Mikel Arteta says his players need to take responsibility for their performances but he doesn’t want them to feel guilty because that will only turn into fear on the pitch.
As was the case after Saturday’s defeat to Liverpool, the boss hasn’t been afraid to criticise his squad when they’ve played badly but he also knows he treads a fine line between getting his message across and further damaging fragile confidence.
While supporters have been left dejected and pundits have stuck the knife, the Spaniard made clear he wouldn’t rise to the bait and instead laid the gauntlet down to his players to let their feet do the talking on the pitch.
“It’s just about how we take the criticism,” said Arteta when asked if his players hurt after defeats.
“For me, it’s not good to get the criticism and to feel guilty because that guilt turns into fear. It’s about feeling responsible. That is for me the key word.
“We have to feel responsible for what we do every day, for what we do on the pitch for the club we represent and then act. Not too much talking, it’s time for acting.
“It’s the only way we can do it. At the end of the day it’s about winning football matches, being competitive in every competition that we’re involved in and winning trophies.”
Ex-Gunner Emmanuel Petit, who helped the club to a Double in 1998 before swanning off to Barcelona, was particularly stinging in his assessment of the current squad.
This week, he said: “When I look at the older players in Arsenal’s team, it’s like they think it’s a retreat football club, somewhere you just go for a vacation.”
He added: “If you took away the name ‘Arsenal’ and looked at that group of players… average. At the end of the season, if I’m Arsenal, if I’m Arteta, if I’m on the board, to be honest with you, I think my main concern is getting half of the dressing room out. Honestly.”
Asked what he made of the Frenchman’s take, Arteta responded: “I don’t know what he said but he knows the club really well, he was here during the most successful years.
“He’s got that opinion. I’m here to change that opinion. I’m here to give an evaluation of what I see every day and where we are. I know where we are and where we want to go. We have to respect that.
Arteta also made clear that just because his players don’t always scream and shout on the pitch, it doesn’t mean they lack character. That said, he promised to weed out anyone who might not care enough.
“Showing [passion] goes with the character. There are people who are much more introvert or extrovert, that show emotion with their body language more than others, it doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.
“For sure, players that don’t have that emotion, that passion, that commitment, they won’t be at this football club.”
Ahead of tomorrow’s must-win Europa League quarter-final with Slavia Prague, Arteta also outlined how he’ll mentally prepare players who’ve shown signs of burnout.
“It’s just getting that inner energy and passion because you’ve got the opportunity to win something,” he said.
“That energy when you use it in the right way is a big lift. Hopefully, we can transmit that to the players so they are in that mode when they step onto the pitch.”