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Arteta wants to play the Pep way, but first he has to build a team to do it

Sam Dean


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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta. Photo: Getty Images

Of all the records Mikel Arteta might have hoped to set in his first year as a head coach, the one against Liverpool on Wednesday was perhaps the least expected. His side had only 31 per cent possession, the lowest figure by any Arsenal team in the Premier League.

Arteta may be a disciple of Pep Guardiola, but the visit of Liverpool prompted a remarkably Jose Mourinho-esque performance. Arsenal had just three shots, to Liverpool's 24. In his younger days, Mourinho might even have described it as "parking the bus".

It is safe to say that this type of showing was not what Arsenal fans were expecting when Arteta was lured away from Guardiola's side at Manchester City.

It is almost certainly not what Arteta was expecting, either, given his stated footballing philosophy and the ideals he shares with Guardiola.

But, as he prepares to face his mentor in today's FA Cup semi-final, it is becoming increasingly clear that there is a pragmatic edge to Arsenal's head coach.

The ultimate goal remains the same - to play the way of Guardiola's City - but Arteta is evidently not so idealistic in his approach that other methods will not be considered.

The Liverpool match was an extreme example, yes, but it was not the first time Arteta's Arsenal had focused on defensive solidity rather than free-flowing attacking football.

Passes

In fact, Arsenal have played fewer successful passes per league game under Arteta (395) than they did under Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg before him (420). They also take fewer shots per match (11.8 before Arteta and 9.7 since his appointment).

This is not to deny that Arsenal are considerably better under Arteta. Anyone who has watched even 10 minutes of his side would know they are far more cohesive than before. It is striking, though, that for all the expectations that the Spaniard would implement Guardiola's style, it is in defence where they have improved most.

They conceded an average of 1.5 goals per game before he arrived, compared to one now.

When asked about why Arsenal were not yet producing the "tiki-taka" style we have come to expect from City, Arteta was a little prickly.

"You are asking me if I wanted to play, after a two-month break, like City right now? Look back on the issues we had with a lot of players, with all the injuries, with suspensions, with players out. It is impossible. I need to adapt. I need to win football games and I need to find ways in order to do that. My long-term situation and how we want to play is very clear."

It begs the question of whether this group of players are good enough to play in Arteta's desired system. He has made clear his belief that investment is required in the team, describing the difference between Arsenal and Liverpool as "enormous" and saying it is a "big concern" they may not have the required funds.

"We need these players (to play the desired style), but we also need other players to do that," he said yesterday.

Arteta has accepted that Arsenal cannot compete with City when it comes to mastery of possession.

"Unfortunately, yes," he said when it was put to him that City would see plenty of the ball. They will have to be dogged and resilient at Wembley, as they were in beating Liverpool this week.

Outcome

"I don't want to be defending deep for 90 minutes," Arteta said. "There are going to be a lot of little games within the game that we have to play. We will have our moments as well. You know how crucial it is in big games and in this competition to make the right decisions."

The outcome of the match will go some way towards shaping decisions in the transfer market this summer, as well as the future of key players such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Arsenal's spending depends on whether they qualify for next season's Europa League, with an FA Cup victory probably representing their best chance.

"We don't know the type of transfer market we are going to find," Arteta said. "It is something unique, it never happened and there are a lot of question marks around that. We don't know exactly what we are going to be able to do, or not to do, to keep players or not to keep.

"It will depend a lot on what we do on the pitch in the next three or four games. That is in our hands, so we have to maximise that."

His comments about the gap between Liverpool and his team were seen by many as a message to the club's executives and Stan Kroenke, the owner.

Arteta denied that, saying he could pick up the phone to the Kroenkes whenever he saw fit. It remains clear, though, that he wants money to be spent.

It seems that Arteta will have to earn his transfer kitty with results.

In the long term, he believes a more expansive style of play will guarantee that success.

For now, against the masters of the philosophy he hopes to instill at Arsenal, a more gritty approach will have to do.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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