More than once last season, Mikel Arteta must have looked at the Arsenal squad in front of him and wondered where to even start with his rebuild. While the Spaniard has had his own shortcomings as a coach exposed, he hasn’t been left with much to work with. Indeed, the 2020/21 campaign was a nadir for the Gunners in the modern era.
There are, however, signs that a much-needed clear-out has started at the Emirates Stadium. It was confirmed before the final game of the season that David Luiz would not have his contract extended, bringing to an end a two-year stint that never really felt right from the moment the Brazilian arrived from rivals Chelsea.
This was followed by the news of Matteo Guendouzi’s impending sale to Marseille and the decision not to extend Dani Ceballos’ loan stay from Real Madrid. Others, like Alexandre Lacazette, Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka, are reportedly up for sale, or at the very least the club are open to bids.
Most significant, though, was the confirmation that Steve Bould has been sacked as Under-23 coach after 30 years at the club in a variety of different roles. This suggests the clear-out that has started at Arsenal will go beyond just the players on the pitch. The Emirates Stadium could be a very different place by the start of next season.
Arteta made some cryptic comments last month in which he made veiled suggestions that some insiders had tried to harm Arsenal over the course of last season. “In those circumstances when you are not winning and when there are so many people, some inside and some outside, that are trying to hurt you” he said. “And to keep them together and block that and be so strong, I think that is some achievement. As normally when that happens [makes a cracking sound], that cracks and everything falls, and it didn’t.”
When asked if these figures who tried to damage Arsenal from the inside were still at the club, Arteta replied: “no.” It’s not entirely clear what, or who, Arteta is referencing with such comments, but it’s important that he feels the trust of those around him, whether that’s from players from within his own dressing room or from executives at boardroom level. Without that the 39-year-old won’t be able to reshape Arsenal in his own image.
Arsenal have needed a comprehensive clear-out for years, since Arsene Wenger left the club in 2018. The Frenchman’s departure should have been the catalyst for a fundamental overhaul at the Emirates Stadium, not just one of the playing squad, but of the sporting structure at the club. That never happened, though.
Wenger’s exit only succeeded in leaving Arsenal stuck between the past and the future. They found themselves in the awkward no man’s land of a generational transition, but with no plan on what that transition would actually lead to. This led to a number of poor decisions at boardroom level.
Despite being at the helm for a season-and-a-half, Arteta has so far been denied the opportunity to make his mark as Arsenal manager. It’s difficult to gauge the Spaniard when he has had to deal with a mess that isn’t his. It isn’t Unai Emery’s or Wenger’s either. The mess belongs to various figures who have led the Gunners astray over the years.
If Arteta has a plan in mind on how to take Arsenal back to the top end of the English game, he should be allowed to implement his ideas. That might require clearing the decks first. But only once the decks are clear will the real work begin.
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