It’s a bit dramatic to suggest that any one game will determine the future of a football manager’s career but if Mikel Arteta can’t guide this Arsenal side to a win over Norwich City tomorrow, serious questions are going to be asked about his longevity in the role. The Gunners are currently stuck at the bottom of the Premier League table without a goal or a point to their name, and the only other sides joining them down there are Norwich and Wolves.
Ahead of this huge clash against the Canaries, Arteta spoke about what he’s hoping to see from the fixture.
On whether Norwich is a must-win game:
It always is at Arsenal. The pressure is always there to be as high as possible in the league table, we need the first win and we are going to play in front of our fans after a disappointing start, so it is down to us to provide everything we have performance-wise to earn the result we want at the end.
On what he makes of Norwich:
First of all, what they have been doing over the years, how consistent they have been with the manager, with the style of play, they have been up and down but they haven’t changed much. It is a team that is a joy to watch, the way they want to play, the risks they take, how attacking they are… I don’t know what they will do against us, but so far from what I’ve seen, even against top sides, it has been good even though the results haven’t been good.
On how important it is to deliver a good performance:
I just want to focus on that because the performance will lead to the result. Everyone is going to talk about winning but you have to earn the right to do that and unfortunately in the last few games we have done basic things that haven’t allowed us to compete in the games like we want. If we do those right we will be much closer to winning football matches and that will bring momentum and everything will change.
On the international break allowing time to get players back:
Yes, I think we needed a break to get them back from different reasons they have been missing long periods, hopefully by Saturday we will have a different team.
On whether the young players we’ve bought can help right now:
Yes, I think we have tried to explain the project and the decisions I have made over the last few months in the transfer window, the amount of changes in two years is almost 30 players. Edu explained it like I tried to explain it. We have all participated, trying to create and build this project, led by the owners, and it is a project we believe in, that we have to assemble because it is the only option that we believe was best for the future of the club. We all take responsibility because we have all been involved in the decision and we have to make it work. The complexity in football is that you want to build a medium to long-term project with immediate results and we have to embrace that, because there is no other way in football and you are going to have to get results and we are ready to do that.
On his talks with Ainsley Maitland-Niles:
Any private conversations with players, on the role we believe they can have in the team, is always discussed openly but privately and that is how we resolve the matters. I am happy he has stayed, that was our intention and he is another player in the squad.
On if Tomiyasu is ready to make his debut v Norwich:
We need the work permit first. The club is trying hard to achieve that in the next couple of hours. He’s back in the country right now. I will meet him for the first time today, probably, and train with him, see how he is and get a feel for it. He’s been playing so he should be completely fit and yeah, we’ve been impressed. That’s the reason why we decided to sign him.
On Granit Xhaka and vaccinations:
We are trying to explain all the reasons why we believe it’s the right thing to do. How much it will protect, first of all the club, secondly the teammates and the environment that they are around. The exposure that we would have if they don’t do it, but again, it’s a really personal thing. Obviously, they will be limited in certain aspects if they don’t [have the vaccine] because we don’t want to expose ourselves in certain things. At the end of the day it’s a personal matter, it’s not an obligation and we have to respect that.
On Aaron Ramsdale:
He’s doing really good. He’s training. He’s a big competitor, someone that is really pushing in training sessions. We knew that when we made all the recruitment processes with the team. Now we have two very different goalkeepers, two different age profiles, two different qualities but both are really good. That’s the thing that we should be aiming for.}
On our current position in the table:
It’s nowhere near where we want to be. That’s for sure. I think it needs a little bit or perspective of what happened. Everybody is disappointed and we are no different. The fans are disappointed and everybody related to the club should be disappointed, but we are so determined and willing to change it as quickly as possible, and we are on it.
On changes to the squad:
We have a completely different squad with the number of changes that you just mentioned. You can tell that is unheard of. Now we have the tools that we believe are going to give us the best opportunity to compete in the way we want to compete and build what we want to build in this project and now we have to make it work. We have to glide it together, we need to create relationships, chemistry, understanding. We have to adapt and we have to do that really quickly.
On signing Tomiyasu:
Tomi, first of all, because he’s got the capacity to play in any position in the back four, he has done it all across the back four and the back three as well. He gives us that versatility. He gives different qualities in that right back position and is a player that we followed for a long time and he brings qualities that we didn’t have in this squad.
On Ainsley’s response in recent days:
The response is after the conversation that we had privately to explain and to put on the table our feelings, what we have to do or decide something different to what we decided a few months ago when we allowed him to go to West Brom. He has embraced the opportunity, the chance he knows that he has a unique quality in sport. His versatility to play in many positions and he needs to become the best at doing that as it’s something very rare to find in football.
On being close to having a full-strength squad:
Well I hope so, that we are obviously getting our players back from injuries, from Covid, from suspensions, so when we’re able to do that, we will try to do that, but we are getting judged every day with our work, every result that we have and we don’t want to use any excuse, but to be fair looking back at what happened over the last three or four weeks, I’m looking at that with a bit of perspective and it’s been a lot and I hope for the weekend it changes pretty quickly.
On where the real Arsenal is – and how he can ensure the club go on consistent good runs of form:
Having some consistency means having some stability. Obviously we need to get the stability right when we are able to put a team out there in consecutive matches, building relationships, building understanding and getting momentum and wins. Hopefully we can do that pretty soon.
On if Arsenal need to rise up the table – and if there are no excuses now:
Well, 100 per cent. We don’t want to give any excuses. We have tried to explain what happened in previous weeks. You can give all the reasons you want but if somebody doesn’t want to see it, it’s up to them. We tried to explain things. I think we have been very clear – probably more clear than ever – to try to explain what the club is trying to do, what we are trying to do. Now it’s to try to do it in the best possible way, while everybody is understanding, but knowing that at this club only one thing is acceptable: and that’s to be the best.
On if Bernd Leno is back in the UK:
We are training later, just to prevent those things happening, because we had some issues in the past. Hopefully he will be on time and he will be counted to be available for Saturday.
On if he’s decided who will start in goal:
Any player can start. We want the competition and to raise the level in each position. That’s why we recruited Aaron. We know what a fantastic goalkeeper Bernd is as well.
On if White and Gabriel are his ideal first-choice centre-back pairing:
They are one of the options. They’ve both been signed since I was here, because they have the profile and the qualities that we are looking for. Now they need to establish a relationship. That cohesion in the backline is really important. They’ve never played together, but they will do.
On if they can only build that cohesion by playing together:
That’s the only option – train a lot together and play a lot together.
On if Partey and Lokonga is an ideal midfield partnership:
Depending on who we have available and the formation we’re going to use, if we’re going to play with two holders or one holder, we will have some options there as well, with the arrival of Martin and with Emile who can play in those pockets. It will depend.
On if he’s not ready to be involved regularly:
He’s another player in the squad who has to fight for his place and ensure he’s available to do that.
On Jack Wilshere – and if there’d ever be a chance of him training with Arsenal:
He’s someone that I know, that I shared a dressing room with. He’s so loved around the club with every person here. Our doors are always open.
Quotes courtesy of Arsenal.com
Can Arsenal finally get some points on the board?