Mikel Arteta believes that bringing a broken Arsenal back together as a club is “much more powerful” than trophies, but can now be the launchpad to become a team that can start achieving the 100-point seasons necessary to compete. The Basque coach spoke of how the manager responsible for such standards, Pep Guardiola, gave him an “incredible lesson” by regularly revealing to Arteta how he thought about the game when they worked together at Manchester City.
The 42-year-old was speaking in a hugely expansive interview for the latest edition of the new BT Sport podcast, ‘Michael Calvin’s Football People’, where he also discussed mental health, how he is part of a coach’s discussion group with Eddie Jones and the importance of Arsenal again having a proper community connection.
This was why he feels the spirit being felt at the club now is so important. Arteta was asked by Calvin how long it will take to maximise his impact at Arsenal and see real success.
“It depends what you call success,” the manager responded. “I mean, if it’s winning titles or it’s bringing our club together. For me, bringing the club together is much more powerful. We have a club that was in a difficult state, with a lot of cracks, a lot of division.
“At the moment, this is a very different club. And that’s an incredible credit that everybody has to take, from the top of the club to every player. Because we did that together.
“The next step, now we have the foundation, is to win. And we are building a team to win, knowing that this era is unprecedented in English football, because nobody has ever had in this league teams that are capable of winning 100 points. And they are doing that for many years now, something that we haven’t done ever in the history of this football club - even in our best times. So that’s the aim and the challenge. So it’s a project, yes.”
Arteta believes it is actually working with City, and Guardiola, that could help him achieve that and topple the champions. The former Arsenal midfielder was an assistant manager at the Abu Dhabi-owned club on retiring from his playing career.
“The greatest thing with Pep was that I was able to see and feel what the role meant - working in another office and looking through the window or trying to read what he was feeling. He gave me the opportunity to get an inside view and really verbalise how he was feeling, fears that he had, the reason why he was doing it, the periods that he had difficulties, or he had good moments. He really deeply shared his emotions with me and that was an incredible lesson. Obviously we worked together before, but he did it in a way that transformed my way of understanding the profession.”
Arteta also seems particularly conscious of the stresses on managers, given he has now felt the full extent, which is why he has joined a support community.
“I am part of a group called XXX where you have other managers from many other sports. In this group, we share experiences and ask for other managers’ opinion on previous experiences we’ve had. You want to be judged on your decision-making, on how would you act differently in past scenarios. And that's been incredibly valuable for me, because there is not a competition there, but they can get strong insights into the situation because they have lived those situations in a very similar way.
“One of the names can be Eddie Jones, who I'm building a very good relationship with. And it's been really helpful and it's someone that I admire so much.”
Arteta was speaking on the BT Sport podcast, ‘Michael Calvin’s Football People’
(BT Sport/Michael Calvin)
Arteta has taken the value of sharing his emotions into his wider career, feeling it is essential to the growth of the club.
“We do it also with the people that are next to us in our lives. It wouldn't make sense not to do that when we spend more time there than with our own families.
“If there are central values that you want to promote and embrace, like respect or trust, how can you trust somebody if you don't really know how he's feeling? It's just impossible. And if you want help and support, you need to give people the opportunity to help and support you. That help can come from anybody. It can come from your kids, it may come from the photographer, can be from the groundsman. It just opens emotionally so many boundaries.”
It is why the new connection Arsenal have built up with the community is so important to him, and now gives him such satisfaction as manager. He believes some of it comes from the social role clubs have in the Basque region, where he grew up.
“I am probably doing it because I've been educated. I just have been raised like that. I have those feelings and I will do it consciously and unconsciously because I think it's the best way to have people enjoying what we do. You know, if you talk to me about what are non-negotiable [values], people will go straight away to discipline and respect. These are great but for me it's enjoyment, especially in the industry that we are in. To do well, we need to have a love of this sport. If we don't have enjoyment, what the hell are we doing here?”
And he gets most enjoyment from that connection.
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
“It probably comes when people that have been here for 30 years and are really emotionally attached to the club come to me and say, ‘listen, I've never seen this before. I never felt that unity across the club. I never felt that unity. With our supporters.’ Everything is sold out. We are selling more shows than ever. We don't have tickets. They really feel connected to what we are doing.
“The other thing is when I go to the dressing room when I walk around the building, and I see there’s really a sense of family and they describe it as a sense of family, what it means for them to work for the club, to participate in this journey together.”
:: Listen to the Mikel Arteta interview in the latest edition of BT Sport podcast, ‘Michael Calvin’s Football People’ (out today across major podcast platforms). Every Thursday, award-winning journalist and author Michael Calvin interviews ex-players, managers, owners, referees and more providing unique insights into the game. Btsport.com/pods