This is not a new observation but: Mikel Arteta is smart.
I don’t mean that he’s immaculately dressed, even though he almost always is (like a reverse James), but he’s just a very clever guy. This is something I think we already know, but watching his press conference yesterday it was striking how well he played it with some of the questions he got.
Which isn’t to say there was anything wrong with them. Sometimes there are those in the press pack who are genuinely trying to generate a story by asking things repeatedly, or in a certain way, but this wasn’t that. There were certainly questions which, if he hadn’t chosen his words as well as he did, might have sparked headlines, but he chose them well. The journalists have a job to do, to try and elicit interesting information for their readers, but more and more, week on week, you can see that Arteta is someone who will only give so much and not a jot more.
Again, this isn’t to say he’s not open, or honest, or engaging, but when he shuts the door on a line of question, that door is staying shut. I particularly liked the bit when he was asked if the change of title from head coach to manager had come with a pay rise (it didn’t), and whether he’d be interested in a contract extension. To put this is context, he’s still hasn’t been in the job for a year, and a misstep here would have led to a slew of headlines about his contract, his future, and so on.
His reply to the question about whether he’d sign a new deal if it were offered:
Yes, but I have to earn that. Now in football you have to earn it every week and things change really quickly, so we have to be on our toes. Obviously, it’s my responsibility to plan medium and long-term as well, but that’s with or without me.
At the end, the time that I’m going to be at this football club will be related to how much I can move the club forward, improve the team and be a success on the pitch and get the values and the vision that I want to implement into this club as well off the pitch.
I know it sounds very simple or something, but this came during a press conference in which he was asked about the Kieran Tierney situation as it’s still unclear as to whether he can play tomorrow against Man City. That in itself wasn’t the only thing, because when pressed if KT had tested positive for the Coronavirus during the summer, he declined to answer on the grounds of medical confidentiality. A small thing, I suppose, but it sets very strict parameters on what kind of information will be made public, and if I were a player I’d appreciate my manager taking that stance.
There were, as you’d imagine, questions about Mesut Ozil and his potential exclusion from the Premier League squad. It doesn’t take much to get the fire started when it comes to the German, but Arteta explained his thinking regarding the Europa League squad decision, replied to a question which basically said ‘Arsene Wenger says Ozil has to play’, and there was basically no fuss. That is the Arsenal press conference equivalent of doing a happy-clappy dance, skipping merrily through a field full of landmines, and coming out the far side with a flourish and with both legs still attached.
Obviously, these are still early days in the career of Mikel Arteta as manager of this club. I am also absolutely open to the idea that in some ways what came before has an influence on the perception of him now. Under Arsene Wenger we were used to the Arsenal manager being a master communicator. Even his biggest detractors would have to admit that he remained an impressive speaker right until his final day. We then had Unai Emery who, for various reasons, was not anywhere close to that level – a man who was frustrating to listen to and it was often hard to make sense of what he was saying. Now, Arteta has picked up the baton that Wenger left, and I think it’s something we can all connect with.
However, that’s only a small part of it. In his own right the new manager communicates with an assurance that is – at least from this fan’s perspective – both comforting and encouraging. It makes me think that if I, from a distance, can feel this about the things he says about the many and varied topics he’s questioned on, then the players will feel the same way about the specifics on the training ground. As I said, there’s a long way to go, and you don’t win trophies in football for speaking well, but it feels good that as we embark on this journey, there’s a man at the helm whose words hit the mark as often as they do.
For some extra reading this morning, as we prepare for our first game with Thomas Partey (hopefully), Sid Lowe speaks to the man who scouted him for years, Francis Cagigao. Read that here – and keep fingers crossed that the decisions we’ve made regarding scouting are the right ones.
For now, I’ll leave you with a brand new Arsecast, chatting to Philippe Auclair about the Project Big Picture stuff, Partey, and lots more. All the links you need to listen/subscribe are below. Enjoy.