As much as it might seem like a new era at Arsenal, some old habits are hard to shake. After decades of giving almost unlimited power to Arsene Wenger, it seems like Mikel Arteta is being given similar privileges. The only problem there is that Mikel Arteta is no Arsene Wenger.
After Mesut Ozil was frozen out and eventually offloaded a year ago, we’re now seeing Arsenal bid farewell to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In both cases this was a clear power move by Arteta.
The Spanish tactician is clearly eager to stamp down his authority on this squad, and end the culture of the last few years of high-paid players holding too much power and influence when their performances on the pitch, and in some cases their attitudes off it, don’t really merit that.
It shows the ambition of Arteta that he is putting his own vision and project before any individual player, channelling something similar to Sir Alex Ferguson’s famous quote: “If the day came that the manager of Manchester United was controlled by the players—in other words, if the players decided how the training should be, what days they should have off, what the discipline should be, and what the tactics should be—then Manchester United would not be the Manchester United we know … There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, the performance of the team, and your control of the players and staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord. There is absolutely no other way. It doesn’t matter if the person is the best player in the world. The long-term view of the club is more important than any individual, and the manager has to be the most important one in the club.”
Again, though, Arteta is not Sir Alex Ferguson, and Arsenal are playing a dangerous game by giving a relative rookie coach this much sway over such a big club.
Letting Ozil go has probably been justified as we’ve certainly not seen any kind of comeback from the German playmaker since his departure from the Emirates Stadium, but losing Aubameyang now looks like a decision that is bound to come back to haunt Arteta, with the Gabon international still looking like a dangerous player who had just suffered a crisis of confidence.
What kind of message does it send to the Dusan Vlahovics of this world if this is how ruthless the Arsenal manager is with such elite talents? Who is going to want to risk their reputations to play under a manager who – no disrespect – has achieved nothing in the game but won’t think twice about ostracizing you at the first sign of trouble?
It would be easier to feel some degree of confidence about what Arteta is doing if there was truly a glimpse of a successful project on the horizon, but there just isn’t. Arsenal are 6th in the Premier League table, five games without a win, and have gone four consecutive games without even scoring. And yet the manager has just spent January letting the club’s top scorer leave without signing a replacement.
Maybe there is a method to this madness, but if Arsenal really insist on giving Arteta this much power to cause issues with big names that the board will have worked hard to finance and negotiate, then they would be right to ask when they can expect to see some sign that this is leading somewhere successful.
Arsenal are far from guaranteed a top four finish despite plenty of summer investment and plenty of time now for Arteta to make his mark. If things don’t dramatically improve by May it will be obvious why, and time to start asking some difficult questions.