LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 01: Mikel Arteta manager of Arsenal poses with the trophy as he takes a TV … [+]
Sunday saw Arsenal lift the FA Cup for the fourth time in the last seven seasons, but not one of those previous triumphs had been laden with as much symbolism as the latest one. The trophy Mikel Arteta held aloft at Wembley was a tangible token of the progress he has made at the club in a relatively short space of time.
Despite Sunday’s FA Cup final victory over Chelsea, which came after a semi final win over Manchester City, the Gunners are still a long way from where they want to be. The 2019/20 saw Arsenal finish a lowly eighth in the Premier League PINC table, with two steps forward almost always followed by one back.
Those steps forward still warrant recognition, though. Arsenal have regressed terribly over the last decade or so. 15 years ago, this was a club that entered every season targeting the title. Even five years ago, the Gunners were a permanent fixture in the Champions League, finishing in the Premier League’s top four for 20 seasons in succession.
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The exit of Arsene Wenger two years ago was meant to herald a new age for the North London club. The Frenchman was a true Arsenal giant, and a giant of the Premier League in general, but the Gunners had stagnated under his charge. They needed reinvigoration, but it never came. Under Unai Emery, stagnation led only to further deterioration.
Arteta has a big job on his hands to shape the team at the Emirates Stadium in his own image, with Arsenal’s rudderless recruitment policy of the last few years succeeding only in building a badly balanced squad, his task of eradicating the culture of mediocrity at the club could prove the toughest of all.
And yet there are signs that the Spaniard is already achieving some success in this regard. He has very quickly generated a strong team spirit in a dressing room where there previously, just six months ago, appeared to be none. More than once in recent times, Arsenal players have spoken of the process they are going through to improve and keep moving forward. Arteta appears to have won hearts and minds in a way Emery never did. Not even Wenger in his latter years took people along with him in the way Arteta has done since his appointment late last year.
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – MAY 08: Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino celebrates with his … [+]
In many ways, what Arteta is doing at Arsenal has the markings of what Mauricio Pochettino did at Tottenham Hotspur. The Argentine was also a football intellect who got players on his side through his passion and intensity. Pochettino changed the culture at Spurs, imposing modern values on a club that had become outdated in its methods and outlook.
There is even a comparison to be drawn in the way Pochettino achieved success at Spurs without ever really receiving the backing of the club in the transfer market. Despite Arteta’s early success, there have been some indications that Arsenal will have to scrimp on new signings this summer, something the Spaniard has openly described as a “concern.”
Ultimately, Pochettino found that there was a ceiling to what he could achieve at Spurs and Arteta might well discover the same at Arsenal. The two North London clubs might be rivals, but there is a lot that unites them right now. Arteta is following the path set by Pochettino. At this moment, that is a good thing, but there remains the underlying sense that just like the former Tottenham manager his progress might always be hindered.