Under the management of Unai Emery, many Arsenal players regressed.
This included everything from their playing ability and their general performance to the way they conducted themselves on the field, most notably the likes of Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and David Luiz, just to name a few. That was until Mikel Arteta has took charge.
Mustafi was bought for $35 million four years ago in 2016. Under Unai Emery it had got to the stage where he was just about unplayable, simply because of his constant high-profile mistakes that led directly to goals, his bad passing, and his very questionable positioning on the pitch.
However, since Mikel Arteta has taken charge at the back end of last year, Mustafi has cemented himself as a regular in the heart of the Arsenal defence with some impressive performances.
All up in the 18 games he has featured for Arteta, Mustafi has a total of 30 interceptions and 60 recoveries. During a seven-game stretch in which he was a starter, Arsenal kept three clean sheets in a row. He was a mainstay in the Gunners’ defence until an injury brought his campaign to an end. A hamstring injury from a collision with Raheem Stirling in the Gunners’ FA Cup semi-final win over Manchester City has kept him out of action until now.
Mustafi is expected to resume full training by the end of the month and it remains to be seen whether he will be slotted back into his centre-half role when fit. My gut feeling is no, as there are a few ahead of him in the pecking order in Gabriel, Rob Holding, David Luiz, and possibly Pablo Mari and William Saliba.
Make no mistake, though, he will become an important squad member going forward for Arsenal, something that just six months ago seemed impossible.
If you want to talk about a career being over and then being completely revitalised under Mikel Arteta, then look no further than Granit Xhaka. The Swiss player’s Arsenal career was over after that incident against Crystal Palace way back in October last year when he was substituted and made those gestures to the crowd. We all thought that was the last time we would see him in an Arsenal shirt. Then Arteta came along.
Xhaka’s Gunners career was nearly over, and he was close to joining a Bundesliga outfit before Arteta intervened. Now his importance to Arsenal’s midfield and his importance to the formation of his side can no longer be questioned. His range of passing is second to none and his willingness to cover every blade of grass to support the Arsenal cause is a testament to his character.
He has become an integral part of the Arsenal squad and is now one of the first names on the team sheet, given how lost his Arsenal career looked during that Palace debacle, he has shown character and determination to come back and cement himself as a crucial Arsenal player for years to come.
David Luiz was much in the same predicament as Mustafi under Unai Emery. Poor passing, very questionable positioning, and just awful play plagued him from the start of his Arsenal career.
Like the previously mentioned players in Mustafi and Xhaka, Luiz has transformed himself into the on-field leader that Arsenal so desperately needed. In a time when there are numerous centre backs on Arteta’s squad – including William Saliba, Gabriel, Rob Holding and Calum Chambers, who need that little bit of direction at this stage of their career – having Luiz next to them is a great thing to have.
That is why Luiz’s experience and guidance on the field cannot be underestimated, especially for Gabriel and William Saliba to help them settle into life in England. Although by his start, Gabriel has already settled in nicely and has shown his quality.
Luiz is still prone to the odd mistake, but not like the defender that Freddie Ljungberg dropped during the start of his Arsenal career, he is looking like the defender that won the Premier League with Chelsea all those years ago. He is undoubtedly the leader of the Arsenal back line.
You could even add Mohamed Elneny to the list of players Arteta has turned around. Elneny was deemed surplus to requirements under Emery and sent out on loan to Besiktas. However, since his return, he has been a regular for Arteta’s side and has been more than serviceable in his games, in particular the Community Shield win over Liverpool and Arsenal’s opening-day win over Fulham.
So, what does this all mean? Mikel Arteta is willing to give every player in his squad the chance to prove themselves, providing they uphold the standards that he requires.
In Mustafi, Xhaka, Luiz and Elneny, it is clear to see how important Arteta is to the mental and physical mindset of his Arsenal players. If you are willing to do the hard yards, you will be rewarded. If not, then out the door you go.
This kind of approach has been missing for several years and Arsenal has been a club that has needed it the most. The board has got Arteta’s hire spot on and he is showing just how good a manager he can be for this club, even at this early stage.
Make no mistake about it, when Arsenal do eventually win the Premier League title again, it will be because of Mikel Arteta’s incredible man management and tactical ability that this famous club is holding up the trophy once again.