Perhaps there are other examples of managers who have had a difficult start to their careers, but has there every been one more strange, difficult, and surreal than that experienced by Mikel Arteta?
He took over a club going through its worst run of form for decades having parted company with a manager who had lost the dressing room and the fans; inherited a toxic issue with short-lived captain Granit Xhaka; and was handed the reins by temporary boss Freddie Ljungberg as one man who had never managed a Premier League game handed over to another.
Oh, and this was in December, at the most hectic time of the season. He then had to deal with injuries, red cards, Matteo Guendouzi’s Dubai indiscretion, a defence that looked like it didn’t even understand the concept of defending, as well as a host of contractual issues.
Nevertheless, in his first 15 games the Gunners lost just twice as he steadied the ship. Then as the threat of a worldwide pandemic spread, Arteta himself contracted the virus, sparking the shutdown of football for more than three months, and in that time had to deal with players, agents, and the fact the entire sport had basically been put on ice.
He was also put under pressure by owners KSE to force through a wage cut on the players – to this date Arsenal remain the only club to have done that – and the far side of it he’s had serious injuries to key players, more red cards, more indiscipline and a couple of defeats followed, thankfully, by three successive wins.
Has any manager ever experienced that much in the opening months of their career? Answers on a postcard etc etc.
It’s something Arteta referenced today as the Gunners prepare for a trip to high flying Wolves on Saturday evening, hoping that all the things he’s been through will be part of his development as a manager.
“It’s been a challenge because as you’ve said, so many different things have happened in six months,” he said.
“A big lockdown, a lot of games when I joined, a lot of games after the lockdown, very little time to train and a lot of issues to be resolved as well around the team and within the club.
“Gathering all the information that I can to make the best possible decisions for the future of the club, to try to improve the team as much as possible, to get to know the players that we have, the environment that we’re trying to create, our culture.
“Hopefully step by step we’ll get better.”
The manager and his side face another big challenge against Wolves at the weekend, something the 37 year old is well aware of.
“The manager has created the perfect environment for the players,” he said.
“I think they didn’t have very big expectations but with their performances and their consistency, they have gained respect from all the teams in the league.
“They compete really well, a really clear game-plan of how they want to expose their opponent, very solid defensively and with some really good talent in forward positions that can win the game at any moment.
“A very complicated side.”