Cast your mind back to Arsène Wenger's Highbury days as Arsenal manager, it shouldn't be too difficult to recall if you are old enough. Our long serving manager did not receive much in the way of flack back then, probably because the transition from sausages to caviar was all fairly new and fresh. Personally speaking sausages taste much better in my opinion but now I am just confusing things.
Anyway there was a complaint that started doing the rounds eventually and it was that Arsène did not blood any of the young players into the squad. The likes of David Bentley who was the new Bergkamp, *chuckles* Quincy Owusu-Abeyie (remember him) and others were not getting enough pitch time.
Unfortunately the likes of Twitter and such like was not around back then so I cannot embed any proof but I am pretty sure my memory hasn't faded quite that much.
Fast forward to the move to the Emirates, this should be somewhat easier to recall. The goal posts had been moved significantly. The complaint was now that Arsène was obsessed with developing young players and not buying established. As if often the case a fair dose of context has been shoved down the back of the sofa never to surface again.
'Why did we let go of so many experienced players? Their experience would have been valuable to our squad' was a fairly common phrase repeated all throughout the internet for years.
So it was interesting to read the reaction when Mikel Arteta extended his contract for a further year. There are a lot of unhappy chappies out there as this could block the arrival of a much sort after beast of a mountain, hard as nails, destroyer like Sergio Busquets or Michael Carrick. You see what I did there? But Arteta is no Busquets comes the response and how could I argue? Arteta is not physically at his peak any longer but they serve a similar purpose. They are tactically intelligent footballers that read the game very well but also give the team a safe pair of feet when building attacks.
Michael Carrick is actually a much better comparison. The last time Manchester United won the title, they had the Englishman in front of the back four. Fans can get caught up with what they believe a player should look or act like when there is often other ways of getting a job done, just in another way. We already have a player who kicks people, points and shouts and plays with passion and aggression. The thing is, nobody wants to see Flamini play anymore.
All too often I have read opinions that we just need a player to break up the play and not bother get involved in the fancy build up stuff, we have creative players who do that blah blah. That in my humble opinion is very wrong.
We are a ball possession team that enjoys a larger percentage of the ball than most teams in our division, especially at home.
When Cech, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal or whoever has the ball from the back they need a player who can pick up the ball under pressure and make the right decision more often than not. Our attacks often depend on how quick we can get the ball to the likes of Özil, Alexis et al before the opposition have time to thwart our attack.
Last season against Swansea City at home, especially during a terrible first half where we could not get the ball into dangerous positions quickly enough saw us bang our heads repeatedly against a big white wall. So much so that when we faced Sunderland Arsène Wenger decided to leave out Coquelin.
Look (in the voice of Arsène) as I wrote recently I don't see a player like Francis Coquelin making the strides he has made, only to be plonked out of the side and he deserves his place in the team, although some would disagree with that. Coquelin is far more athletic, faster and stronger in the challenge but this idea that Arteta is useless at winning the ball is plain wrong.
The problem that I can see is that many see last season as black and white, like I said at the start of this piece, the context has been discarded. Many see us playing badly at the start of the season with Arteta starting and then we improved dramatically when Coquelin came into the side. If Mikel was fit at that time I would be willing to bet using this promo code that the side would have continued to have improved with our captain in the side.
It was never that straight forward and Francis Coquelin didn't come and make everything alright. Without wanting to go into it too much, I think the turning point came in November when we lost at home to Manchester United. We were trying to juggle far too much earlier in the season. A change of system from 4231 to 4141, new offensive players in Alexis and Welbeck while losing our focal point in Giroud. Players such as Mertesacker struggling after the world cup and of course constant injuries. There was a period of time back then when I remember us losing a new player at least every game. While much of the focus was on our defending mainly because we did not buy a centre back when in fact Nacho Monreal was arguably our most consistent defender at the time our offensive game let us down badly. We were drawing against teams we should have been beating like Leicester City away, Tottenham at home, Everton away etc not because we were conceding counter attacking goals due to Arteta but because we had zero momentum, zero continuity and zero consistency.
We were transitioning from a defensive low block team the previous season to the Alexis and Welbeck inspired high energy pressing side and Manchester United at home was the first time we clicked in that respect. Our finishing clearly did not match our performance and United got away with a Fellaini shove followed by a Gibbs on goal against the run of play before we lost our heads similarly to how we lost our heads against Monaco a few months later when Coquelin was in the side. I will come to that in a moment.
A few days after we lost to Manchester United we faced Borussia Dortmund, a team that had battered us all over the place in the first Champions League match, it was a chance to see if our much improved performance against Manchester United was a one off or if we had really turned the corner. We won 2-0 a score line that flattered the visitors somewhat. We had done to them what they had done to us in the first game and did not give them a sniff. Mikel Arteta played 66 fantastic minutes that evening, if you have Arsenal player and you have a spare 66 minutes I suggest you go and refresh your memory. Unfortunately for Mikel, that was the end of the season for him because injury struck.
This was before Koscielny had shaken off his achilles problem, before Özil was back from injury looking all beef cake like and just at the time when Giroud came back scoring goals for fun. Mikel Arteta was unfortunate to miss out on all the fun and it was not just a simple case of Francis Coquelin coming in and fixing the entire team. That in my opinion is lazy. Awfully lazy.
Had Arteta stayed fit all season who is to know how it would have all panned out for Arsenal. In hindsight I am pleased it happened the way it did because we won another trophy and don't have to play a CL qualifier, maybe we would have had the same outcome, maybe not but we would not have been playing a liability in the team as so many people make him out to be. Far from it in fact.
His tackling numbers have always been impressive since his move further back as have his interceptions. He cannot play every game at his age and he is not the same player as Coquelin which in my eyes is a good thing. As explained earlier in the article there will be games, especially at home where a more cultured distributor will be beneficial. There will be other times where Arteta's leadership will be valuable. Scrap that, Arteta's leadership will be needed all season if we are to really have a good go at the title this season.
As others have mentioned, Arteta's new deal does not completely rule out another incoming player in that position although I don't see a new player coming in this season, but Arteta is 33 years old and will not be able to play as many games in a position so demanding. But let's not wheel him off to the scrap heap just yet, he will make a good contribution this new season, I am fairly confident about that. Hey it's now plastered on the interweb thingy so you can let me know about it if this proves incorrect. But I am absolutely sure that the team that Mikel Arteta had been playing in for the last couple of seasons is not the one developing nicely today. The big away scores against us a few seasons ago have hopefully been addressed. With that I mean we are unlikely to have a right back and Gibbs swanning about in wide striker positions and then no pressure being applied to the opposition once they've won the ball from us. You can inject Matic with Walcott's pace and he still isn't going to be able to do a thing about those breaks on us.
With Rambo kicking his heals on the flank and Jack finding his groove, I suspect Arsène will have his hands full in the middle of midfield during the up and coming season.
I suggest you chill out, enjoy the pre season and anyway once that big attacking signing comes in you'll be sufficiently occupied.