Mikel Arteta believes Arsenal have lost their way and that anybody who does not buy into his plans to change the club’s culture will have no place in his regime.
The former Manchester City assistant coach and Arsenal captain was formally presented on Friday evening after signing a three-and-a-half-year contract as head coach several hours previously. He inherits a club stuck in a deep rut and, in an impressive and commanding opening mission statement, he said his players will have to accept a new way of thinking in order to work under his command.
“That’s what I’m sensing from the outside,” he said when asked if Arsenal had become lost. “I would like to start to make some steps and start to understand the reasons why. There will be reasons behind it, and a history behind it, and I have to try to understand quickly why this is, to implement certain things that will be quick wins, for the players, the staff and everybody. That is the challenge now.”
Questioned on whether he knew exactly what had gone wrong at Arsenal, who may slip into the bottom half of the Premier League if they fail to win at Everton on Saturday, he suggested that any malign elements will not last long under his regime.
“I have my ideas that I would like to keep to myself because I have to corroborate them when I see [the players] act, when I see them behave, when I see them live together,” he said. “I want to do things my way but by convincing them that’s it’s the right way for everybody to live better.
“I don’t want them hiding. I want people to take responsibility for their jobs and I want people who deliver passion and energy in the football club. Anyone who doesn’t buy into this, or that has a negative effect or whatever, is not good enough for this environment or this culture.”
Arteta said he had been taken aback by the amount of negativity around the Emirates Stadium last Sunday when, alongside Pep Guardiola, he oversaw a comfortable 3-0 win for City. “It wasn’t only the performance. It was the atmosphere and energy that I perceived when I was working around the place,” he said. “That worried me a little bit. I understand that they are used to success and fighting for things and at the moment it’s difficult for them [the fans] to swallow the situation. So let me help.”
There are widespread suggestions that Arteta is inheriting a dressing room whose mentality is questionable. Several senior players have been linked with moves away; he admitted the team appear to be “suffering” and that “when you are suffering, sometimes you want to go away”. The challenge, he explained, is to create a new setting that gives them a platform to show the best of themselves.
“I am about to find out,” he said of the players’ attitudes. “I have my resources and I have my opinions and there are things that are relevant for me that match what you are saying to what I believe. But I don’t know. I want to start from scratch and understand the history and why this is happening. But change the environment and the context for them and give them the opportunity to perform and live in a way in which the expectations are different.”
The way to create harmony will be to lay down some ground rules, he suggested. “It is first of all about how they live and some respect issues that have to be addressed but, when that happens, if they want to follow that, they are in. If not, they are out.”
Sitting alongside Arteta in a briefing with print media, the Arsenal head of football, Raul Sanllehi, dismissed suggestions that Arteta – who came close to landing the job in 2018 before being pipped by Unai Emery – was a risky appointment given that at 37 he has never managed before.
“It depends how you define experience,” Sanllehi said. “Definitely there is a risk but it’s not from the experience side. The risk is intrinsic in any decision. You never know the whole thing until you try it. But we feel very confident with what we’ve heard to make a very clear decision for him. It was very clear.”
Arsenal will pay City around £2m for Arteta, who was Guardiola’s right-hand man for three years. Arteta said he cried when addressing City’s players for the final time on Thursday but that a return to Arsenal made him feel “back home”.
Arteta will watch from the stands at Goodison Park and leave Freddie Ljungberg, the interim head coach, in charge for a sixth and final time before officially starting on Sunday. That did not stop him apprising the squad of a few requirements when they met on Friday, shortly before his tenure was confirmed.
“I spoke to Freddie as I didn’t want to interrupt the preparation for the game, but at the same time wanted to help them I was here and would be right behind them,” he said. “I wanted to tell them a few things that we are looking at tomorrow which are very relevant to me. I wanted to shake hands with them and wish them luck for tomorrow.”
The composition of Arteta’s backroom staff is yet to be confirmed, although an announcement is expected soon. Ljungberg seems certain to be involved, although Arteta said the pair would make a final decision after sitting down for a coffee together and discussing “the history of what’s happened in the last 18 months at the club”.