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Comment Arteta must resist super agents to succeed at Arsenal


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Testing the water: Mikel Arteta gives instructions to David Luiz – one of three signings last January that contrasts with the Arsenal manager’s vision for the club. Photo: Getty Images

Testing the water: Mikel Arteta gives instructions to David Luiz – one of three signings last January that contrasts with the Arsenal manager’s vision for the club. Photo: Getty Images

Testing the water: Mikel Arteta gives instructions to David Luiz – one of three signings last January that contrasts with the Arsenal manager’s vision for the club. Photo: Getty Images

A familiar criticism of unsuccessful managers is that they are more style than substance. It is equally true that modern coaches can suffer for having more substance than style.

Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery are two of the best recent examples. Their CVs and records at Chelsea and Arsenal compare favourably with their successors. That did not save them, because the fans and media were not having them.

In Frank Lampard and Mikel Arteta, the boardrooms turned to the polar opposite image-wise, appointing younger men with a positive, charming demeanour, able to express themselves well in front of the camera and generally look the part. As their club's ex-players, they have the advantage of being instantly relatable.

This sounds like an irrelevant superficiality, and probably should be when judging managers. It is not. How a coach comes across is more important than ever. Fans must feel the symbol of their club understands them. They are more intolerant and impatient when results go wrong if they cannot stand hearing from the man in charge.

That was Sarri's problem at Stamford Bridge, far more than results. Emery had the same issue at the Emirates.

From day one, Arsenal supporters liked the cut of Arteta's jib, relieved to hear a coach so expressive about his plans and principles. That should serve him well - certainly better than Emery - as the flak flies after a poor run. There should be no debate about Arteta's position today. He needs until at least the end of next season to get it right.

Arteta has already shown there is more to him than image. His initial impact reminded me of Jurgen Klopp joining Liverpool in 2015.

Although consistency was lacking, it came together against high-class teams. Arteta won his first major cup final, despite being in charge of a squad needing surgery.

The Klopp comparison does not extend into this season as Arsenal struggle in the bottom half. One of the reasons is that while Klopp spent his first transfer windows at Anfield rooting out those unsuited to his ideals - and his recruiters focused on purchasing those who fit - some of the key personnel at Arsenal do not seem to be on the same page.

Arsenal's recruitment policy would worry me as a fan. There are too many mixed signals. Centre-back Gabriel and centre-midfielder Thomas Partey reflect Arteta's vision. Even if they need an adaptation period, they look sensible, exciting long-term acquisitions.

Then I see acquisitions such as Cedric Soares last January and Willian in the summer and the contrast is striking. Willian was tremendous at Chelsea, but handing a lavish contract to a 32-year-old sends a contradictory message when a club are focused on building for the future.

Willian's agent, Kia Joorabchian, had a pop at me for querying the logic of that transfer. He is entitled to defend himself. But as an outsider, it is my opinion the deals for Willian, Cedric and David Luiz have benefited his clients more than Arsenal.

Maximise

I have nothing against clubs having a good relationship with agents. It is part of the modern game. But that collaboration must be mutually beneficial. People sneer at Wolverhampton Wanderers for being so close to Jorge Mendes, but he is supplying Nuno Espirito Santo with young, hungry players who suit how he wants to play. They perform well, maximise value and move on for big fees. Everyone wins.

To me, Willian's move to Arsenal looks like a final pay day for a fine player past his best. It is not the first time Arsenal have made such a signing recently. Adding older players with no sell-on value creates more financial problems and impacts squad balance. With Mesut Ozil already one of the highest-paid spectators in world football, you would have thought the lesson would have been learnt.

I understood why Arteta froze out Ozil, as he does not see him suiting his playing style and the club need him off the wage bill. It would be a mistake to perform an about-turn.

However, the credibility of that argument is not helped when supporters see their team trying to play a high pressing game with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (31), Willian (32) and Alexandre Lacazette (29). Last Sunday, in the 2-0 defeat at Spurs, they resembled three old professionals playing out the final few years of their careers.

Aubameyang has been an outstanding acquisition for Arsenal. But there is always a risk when investing big in a player in his thirties, especially a striker. You can never be sure how long they have left at their peak. That is why the addition of another attacker in his thirties, Willian, made less sense.

Arsenal have fallen into that classic trap of trying to have their cake and eat it, believing they could build for the future while enjoying immediate success. Perhaps the FA Cup win seduced them into that.

Since signing his deal, Aubameyang has not been the same, scoring once in open play. He is not getting anywhere near enough chances, but the era of strikers being judged solely on their goal return is over. Even the most prolific must bring more, like Pep Guardiola demanded from Sergio Aguero.

Pace

Aubameyang should be stretching defences with his pace, leading the pressing game or assisting. Then a goal drought would not be such an issue.

Arteta impressed me last year because he was able to win by sacrificing certain ideals to reflect the limitations of the squad he inherited.

The mistake this season has been in seeking to impose the possession game of Guardiola's Manchester City every week when the quality is not there yet.

The defeat at Tottenham Hotspur was the grimmest example.

Arteta can get on the right path by working with the top-class youngsters emerging from his academy, assisted by the correct assortment of more experienced players.

Bukayo Saka is one of the most exciting young players in England. I am surprised we have not seen more of highly-rated teenage defender William Saliba since his signing from St Etienne, even though the youngster was sent off playing for the club's U-21s this week.

Arteta must stake his reputation on them as he eases out those unsuited to the philosophy, building a younger, more active team over the two or three windows to correct the errors of the past five or six.

There are no short cuts in football and despite three full-time managers and three chief executives since 2018, Arsenal remain a long way from where they want to be.

Arteta can get them back, but it will not be quick. His club must be prepared to endure more pain first.


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