Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Goodison, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta sat down for an exclusive chat with Sky Sports to discuss his first 12 months in charge of the club, facing in-form Everton, why results have nosedived of late, and whether he plans to enter the January transfer window.
By an odd coincidence, Arteta takes his struggling Arsenal side to Everton, in a match you can see live on Sky Sports, almost exactly a year to the day he was in the stands at Goodison having just been named Unai Emery’s successor.
“I want people to take responsibility for their jobs and I want people who deliver passion and energy in the football club. Anyone who doesn’t buy into this, or that has a negative effect or whatever, is not good enough for this environment or this culture,” said the Basque at his unveiling last December.
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Fast forward 12 months, though, and Arenal find themselves languishing in an unfamiliar position of 15th in the Premier League, just five points above the relegation zone, after their worst start to a top-flight campaign in almost half a century.
All of which is a far cry from the start of the campaign, which Arsenal entered with great optimism after victories over Man City and Chelsea en route to winning last season’s FA Cup as Arteta became the first man to win the competition as both captain and manager of the club.
Not only that, but the 38-year-old also became the first Arsenal manager to win a major trophy in his first season in charge of the north London club since George Graham in 1986-87, with a second piece of silverware soon following in August after a penalty shootout win over champions Liverpool in the FA Community Shield.
However, the Gunners head to Merseyside this weekend with faith in Arteta waning after a demoralising recent run that has seen them win only one, and lose six, of their last nine league games.
Previously, the former Arsenal skipper’s position at the club seemed secure as a result of those impressive one-off cup wins over rivals City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
But such morale-boosting displays only remain in fans’ and owners’ memory banks for so long.
This is football and it is a results business. Period. And Arteta has not been getting those for some time now.
In fact, Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with Southampton at the Emirates was Arteta’s 50th game in charge of the club in all competitions, with Arsenal having won more cup ties (14 of 17) than league encounters (13 of 33) under him in that time.
So, much to discuss then with the Arsenal boss as he prepares his side for a tough-looking trip to Merseyside this weekend…
It is almost exactly 12 months to the day you were appointed Arsenal manager, so how do you assess the progress your side has made in that time? Are you a better team now than the one you inherited?
We have faced one of the most challenging and difficult years in our history. We have made a lot of progress and implemented a lot of things that are working really well.
The biggest highlights are the two trophies we won in this period, but at the same time, these last results in the Premier League have taken the gloss off the progress and all the work that we have done.
And we know that it is not good enough.
You must have been delighted with the fighting spirit your players – many of them young and relatively inexperienced – showed against Southampton, especially in the second half when it could have been easy for them to hide?
Absolutely, and I have zero doubts what the players are trying to do. We are all united, we are all ready to fight against the cause. Things have been difficult, many different circumstances have put us in this situation – the amount of suspensions we are getting, the injuries, some of the chances, and the way we have lost football matches.
But this is the reality and what you cannot fault is the spirit, the fight, and the togetherness around the team.
I suppose it is in these types of difficult situations where as a manager, you really learn about your players?
Without a doubt. Normally in difficult moments is when you see the real people, personal and professional, and it is a necessary thing to go through for a team, as well as a club. I’m saying as a club as well, because in these moments is when you really see who we are. When things are going well, it is really easy to be supportive and being in the photograph.
But when things are not going well, then that is when you have got to be prepared to do that – first of all, to defend our players as much as possible and give them confidence, and as I’ve said, they have to take on responsibility on the pitch and get the results that we need.
What are you going to have to do to win at Everton, as Carlo Ancelotti has made Goodison a fortress since taking over? What do you think Everton’s main strengths are?
They have different ways of adapting, they play in different formations, and it depends on the players they pick on the day, which changes the danger areas and where they produce the situations to attack, be vertical, and attack your box, which is the main threat that they have with the attacking areas.
And then the confidence – I think their last two results are going to give them a boost of confidence and we have to be aware of that. And the fans, they are going to have 2,000 fans, they are going to be right behind the team and we are going to need to go to Goodison to prepare for that and to win the game.
You switched from a back four to a back three against Southampton on Wednesday – why did you make the change and how do you think it went? And could that be something you employ on Saturday?
We have the option, depending on the players we have available and what the opponents are doing, but we can change and we are used to both systems, so that is not the issue.
After Everton, you have home games with Man City in the League Cup last eight and Chelsea in the top flight on Boxing Day – a great chance for the players to turn things?
For us, every game in the Premier League is exciting because we need the results and we want to be playing as often as possible. The players are in that mood and we have some big games coming up.
But as well, big games give you big opportunities to turn things around quickly.
Consistency seems to be a real problem, with you going from a 1-0 win at Man Utd on November 1 to having not won a domestic game since – is this understandable, though, with a young team and a new manager trying to get his new ideas across?
It is something that has been lacking for many months, the consistency in the league. There are a lot of factors, some of them that you have already mentioned, and others as well that in this league, sometimes you do not always get the results that you deserve.
There are a lot of games where we have deserved much more, we should have many more points, but at the end of the day, we did not get them.
The transfer window opens soon – could that be something you will look to enter, as your technical director Edu recently suggested, or would you prefer to fix the issues on the training pitch with the players you have?
Our main focus at the moment is to get the best out of our players, they are the players that are here and they are trying to help us achieve our objectives, and then we will see what becomes available in the transfer window and what we can do to help the team.
What were your aims at the start of the season – a top-four finish?
We have talked about short term, medium and long term, what the objectives are, where we are, and we are all very clear what we should be doing, accepting that the last Premier League results have not been good enough, but knowing the direction we are taking.
What would now constitute a successful season in your eyes?