By Tai Emeka Obasi
Whoever is still an Arsenal fan needs commendation. In the modern craze of ‘get rich quick’, being an Arsenal fan has that subconscious assurance that one can be relied upon in areas of patience, diligence and conscientious living. Liverpool fans come close in this regard.
From 1996, when I followed Nwankwo Kanu to Arsenal, it has been all about loyalty and dedication. From about eight years of perennial taunts of ‘trophyless’ Arsenal to eventually drifting off Champions League football, we continued to endure.
I repeat that Arsene Wenger loved the club so much that he didn’t know when to quit. But truth be told, it is not just in name, where man and club sounded very similar. The French workaholic is everything about modern Arsenal. From building the ultra modern Emirates stadium to laying the foundations for a truly big business entity, Arsene managed his dear outfit to outlive him far into many generations.
But unknown to many, Le Prof was carrying the failings of the club on his shoulders alone in the spirit of a truly conscientious and dedicated man. In better slang – taking bullets for the board without any outward sign while every transfer season came and went. But Wenger had shown he is a born winner. He wanted to win every single match, every trophy competed for. He wanted to produce Ballon d’Or winners from his dear club, most adorably from his well-structured academy. But apart from Thierry Henry, who was actually denied, his wish was not fulfilled.
He played football the only way he knew how. He followed every rule of engagement in the game religiously. His transfer involvements were done strictly to the book. His players never cheated on and off the field.
The new dynamics in playing and club management eventually caught up with Le Prof. He managed to convince FIFA to put Financial Fair Play in place but the big and sugar daddy clubs still found ways around it in a world suddenly being dominated by insincerity.
And Wenger and his fans continued to endure, often times heaping his frustration on the zippers of his very familiar overcoat. They referees and English press never helped matters. They combined to frustrate one of the most honest of men. They tried everything to break him but Arsene never once stepped out of character to cut corners. Even a huge faction of the club’s fans broke before him and wanted him gone. But forever, Le Prof remains a great man.
Today, after three major transfer windows since he left the club, every fan of the great club must have been coming to the realities that it was the Arsenal board, and not Arsene, that failed to sign desired players for the club while the team gradually slipped out of competitiveness.
Today, after taking huge gambles on Mikel Arteta and Edu, the club seem to have found perfect partners to not only step into the moral foundation of their great master but also grapple adequately with the dynamism of the modern game.
Whereas Wenger could be accused of being obsessed with particular type of players, Arteta has shown from day one that appropriately balancing the squad is his priority.
He’s from La Masia and has played under Wenger as well as learned coaching under the greatest apostle of tiki-taka, Pep Guardiola that no one will expect the rookie manager to play unattractive football. But from every indication, the 38-year old is not only interested in playing attractively, he is also very much interested in winning and being very competitive.
With Captain Pierre-Merrick Aubamayang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe, Arteta met one of the most fearful attacks in the Premiership. With Bernd Leno and Emiliano Martinez, the goalkeeping department was solid enough.
But in defence, Arsenal were leaking goals like basket and he knew that must stop or he wouldn’t achieve anything before following his predecessor into the labour market.
Having been signed in the middle of a very chaotic season, he couldn’t change personnel. But he could and did change structure. He quickly adopted to playing three central defenders in a 3-4-3. formation.
Clearly, safety first was his priority. He couldn’t salvage much in the League but he made the most of it in the FA Cup he met from the off.
His change and overall tactics caught big teams unawares but ‘smaller’ teams could prove difficult and they did. Some players were to pay for the swift tactical change. Mesut Ozil became the biggest casualty. Arteta’s tactics required total commitment from every player in defence and attack…and we all know the stuff the playmaker is made of.
Arteta is a great disciplinarian too and couldn’t take stubbornness from the likes of Matteo Guendouzi. Lucas Torreira didn’t fit his structure. It was glaring that he was very lightweight in midfield. Even when Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and remarkably, Mohammed Elneny all improved under him, the middle was calling for a solid DM.
And none could have fitted better than Thomas Partey!
Arteta had signed Gabriel Magalhaes and the Brazilian fitted seamlessly to improve the back line. He signed Willian and the Brazilian has added experience and dynamism to the attack. Now, Partey is the final jigsaw.
Yes, the Gunners lack a world class creative midfielder to be called a complete team but no one makes his team perfect in just one window. Besides, there are Ceballos and Willian to share creativity in the middle until next window. Pepe can create from the flanks too. And who says that having balanced the defensive unit, that Ozil won’t come in to take over creativity till his contract expires?
With Partey, Arteta has solidified a defensive unit. And he has a vibrant attack.
He can alternate play from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3, depending on the opposition. Partey fits both structures perfectly.
Not to mention that in young players like Ainsley Maitnand-Niles, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Reis Nelson, William Saliba, Arsenal have a fantastic back-up that will be very useful in Europa and the domestic cups.
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