critics silenced | 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has gone from a joke to a hero in six months

On more than one occasion, Mikel Arteta’s reign as Arsenal manager appeared to have reached a natural conclusion

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Arsenal Head Coach / Manager Mikel Arteta reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on January 15, 2023 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)© Getty Images

Kevin PalmerSunday World

THERE is a united effort propelling Arsenal’s title challenge – and it could just lead them end the season as champions.

On more than one occasion, Mikel Arteta’s reign as Arsenal manager appeared to have reached a natural conclusion, with fans turning against a manager who didn’t have enough credit in his bank to withstand the setbacks he was overseeing.

An FA Cup win at the end of his first few months in charge gave managerial novice Arteta time to build some foundations at Arsenal, but an eighth place finish in his first full season in charge piled the pressure on him.

When Arteta’s side failed to the take the opportunity presented to them to finish in the top four after a slump in form in the final month of last season, the knives were out for the likeable Spanish coach.

Yet those blades were not being sharpened by the people that mattered in the corridors of power at the club.

Arsenal Sporting Director Edu and Chief Executive Vinai Venkatesham have been Arteta’s most passionate supporters – and they confirmed as much by handing the coach a new contract before last season’s end-of-season misery.

Take yourself back to the start of this season and Arteta was among the favourites to be the first Premier League manager to get the axe, with Roy Keane among those questioning why he was being hailed as a coaching visionary given his lack of success.

Such verdicts now need to be reconsidered. At the halfway point in this season, Arteta has already won over all of the doubters who suggested he was out of his depth in the Arsenal job.

Now the pressure has moved to a very different level, with the Arsenal boss heading into today’s game against Manchester United at Emirates Stadium with many suggesting the Premier League title is his to lose.

Such a prospect was inconceivable as his reign his rock bottom with a heavy defeat at Newcastle in the penultimate game of last season, which handed Tottenham the chance to seal a top-four finish.

It looked for so long that Arsenal would take that precious fourth spot, but they had a terrible run at the tail end of the season.

If Arsenal win the two games in hand they have over Tottenham now, they will move 20 points clear of their North London rivals – and that highlights how this script has changed over the last six months.

Amid the rising tide of excitement among Arsenal fans, Arteta has maintained the dignified calmness that he has exuded through good and bad time in his first managerial posting.

He openly admits that his management style is based on Pep Guardiola’s playbook, after he worked under his fellow Spaniard as he started his coaching journey at Manchester City.

Yet Arteta’s way is an evolution of Guardiola’s winning style, as his side are winning with players who were not the finished product when this manager started working with them.

While City can buy the world’s best players and improve their already exceptional team, Arteta has had to take on players with promise and develop them into potential champions.

Mikel Arteta (left) and Erik ten Hag are disciples of Johan Cruyff. Photo: Michael Regan© Getty Images

Aaron Ramsdale, Martin Odegaard, Ben White, Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka have all been transformed from boys into men by Arteta and he will be hoping new signing Leandro Trossard will follow a similar path.

Trossard joined from Brighton on Friday and he is now part of a club that is an example of what can happen when all parts of an organisation are pulling in the right direction.

“I always felt support from the ownership, from Edu, from everybody,” says Arteta. “I was convinced always that what I was doing at some stage was going to work.

I was clear as well, where the squad and the club was and what was realistic and what we could aim for.

“It was with the expectation that we have to have as Arsenal Football Club and now maybe more people believe in what we are doing. What we have done is changed the culture.

“There was too much anger, too much blaming each other at Arsenal for a long time, but now we are together.”

It would have been easy for Edu and Venkatesham to pull the trigger on Arteta when he was at his lowest ebbs, but their loyalty has been rewarded to a point that feels like there is no going back for Arsenal.

Whatever happens next, Arteta is now a manager who has the gravitas he lacked a year ago and that has given him a chance to aim for the stars.

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