The former Gunners midfielder is in talks about returning to the club he represented as a player to replace the sacked Unai Emery
There was never any doubt in the mind of any of Mikel Arteta’s team-mates at Arsenal; the Spaniard was always known as someone who was destined to become a top coach.
Towards the end of his playing days, Arsene Wenger would even allow the Spaniard to lead some training sessions at London Colney, such was the Frenchman’s admiration for his cultured midfielder.
The way he studied the game, the way he thought tactically, it was clear Arteta had something special. That is why when he did finally hang up his boots in 2016, he had Wenger, Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino all battling to secure his services as a coach.
Ultimately, Arteta opted to work at Manchester City with Guardiola, a man he has known since he was a 15-year-old coming through at Barcelona.
Since then he has gone on to help City lift back-to-back Premier League titles, two Carabao Cups and an FA Cup.
Guardiola may be the man who gets the credit for all that success, but the major role Arteta has played should not be underestimated – as Guardiola himself admits.
“He’s helped me a lot,” said the Manchester City boss. “From day one, so not just the last two seasons, from day one. He has an incredible work ethic, and he has a special talent to analyse what happens, and to find the solutions.
“We talk a lot about what he believes and feels and so on. He helped me a lot, especially in the first year. He knew the Premier League – like for example in games against Stoke.
“He’s so happy when we win but suffers when we don’t and that is why he tries to find a solution. He’s an incredible human being, with incredible values about what it means in the locker room to be together, and he is already an incredible manager and he’ll have incredible success in his future.
“We see football in really quite a close way.”
There are plenty who do not believe Arteta should even be in the running for the Arsenal job, given his lack of experience.
It is true he has never been a head coach before – but when you speak to anyone in football who has worked with the 37-year-old they all say he is more than ready.
He has spent the past three years alongside arguably the finest coach on the planet and he has not just been putting the cones out on the training pitch each morning.
Guardiola trusts him explicitly – as do the City players. A large part of Raheem Sterling’s rise in the past few years is down to the hours of work he has done on the training ground with Arteta.
“He will be a really good manager because he understands the game so well,” said City midfielder Fernandinho when speaking to Sky Sports. “He’s young, he’s got a lot of energy. If he has a good group of players who understand him and the way he wants to play he will be a really successful manager.
“He will be one of the best managers in this new era of managers in the Premier League.”
There may be some justification in those questioning Arteta’s readiness for the top job at Arsenal given his experience, but there is no doubting his qualities as a coach.
From Wenger to Guardiola, he has had the best in the game hailing his ability to get the best out of players and he has the full respect of the Manchester City squad, who view him as someone who understands them.
At the Etihad Stadium he is seen as a key tactician and has been tasked with studying City’s opponents each week to identify their weaknesses and areas to exploit.
Some of those who are criticising the potential appointment are using the ‘yes man’ stick to beat Arteta with, claiming Arsenal are only looking to appoint him as he will not make demands or rock the boat.
But again, anyone with knowledge about how Arteta actually operates knows that is far from the case. At Arsenal he ran the dressing room while he was captain.
“He is a man who knows what he wants, he’s very decisive,” one source told Goal. “He has high standards and expectations. It’s all about excellence with Mikel and holding people to account.”
Back in 2014, Arteta gave a fascinating insight into how he would approach management while sitting down for an interview with the Arsenal magazine.
“My philosophy will be clear,” he said. “I will have everyone 120 per cent committed, that’s the first thing. If not, you don’t play for me.
“When it’s time to work it’s time to work, and when it’s time to have fun then I’m the first one to do it, but that commitment is vital.
“Then I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition. We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative, and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us.
“I’m 100% convinced of those things, and I think I could do it.”
Arsenal are a club in need of a plan, a revamp. Unai Emery was seen as a steady hand, an experienced coach he would come in and lead the club through the immediate post-Wenger years.
But despite some promising early signs, it was an appointment that failed pretty miserably.
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The club needs reinvigorating after years of decline. It needs someone to come in, set out a clear structure of how the team is going to play and shape the squad accordingly.
It may take a while, years in fact, but that’s what needed. The squad is a mess at the moment, it needs an injection of quality, pace and hunger – all things that are badly lacking currently.
Arsenal do not have an identity any more and that has to change. In Arteta they have a candidate who knows the club, who loves the club and who has studied alongside the very best. He is the ideal man to lead the revival.