When Mikel Arteta retired from football, he had three options at his disposal; take up a lead job at Arsenal Academy, join former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino in his back-room staff, or link up with Pep Guardiola as one of his staff members at Manchester City.
In July 2016, the former Everton and Arsenal midfielder was named Guardiola’s assistant and his path has been on a rise since. But back in November 2019, when Unai Emery was dismissed by the Gunners, Arteta’s name was on the top of the shortlist, and it didn’t take long for him to switch alliance.
Upon arriving, the Spaniard had promised to bring back the brand of football Arsenal were once known to play, and who better than the one who was a part of it. He had a stunning start to his new life as a manager despite his first game in charge ending in a 1-1 draw against Bournemouth.
Only a week after his appointment, Arteta guided his side to a thumping 2-0 home win against Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United, and this is when things went berserk. Out of 13 games Arsenal played between January 1 to March 7, they won eight, drew four and lost just once.
There was light at the end of the tunnel…until the world was put to a stop by the global pandemic.
A three-month-long lay-off did give players time to recover, but things haven’t gone well for Arteta in the past week. During the first week of Premier League’s 'Project Restart', Arteta has already suffered two defeats -- as many as he faced during his first 15 games in charge. That, coupled with the disciplinary issues from the players have only added salt to his already deep wound.
Arteta was dealt a massive blow when defender Pablo Mari and former captain Granit Xhaka were forced off against Manchester City before David Luiz played his cameo of gifting two goals and getting sent off.
Quick stat: Arsenal have now been shown three red cards in 11 Premier League games under Mikel Arteta. That's as many as in 51 games under Unai Emery.
Against Brighton, Arteta had a perfect opportunity of bettering his away form in the league but a 2-1 defeat against the Seagulls has now seen him winning just one away game since his appointment.
Arsenal may only be six points away from fifth but considering their away record under Arteta, the line of fixtures ahead seems like a substantial block in their hopes of achieving the UEFA Champions League spot. Of their remaining five away games of the season, they still have the likes of Southampton, Sheffield United, Wolves, Tottenham and Aston Villa to play.
However, despite all the pessimism going around the club, the Spaniard is slowly and steadily putting his vision into action at Arsenal. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and Arteta too will need at least a couple of more transfer windows before getting his philosophy firmly embedded and enacted at the club.
Arsenal’s outing against Manchester City in the mid-week was indeed underwhelming but the fact remains that the side which took the field averaged just over 24 years in age. There were as many as five players who were under 23 and only striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was over 30.
Of all, a certain Bukayo Saka has galvanised on a personal front to a greater extent under Arteta. The 18-year-old versatile winger hit the woodwork against Brighton and assisted Nicolas Pepe for the opener.
Quick stat: Saka has provided 11 assists in all competitions this season. Only three Premier League players have recorded more -- Kevin De Bruyne (18), Trent Alexander-Arnold (14), and Riyad Mahrez (12).
On the contrary, the senior members of his squad haven’t oozed any sort of confidence and have duly lacked discipline on the field. In fact, since their 2-0 victory over Manchester United in early January, Arsenal have scored two or more goals in just two out of their 11 games in all competitions. Furthermore, Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t scored an away goal since February 2019.
So now, for Arteta, the proposition of managing his young guns while keeping the senior members in line remains one of his primary tasks alongside taking his veterans back on track -- A serious challenge for someone who is still a rookie in the managerial world.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ian Kington