The ex-midfielder faces an unenviable task in his first few days in the Arsenal hot-seat with results not up to standard and issues off the field
Arsenal have finally confirmed Mikel Arteta as their new head coach. The Spaniard has replaced Unai Emery, who was sacked three weeks ago, and takes charge with the Gunners 10th in the Premier League following a run of one win in 12 games in all competitions.
“We all know there is a lot of work to be done to achieve that but I am confident we’ll do it,” he said, following confirmation of his appointment. “I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen overnight but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy.”
Given the club’s poor run of form and issues involving some of the high-profile players in the squad, Arteta – who has never been a head coach before – faces an unenviable task at the Emirates. Here are some of his priorities.
Show the senior players he is boss
Even before he had been appointed, Arteta found himself at the centre of a storm involving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s brother. Willy Aubameyang questioned Arteta’s lack of experience during a chat with an Arsenal fan online – with media across the world picking up on the conversation.
Some have defended Aubameyang’s brother’s actions, saying he was merely voicing an opinion, but it was not a wise thing to do considering Arteta’s appointment was imminent. Although the comments did not actually come from Arsenal’s captain, it shows that Arteta’s lack of experience could be an issue with some of the senior players in the dressing room.
Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both have contract situations that need sorting and although ultimately those decisions will be made by the club, Arteta needs to have strong input.
Granit Xhaka’s future needs to be resolved, while Mesut Ozil’s struggles have been well documented over the past 18 months. Given this is his first job as head coach, there will no doubt be some players at the club who will possibly view Arteta as a soft touch and he needs to show immediately that is not the case.
Arsenal need strong leadership right now, they need someone to come in and set out a clear vision for how he wants to improve the team and takes things forward over the next few years. Arteta has to show he is boss, even if that means making some big decisions.
Unite a disillusioned fanbase
Arsenal is a club that desperately needs to reconnect with its fanbase. The divisions that emerged during the final years of Arsene Wenger’s reign have never really healed. There were some positive signs during the early stages of last season under Unai Emery, but the poor end to the campaign soon brought those divisions back to the fore again.
Sections of the fanbase have grown frustrated by the poor results, poor performances and by a squad of highly-paid players who they believe have massively underperformed.
We saw things come to a head with Granit Xhaka in October, when the midfielder angrily reacted to supporters inside Emirates Stadium as they jeered him off the field as he was being substituted.
Empty seats are a regular sight at home games once again, with many supporters choosing to stay away even though they have already bought tickets for games. For Arsenal to be successful, Arteta must get the fans back onside and the only way he will be able to achieve that is by getting results and bringing a feelgood factor back to the club.
Sort out the defence
Arsenal have conceded 51 goals in each of the last two Premier League seasons and they have already let in 27 this time around in just 17 games. Defensively, they are a mess and have been for some time.
The back four is slow and the midfield in front of them consistently offer no protection. That leaves Arsenal exposed to the counter-attack, as we saw as recently as last weekend when Manchester City ruthlessly picked them off on the break during their 3-0 win.
Arsenal must learn to be better when they don’t have the ball. It’s something City are excellent at. When they lose it, they win it back quickly and that’s a quality Arteta must bring with him from the Etihad and instil at the Emirates. Most importantly he needs to make Arsenal a more balanced outfit.
The midfield needs more discipline so the back four gets more protection. Arteta won’t be helped by the injuries to Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac at left-back, while Rob Holding is still struggling for fitness following his return from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered last year.
But he can still improve things at the back with good coaching and that has to be one of a key priority in the coming weeks.
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Improve the away form
If Arsenal are to improve during the second half of the season they have to improve their away form. They were woeful on their travels during Wenger’s final season, just as they were during Unai Emery’s first campaign in charge.
Arsenal started this season with a win at Newcastle, but their victory at West Ham earlier this month is the only other time they have picked up three points away from home in the league.
Emery was unable to fix the problems on the road and Arteta will know he must find a way of solving them. The 37-year-old is known for being tactically astute; it’s something Pep Guardiola has given him credit for on several occasions during his time at Manchester City.
He has often been tasked with studying the opposition to spot their weaknesses and he will need to use all his tactical awareness to make Arsenal a far better proposition on the road.
Start planning a major rebuild
This needs to start now, even if we don’t start seeing the process begin in earnest until the summer. The reason Arteta has been appointed is that the hierarchy believe Arsenal need to go down a different path to the one they initially opted for with Emery.
It’s looking highly likely – barring a Europa League triumph – that the club will once again miss out on the Champions League next season and all of the riches that go with it. That means finances will be tight and high earners may need to be moved on.
But moving some of those on could be exactly what Arsenal need now after years of decline. Arteta is a young, exciting appointment and he must be allowed to take the club down the route he wants over the next few years.
If that means cashing in on players like Aubameyang and Lacazette, then so be it. Given that they seem unlikely to commit to new deals then there really is no other option. The squad needs a major revamp and the cash brought in from those potential sales could help with that.
Arteta is arriving at a difficult time. Three seasons without Champions League football have taken their toll, both on the quality in the squad and in terms of the clubs’ financial health. The squad needs rebuilding with some clever recruitment. Planning for what will be a very important summer must start immediately.