They trust the process even if they’re not a part of it. One is an Arsenal legend; the other is his one-time teammate and current rival who looks to stand in the way of that process. Between them, the trust and respect afforded to Mikel Arteta seems to grow, ableit grudgingly, by the day. At some point, even knobs like Gary Neville. Alan Shearer, Dermot Gallagher are going to have to take their heads out of the sand or whicher other location they’ve stuck them and admit that Arteta seems to know what he’s doing. It’s probably too much to expect that we can keep up this pace, but sharper minds than me (long list, that) are willing to testify, so let’s let them do that.
First, Bacary Sagna share the following in an interwith with the website Midnite:
I could tell Mikel Arteta was going to be a great manager when I played with him. When I used to around his house to watch football, a game like El Clasico, the first thing he would point out is ‘They’re playing 5-2-3″ and would always be really into the games he watched and talked about the tactics. It’s a passion for Arteta, like Pep Guardiola. They both eat, drink, and live for football. Arteta was a natural leader at Arsenal.
Arteta and Patrice Evra were the best captains I have played with. They had that vibe and wordsd that would make you want to become a better player and motivate you. In difficult situations, they find the words that we have to do better and keep improving. They had that special personality that not everyone had.
Okay, so we’ll set aside the reference to Evra. Sagna played for two of the best managers in the history of the game. His yardstick for leadership and football management is Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola. To be willing to go on record saying that he knew that Arteta was going to be a great manager is therefore coming from experience and insight.
Not to be outdone, Sagna’s former teammate and our current rival Bernardo Silva spoke to Football Daily and talked about Arsenal’s progress. Here are his word:
Arsenal is not a surprise to me…because I know very well the manager. I know how good he is and how well he understands the game and how much he demands to his players because he was with us and he demanded the same thing from us, and [it’s a] very young team, very hungry and especially very, very, very good, and then you have players who have the winning mentality like Gabi and Zinchenko and it becomes a very dangerous side.
It’s rare that you’ll see a player speak so respectfully and affectionately about a rival club’s manager, especially one as young as Arteta. To command that kind of respect from players you’re not much older than (Arteta’s only eleven months Sagna’s senior) suggests that there is in fact something special in this manager. That’s not the same as saying Arteta’s a good or even great manager…yet. However, he’s a heck of a lot further along on his journey than the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, to name just two of his contemporaries.
Speaking of contemporaries, we can’t leave Guardiola out of this. Now, of course, any praise he bestows on Arteta is probably intended to reflect back on Guardiola, the mentor basking in the brightening aura cast by his protégé. Here’s Guardiola testifying:
They are going to do 100 or more than 100 points Arsenal, if they continue in that way – we won’t catch them so we will have to be almost perfect.
Earlier in the season, he spoke more directly about Arteta:
He was taught since he was born. Maybe I learned more off him than he did off me when we worked together. Arsenal have the work ethic, the talent, the support…People see how he works every day, the commitment…We have made an incredible season, they have been better. We want to be there as close as possible to them, the season is so long. Many things will happen, many tough games.
I’ll be honest. When Arteta was hired, I thought he would try to instill Guardiola’s tactics without the world-class players Guardiola’s tactics depend on, and this would lead to colossal failures. While there are elements borrowed and similarities present, Arteta has shown great tactical flexbiliity as he’s assembled a squad full of young, hungry, determined players. A few of them are on their way to becoming world-class, but we’re still far from the kind of squad Guardiola has built his resumé on.
In other words, much like this squad, Arteta is still growing, learning, evolving. In time, he may even achieve enough to win over Gary and Alan and Dermot, maybe enough to win over the persistent (which is a polite way to describe them) #ArtetaOut crowd. Time will tell…