“If they want on the boat, they are more than welcome and that’s always my mindset.”
So said Mikel Arteta last week when asked whether Matteo Guendouzi has a future at the club.
The French midfielder has now been absent from the matchday squad for three consecutive games and when asked after Wednesday’s 4-0 win over Norwich why that was, the boss replied, “things have to change and nothing has changed.”
So what does ‘being on the boat’ mean? And how is Matteo going to get back aboard HMS Arteta?
Ahead of the trip to Wolves, Arteta explained: “Players that respect the values that we want to implement, that are 100 per cent committed to our culture and players that are accountable every day for what we demand from them.
“Players that are ready to help each other, fight for each other and enjoy playing together. That’s what I mean by being on the boat.
“You behave like this every day, you are very, very welcome here and we want to get the best out of you and help you to enjoy your profession with us.”
It’s pretty clear that Guendouzi isn’t just being punished for his involvement in the unseemly melee after our defeat at Brighton. The 21-year-old was also dropped in February after a bust-up with the coaching staff at the Dubai training camp and his behaviour has been under the microscope ever since.
He’s not the only one. Arteta is happy for it to be known that he’s keeping tabs on all his players and not just when they are on the pitch.
“Now we don’t spend as much time [on the training ground] as we used to before, but you see that [if the players are on the boat] in every reaction; what time he comes into training, how he comes, how ready he is, the way he communicates, the energy that he brings, the way he transmits his feelings to his teammates, the way he reacts to certain things, the way he behaves in training, during games. There are a lot of things that we can [decide if we] pick you.”
While it’s pretty obvious that Arteta won’t tolerate shirkers, he isn’t ruling by iron fist alone. He wants his players to be open about their problems so that he can help them.
“We all had moments when you doubt about your future,” he said. “You can have a difficult time with that but the conversation has to be open and you have to create an environment for the players that they can trust you to express their feelings, even with me.
“If you do that, you are always willing to help them, to try to guide them, to give them clarity, direction and the support they need to feel comfortable and to make them feel they are in the right place.”