
Needless to say however, Arteta and Gilberto Silva were nothing alike. Despite sharing the same level of discipline, to sit in front of the back four, Arteta lacked the hard tackling and defensive prowess of the Brazilian. He was more of a typical Spanish “pivot”, much like his future mentor Pep Guardiola in his playing days, tasked with playmaking and recycling possession.
Mikel Arteta would go on to play a crucial role at the base of Arsenal’s midfield, offering the stability and steadiness that they had been lacking for years.
With his disciplined nature, it was no surprised that he was named vice captain to Thomas Vermaelen in the 2013/14 season. Arsenal would go on to have a memorable campaign that year, as they beat Hull City 3-2 in the FA Cup final. Arteta captained the side with Vermaelen having another injury hit season and was instrumental in ending the nine year trophy draught for The Gunners. It was Arteta’s first piece of silverware in English football, certainly a moment to cherish.
After Vermaelen’s departure to Barcelona in the summer of 2014, Mikel Arteta took the captains armband for the 2014/15 season. He would go on to lift another FA Cup trophy that very season as Arsenal claimed back to back successes.
Mikel Arteta was without doubt an influential player and captain for Arsenal, racking up 150 appearances and scoring 16 goals from his deep lying midfield position. He won both the FA Cup and Community Shield on two occasions, with the first holding significant importance to himself and Arsenal fans alike.
At the end of the 2015/16 season, it was announced that Arteta would be retiring from football and subsequently be leaving the club. After a teary farewell at The Emirates, he was looking for a new challenge once again…
Pep Guardiola’s Call
During his time at Arsenal, Arteta began to seriously consider the possibility of becoming a coach when his playing days were over.
It was something that seemed to come naturally to him. He was a very intelligent player and person, with a genuine passion for the game. So much so, that Arsene Wenger would occasionally look to Arteta for advice during matches.
Upon retiring, Arteta was not short of options. He had been offered the opportunity to lead Arsenal’s Academy, a job which Per Mertesacker would eventually take a year later.
Mauricio Pochettino, who knew Arteta from their playing days together at PSG, also offered him a chance to be part of his back room team at Spurs. Poch is undoubtably a great admirer of Arteta as he had the following to say about his ex-teammate:
“He’s top, a top personality, character. I think he has the qualities to be one of the best. He was very young when I played with him at Paris Saint-Germain, he was 17 years old when he arrived and he was brilliant.
He was brilliant not only because of his talent but his maturity on the pitch, to be a leader, his knowledge about football surprised me as he was a young player who had a capacity to talk in the same level as a 30-year-old player.
For me, he’s going to be one of the best coaches when he decides to be a coach. He has the capacity to be one of the greatest coaches in football, for sure.”
Perhaps due to his loyalty to North London rivals Arsenal, it seemed impossible Arteta would join Pochettino despite his admiration for him.
Instead, Arteta was to once again link up with Pep Guardiola, whom he knew from their time together at Barcelona, despite Pep being 11 years his senior. It is believed that Guardiola was convinced he would be a top coach when he called Arteta for information on Chelsea, prior to their Champions League Semi Final vs Barcelona.
Making His Mark In Manchester
Serving as Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City, Mikel Arteta was given plenty of responsibility. Pep has credited Arteta to improving both Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane’s game, two players who were instrumental in their record breaking Premier League campaign in 2017/18.
Guardiola credits Arteta for improving many individuals at City:
“Mikel Arteta is working many, many hours and days after training specifically about the last action on the pitch – that control in the last moment to make the right movement in the last three or four metres”.
This coincides with Leroy Sane’s comments regarding the work that Arteta has done with him:
“I really get on with Mikel. He’s always right. He’s a very good person, and a great coach. He has given me loads of advice. We speak a lot about my movements, how to run into the spaces behind the defence, what I should do with the ball and the specific moment to change my speed. He’s always there for me.”Leroy Sane on Arteta’s coaching
It’s obvious that Arteta is passing on the skills that he had honed from his playing days, particularly on the wing. It would be a stretch to say he is solely responsible for improving these players and getting City to score tonnes of goals, but we shouldn’t underestimate his influence.
It’s not just attacking actions that Arteta looked to address on the training pitch. He was also credited with improving Fabian Delph’s game. The English midfielder was made into an auxiliary left back during an injury crisis at Manchester City, and it was Arteta who saw the potential in him.
“Mikel Arteta has been so pivotal for me,” said Delph. “One of the reasons I have stayed at the club is because he saw the qualities in me and he knew I was available to do the role they wanted me to do. I’ve got them all to thank.
Interestingly, Delph was asked what he thought on the rumours linking Mikel Arteta becoming Arsene Wenger’s replacement back in 2018:
“I think Mikel would be a fantastic manager. When the rumours were circulating about him leaving, I was thinking ‘please don’t!’ We get on very well as do all the players and staff.” – Delph after Arteta‘s initial links to the Arsenal job in 2018.
Yet another example of not only how influential he was at City, but also the respect that Arteta had from the players at the Etihad.
It was evident that Guardiola and Arteta would work well together. Having both come through the ranks at Barcelona, they are on the same wavelength when it comes to football. They understand and appreciate the beautiful game, as it should be.
See our article below from last year where we looked at Guardiola’s tactics at Manchester City, where a certain Mikel Arteta worked as one of his Assistant Coaches.
It’s a testament to Pep Guardiola as a coach and a man, that he entrusted someone who was basically a rookie in terms of coaching, to come into his back room team and be given the responsibilities that he had.
So much so, that Guardiola heaped an enormous amount of praise on Arteta back in September 2019 when quiestions arouse around the young Spaniard replacing his mentor as City’s head coach in the future.
“He’s a young manager, he’s 37, so he is so young but he has experience already to handle big players and teams and when it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.
He’s helped me a lot.
From day one, so not just the last two seasons, from day one. He has an incredible work ethic, and he has a special talent to analyse what happens, and to find the solutions.
We talk a lot about what he believes and feels and so on. He helped me a lot, especially in the first year. He knew the Premier League – like for example in games against Stoke or whatever.
He can tell me about the players we will face better than myself, because he played against them and was in the Premier League for ten or 11 years. That’s a long time.”
Big praise from Guardiola, and it becomes evident that Arteta was a crucial member of his backroom team as he had knowledge and experiences in the Premier League which was invaluable even to an experienced manager like Pep.
Just like Pochettino, Guardiola also stated that he believes Mikel Arteta has what it takes to be a top class manager in the future.
“He’s so happy when we win but suffers when we don’t and that is why he tries to find a solution. He’s an incredible human being, with incredible values about what it means in the locker room to be together, and he is already an incredible manager and he’ll have incredible success in his future. We see the football in really quite a close way.”
Perhaps a sign of what Arsenal fans can expect, as Guardiola states the two of them see football in a very similar way.
The two share a great friendship, and although Guardiola would have loved for him to stay with him, he simply could not stand in the way of his friends dream.
End of Part One
Coming into a club like Arsenal, who are certainly not what they used to be, but nevertheless remain a huge club, is no easy take for a manager with no experience.
The demands of the worldwide fan base and the owners, who have finally put some money into the clubs coffers, is no easy feat for a seasoned pro, let alone a young head coach.
Mikel Arteta became the youngest head coach currently working in the Premier League at the age of 37. He returns to Arsenal with an impressive CV for someone so young, and with glowing references from respected coaches in the game.
It will be interesting to see how Mikel Arteta fairs in his new role, although early signs suggest he will be a great appointment for The Gunners.
Part Two of our Mikel Arteta instalment takes a closer look at his appointment as Arsenal head coach and what we can make of his work so far as well as what the future holds.
Check it out HERE https://footballowl.co.uk/in-arteta-we-trus-part-two-arsenal-tactical-analysis/