Mikel Arteta says he’s able to take plenty of positives from his first 12 months in charge of Arsenal despite battling unprecedented challenges that, in the eyes of the club’s life president Ken Friar, have made 2020 the most difficult year in the Gunners’ history.
While a cycle of highs and lows is not unexpected at any football club, the roller coaster ride that the Spaniard has experienced certainly reads like a Hollywood script. Inheriting a beleaguered squad, he made great headway rebuilding confidence with a clear vision for the future only for a pesky global pandemic to throw obstacles in his way.
While the successes in the FA Cup and Community Shield remain notable highs, the recent terrible run of form – unrivalled in 40 years – has seen progress reverse at an alarming rate.
Throw in an awkward conversation about pay cuts, disgruntled players, departing executives and a sacked dinosaur and it’s little wonder that Friar, who started working for the club in 1950, had sympathetic words for the 38-year-old.
“Ken Friar has been here longer than anybody, I think he’s been here 70 years, and he said, ‘Mikel, it’s not one of the most challenging years in Arsenal’s history, it’s the most challenging and difficult year in Arsenal’s history.”
“There, I can take a lot of positives from the things we’ve done, things we’ve changed, things that worked, obviously the two trophies that we’ve won.
“Then, the results in the Premier League have taken the gloss off what we’ve done, for sure. We have to accept them. There’s now negativity around the team because that’s what happens. We cannot deny that.
“I am enjoying a lot the challenge, I still feel so privileged to be here, I would not change any decision but at the moment, we are hurting. We are suffering because we care a lot about this club. We had other ambitions when we started the season and it’s not going our way. It’s time to fight back, be together and get this club [back] where it deserves [to be].”
Speaking on the eve of Arsenal’s Carabao Cup quarter-final with Manchester City, Arteta was under no illusions about the importance of getting back to winning ways.
“The best medicine for a team that is not winning is to win a football match,” he said “It doesn’t matter which competition, it [winning] brings confidence, it brings joy, it brings belief. There’s nothing else.
“Talk doesn’t change anything if you keep losing. Stats, whatever you want to tell people, it doesn’t change [things]…you need to be supported by results. At the end, it’s what makes things stable and possible to keep working. If not, it’s impossible.”
While he’s consistently struck an optimistic chord, Arteta went on to admit that it’s not unnatural for players to sometimes waver in their beliefs. Having earlier spoken of a need for ‘fighters not victims’ he made clear he has enough of the former to get the team back on track.
“Yes, I do [have fighters] but some of them can have doubts at any moment. When you find yourself in this situation, you are tempted to go to the other side and start to say ‘oh, we’re scoring own goals, we cannot play with ten men, and we don’t have the crowd and then the referee made this decision.’ I’m sorry, but we don’t need any of those [excuses].
“I think there are people who are very contagious and can transmit a certain level of energy. When you have a lot of them, it’s very easy.
“You always have some on one side, some in the middle and some completely on board. Then you have to drag as many people as you want into your side, to the fighting side. The ones who are not interested or they cannot do it, they have to stay behind because they are pulling the rest back.”