Ooh to, Ooh to Be…
Yes fine fellow Bergkampesquerers, it is great to be a Gooner again. Imagine being a Spud and having to contemplate travelling to Bulgaria for an EL pre-qualifier after another trophy-less season: BBC a few days ago: “Tottenham will play Romania’s Botosani or Macedonian club Shkendija in the third round of Europa League qualifying if they defeat Lokomotiv Plovdiv.” How sexy does that sound, hey?!
Or put yourself in the shoes of the red Mancs who have won nothing and limped out of the EL competition only a few weeks ago. The Chavs also won nothing and were easily brushed aside by the Southern Germans in the CL and then by us in the FA Cup final. The Blue side of Manchester did win a mini-trophy back in the olden days prior to C19, but have also imploded post the lockdown. Even Pool supporters had little to enjoy since the return of the beautiful game. They already knew they would win the league but their team’s recent performances have hardly set the world on fire. But yes I would swap trophies with them to be fair.
But, since the lockdown, we Gooners have had the tremendous pleasure of beating Pool twice, Citeh and Chelsea in the FA Cup (and fair and square) and picking up a big and small trophy in the process. What looked like our worse season in decades turned into a feast of football in the final stages, which has given us real hope for better times ahead. Nobody had predicted this quick and joyous turnaround during those dark lockdown months.
There is no doubt that beside a few dollops of luck (we always need those in life), we should fully contribute this change of direction to our new manager, Mikel Arteta. We have seen him in action as a manager for about five months now, and I have been wondering who he most resembles: Guardiola, Arsene or Klopp.
Mikel has the same sort of attention to detail, tactical nous, ability to motivate his players and at least as good as communication skills with the press. But I have been really impressed with his ability to give individual players confidence and improve their performances, especially with the likes of Luiz, Xhaka, Mustafi, Elneny etc. Pep never had to work much with good players who need to be coached into excellent players; his cheque book offered a much quicker solution. And then Mikel has this ability to play a much more defence-minded kind of football and out-think fellow top managers, whereas Guardiola struggles at times to adjust his default style of high press and quick passing football. I have no doubt that Arteta also wants to play that sort of football with Arsenal eventually, but for now other tactical approaches are required. And he gets a 10 out of 10 for tactical adjustments.
Arsene achieved so much with Arsenal and not just in terms of silverware won; he also changed the culture and turned the club in one of the most loved clubs in the world with a style of football that was both easy on the eye and, especially initially, very successful. Despite his young age, Mikel is equally confident and ‘in control’ when speaking to the press as Arsene was, which is really impressive. Arsene liked to give his players freedom of expression on the pitch as to sort out between them how they were going to get the best out of themselves and beat the opponents. He made the broad tactical strokes and allowed the players to do the colouring in.
It was highly successful in his first 10 years in charge but less so when the competition became much stronger and the money ran out. Wenger used to focus hard on the whole culture of the club with a strong focus on values for every employee. It looks like Arteta has a similar total-culture approach, which is great. But where Mikel is fundamentally different to Arsene is in his strong focus on tactical discipline and individual roles in the team. Mikel runs his team and performances more machine-like with less individual freedom and strong focus on a set of tasks and responsibilities. In the process, Mikel can turn players into confident high performing individuals, and that is a quality I associate mostly with two other managers than Pep and Arsene…
Yes I reckon Arteta is more like Klopp than his former boss/mentor and manager. They both have that ability to get the best out of players they have and turn them into a very well-oiled machine-players. What Klopp has done with the likes of Henderson, Wijnaldum and Milner is very, very impressive. Yes he also was able to spend big on a top defender and goalkeeper but the majority of his players were good players that were turned into excellent team players by the German. It is early days but I reckon Arteta is just as good in doing this.
They also have in common this ability to focus hard on individual roles and responsibilities within a certain style of football and based around tactical instructions before and during the game.
Klopp is the more extravagant of the two but I like Arteta’s zen-like/Arsene-like calm even more. Klopp like Guardiola, as far as I can tell, can play only one kind of football: total domination, ‘strangling’ of the opponent in their own half, passing them to bits and dealing with any escapees through (small) fouls and fast, big, scary defenders. Arsenal were lucky to win the first game against Pool post the C19 lockdown but in last Saturday’s game Mikel showed us he had found a tactical way in dealing with Klopp: we allowed just four shots on goal, one every 22.5 minutes, and created the better chances ourselves overall.
Louis van Gaal
This sort of tactical adjustment reminds me actually a lot of, in my opinion, one of the best managers ever, Louis van Gaal. The fellow Dutchman was awkward with the press and struggled with some of the top quality players, but his ability to build teams around a style of play with specific roles and responsibilities for each position on the field was amazing. I never liked the guy and he should never have gone for the nr1 teams in the various counties where he managed at the time, but what he did with Ajax in the mid-nineties with a bunch of average, young-talented and good but not great players, was unbelievable. And what he did with an average Dutch national team in 2014 was equally impressive. Mikel is showing a similar ability in building a team from a mixture of good, young and a few great players, which is very promising.
His Own Man
Mikel is made for Arsenal in the 2020ies. He has the ability to get the best out of individual players, is tactically astute, great motivator for the players on a fair but firm basis and represents the club very well in front of the media. So I guess he has something of all these great managers, but most of all he is his own man. Glad to have him… Ooh to Be.