Thursday 23 January 2020

Jamie Carragher: 'I never thought Arteta could be a top manager - but he is making his mark'

Mikel Arteta makes his point during Arsenal’s victory against Leeds which showed a different side of the Spaniard’s character. Photo: Eddie Keogh
Mikel Arteta makes his point during Arsenal’s victory against Leeds which showed a different side of the Spaniard’s character. Photo: Eddie Keogh

Jamie Carragher

I must admit my scepticism when Mikel Arteta was touted for big Premier League jobs over the past few fears. It struck me as odd that so many were championing him as a future coach of a club such as Arsenal, given his limited experience.

Reading and hearing about this dynamic, inspirational character from Arsene Wenger's dressing room made me wonder if that said more about the lack of personality at the Emirates during that era than Arteta's qualities.

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I do not say this to be disrespectful or unnecessarily negative, just to be honest about my perceptions of Arteta as a footballer.

I did not know Arteta other than as an opponent, but if you had told me during our battles in Merseyside derbies when Arteta was an Everton player that he would be managing Arsenal at the age of 37, I would have thought you were joking.

I just did not see it.

When we lined up against that Everton side we never felt Arteta was their leader. You would see characters such as Phil Jagielka, Tim Cahill, Tim Howard and Phil Neville and imagine them to be far more vocal and influential on the training ground.

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Arteta, in my mind, was a tidy, technically gifted and creative midfielder at Goodison Park, getting the most from his ability and performing at the level he should be. When he moved to Arsenal, I thought it was more to do with him becoming available for a reasonable fee than a grand transfer gesture.

Upon moving to north London, he was transformed into the midfield anchor for Wenger. His switch to the Emirates, the position he was used in and responsibilities he was given - going on to be captain - always seemed to me to be a symbol of how much standards had dropped since the days when Patrick Vieira was running the Arsenal midfield.

Again, if you had asked me six or seven years ago who was the most likely of Wenger's students to move into the dugout, how many would have said Arteta ahead of Vieira?

The clamour from Arsenal supporters for Arteta's return shows they saw something in Arteta the player that I missed.

In the early days of his reign, it is pleasing to see why so many believed in him. I have been impressed by Arteta's impact. A radical change is needed at Arsenal and the most important feature of Arteta's first few weeks is that he has identified as much, spoken publicly about it, and backed his words with actions.

His communication is extremely impressive, as is his demeanour and the sense that he has a clear vision that he will stick to.

He is already getting more from his players than Unai Emery was able to during this season, while his ability to engage with supporters through the media is a major distinction from his predecessor.

What is most encouraging is how the work on the training pitch is so visible on a match day, even after relatively few sessions. Against Leeds United on Monday, his ability to change the game at half-time was especially promising and rewarding.

In the immediate aftermath of Arteta's first win - at home against Manchester United - there was a reminder of the challenges ahead via the interview given by defenders David Luiz and Sokratis. It was lauded by some for exposing the problems under the previous manager.

"The fun is back," Sokratis said, the clear implication being the players did not enjoy playing for Emery. Luiz suggested there was a physicality issue in the squad and also said: "It is beautiful to see how the kids start to understand the commitment and behaviour they have to do to achieve big things in life and in football."

I was shaking my head hearing these comments being made. The kids, David? It is the performances of senior players such as Sokratis and Luiz that have been killing Arsenal, not the youngsters. The side have suffered from what I call "the Arsenal disease", where defenders continued to retreat and invite pressure.

Even against Chelsea, when Arsenal deserved to win, it was a failure of defenders to push up - in direct contravention to what Arteta wanted - that led to Tammy Abraham's late goal.

Arsenal in 2020 remind me of Liverpool before Gerard Houllier took over in 1998 - mentally weak and lacking discipline, with too many senior players stuck in bad habits.

Arteta's recognition of the need for a cultural change is as important as the tactical knowledge he brings. I am not sure how much the cracking-the-whip approach works in football management nowadays - coaches must be more subtle and get the best from what they have before replacing those who infect the dressing room.

Nine years after first joining as a player, Arteta may finally bring the combination of silk and steel Arsenal have lacked for too long. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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