Arsenal’s motto is ‘Victoria Concordia Cresit’, which translates to ‘Victory Grows Through Harmony’. Mikel Arteta and his staff are attempting to establish a new culture at Arsenal, a culture in which every player and member of staff are harmoniously adhering to a strong fundamental message. Everything went wrong in the game against Manchester City, and it was a stark reminder of the gulf in quality between our squad and the top teams in the Premier League. However, with the usual suspects stealing all the headlines, it was also a reminder that some of Arsenal’s current players simply don’t fit into the cultural vision. The time has come to hit the reset button and move on.
Changing the Culture:
The importance of culture at a football club is certainly not lost on Arteta. The Athletic dropped a comprehensive piece about ‘Arteta’s Arsenal’ prior to the game, which gave superb insight into his attempts to create a new attitude within the club. Over lockdown the Spainard has held calls with the LA Rams head coach Sean McVay, England Rugby coach Eddie Jones, and even a US Military General in an effort to absorb as much information as possible about generating an elite team culture. After reading the piece, it’s blatantly apparent that Arteta wants players who are fully committed, and who, along with the rest of the staff, buy into this long-term plan.
“These are the standards expected and if you are not prepared to commit to these standards, then you are not the sort of player wanted at this football club. The implication was unmissable — are you in or are you out?”
The early indications are that Arteta has got the staff at Arsenal singing from the same hymn sheet. In a wide-ranging interview with a YouTube golf channel (of all things), one of his Assistants, Steve Round, spoke at length about changing the culture at the club.
“We’re continually working on emotional intelligence and leadership styles within the group, whether that’s the head coach, the two assistant head coaches or even the captains’ group within the team. How you formulate that is bringing togetherness, spirit, discipline, self-discipline and making sure that our behaviour, positive behaviours are continually reinforced. Negative behaviours are pulled up, there are certain things we will not accept.”
“You’re forever showing the players this and making them accountable and responsible for their actions. It’s making sure the environment you’re in and the culture you’re trying to build is consistent and consistent at the elite level… There is no magical formula to generating a resonant and elite culture. It’s just every day getting all the little things right. Every day.”
Likewise, Arsenal’s Technical Director Edu seems to be on the same page. In the same Athletic piece, Edu spoke of how this consensus on needing to change the attitude around London Colney was one of the things that made Arteta stand out as a candidate.
“My first conversation with him was not about football and that’s what I really loved. It was about concepts, respect, people and staff but not football. My beliefs and his beliefs are the same. We were talking about life, about family, how important it is for the players to understand the importance of being together and respecting the club.”
Even Josh Kroenke is paying lip service to the notion of resetting the culture at Arsenal.
“But really what we spoke about was club culture and setting a new tone. He told me some of the thoughts that he had and ideas they had done at Man City.
“It’s going to take some time — we’ve got a long road ahead of us. But the culture is changing. I think that’s what gets us the most excited, seeing the values he’s trying to instil back into some of the players.
“Culture becomes cliche at times but it’s a very real thing. Mikel is making an imprint on the club that should hopefully play out over the next several years with improved results on the pitch, but it starts with a foundation.”
It is somewhat encouraging to see that both the coaching staff and executive team seemingly acknowledge that the culture at Arsenal was broken and not conducive of an elite sporting environment. It’s also encouraging to see that our new head coach is determined to hold the players accountable to his non-negotiable standards. Arteta clearly has a mandate to change the culture at Arsenal. However, as well as the staff, every single player must be 100% committed to the project. And the problem Arsenal are now facing is that, without a cull of some of our most influential players, it will be impossible to achieve the desired cultural change.
It was 102 days since Arsenal’s last game in the Premier League, and during that time so much had happened. There was a real sense of anticipation ahead of Arsenal’s return to action, not because we realistically expected anything from the game, but because we finally had a football match to talk about. And yet, it took just minutes following the announcement of the lineups, for Mesut Ozil to become the centre of attention once again. In a severe case of déjà vu the Ozil soap opera was back.
Mikel Arteta now looks likely to be the third manager to feel the wrath of Mesut Ozil’s PR war machine. When he was left out of the squad for yet another big away game, despite being fit, it all seemed eerily familiar to his behind the scenes issues with both Freddie Ljungberg and Unai Emery. With speculation rife on twitter as to the reasoning, Mikel Arteta went for the “tactical reasons” excuse, which, in fairness, is quite believable given that even Arsene Wenger was starting to leave him out for away games towards the end of his tenure. But, as ever with Mesut, there is clearly more to this than meets the eye.
And of course, the morning after a chastening defeat in Manchester, Ozil was quick to jump on twitter and proclaim is love for Arsenal “no matter what”.
This PR saga with Ozil has been rearing it’s ugly head for nigh on 3 years now, and it’s deeply damaging to team cohesion. If Arteta and his staff are trying to establish an elite culture of accountability, having a player who publicly sulks given any excuse simply cannot be tolerated. I think most would agree that Mesut Ozil was never worth his eye-watering £350k per week contract. But I am also now convinced that his performances on the pitch are no longer worth the unwelcome PR distractions he inevitably provokes. Especially not with the club trying to introduce a new culture built around togetherness and harmony.
Ozil is a fabulous footballer and is undoubtedly our most talented player. But as I’ve discussed in this previous piece, his statistics in the final third have been in steep decline for a number of years. Ozil is “a creative player who is no longer creating at the levels he was”, and this graph shows the ‘attack rating’ of a player who’s output has diminished massively.
Unai Emery and the Freddie Ljungberg both publicly criticised Mesut Ozil’s commitment. Now after being involved in most of Arteta’s first games in charge, it seems, just 6 months in, he once again can’t be trusted when it matters most. There’s is one common denominator here. Arteta had this to say in his press conference this evening:
“He was very well with me. There were no issues at all. My conversations with Mesut will remain between me and him. What I can tell you is that it was a completely fine, honest and clear conversation.That’s it.”
But this is just Arteta protecting one of his players, knowing that he may well have to turn to him given the busy schedule in the coming weeks. The harsh reality is that Ozil lost his hunger for football the moment we gave him his current contract. Ozil is a player in decline, who creates distractions not goals, is ill-disciplined and does not fit into the culture that the club is trying to develop. He is a £350k per week headache that simply refuses to go away. It is, however, very unlikely that anyone would be able to pay the kind of wages he would demand to leave the club this summer, and that was the case even before Covid-19 wreaked havoc on football finances across the board. So I do feel for Arsenal’s predicament. But perhaps it is time to take decisive action, rather than allowing the cloud of ill-discipline to remain over the club for another season. It would be a substantial financial hit, but by terminating his contract Arsenal would put an end to the distractions once and for all.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, Ozil isn’t the only player providing the club with a headache right now. Look no further than David Luiz, a player who might possibly have had the worst 25 minute cameo I’ve ever seen from an Arsenal player. He entered the fray and the Arsenal team, seemingly just as nervous to see him come on as the fans were at home, immediately retreated onto the back-foot. He gifted the opening goal to Sterling with a basic error and then proceeded to give away a penalty and get sent off. It was extraordinarily calamitous, even by his standards. And then, in a move that has seen him receive credit from some, he made the bizarre decision to face the media and offer an apology. The problem? Well in complete contradiction to the elite culture the club is trying to formulate, he made it all about his contract.
“I took the decision to play, I should have taken another decision the last two months but I didn’t,” he said, implying that the issue of his contract, due to expire on June 30, was weighing on his mind before and during the game.
“It’s about my contract, if I stay here or not. I have 14 days left to be here. And that’s it. So today was my fault.”
David Luiz to Sky Sports
Arsenal staff and executives cannot preach about discipline, accountability and standards, and then have David Luiz making for the nearest camera to discuss his contract after a disasterclass performance. We can no longer put up with our experienced players making things all about themselves. If Arsenal are serious about creating a meaningful change in attitude, and developing an elite culture, it is time to cut ties and reset. They shouldn’t even consider renewing David Luiz’s contract after his shenanigans last night. And likewise, we must find a solution to the Mesut Ozil distraction. Arteta simply can’t afford to be undermined by the club’s most influential players in the same way Emery was before him. Arsenal have to wipe the slate clean, reset, and make sure these individuals are not part of the restructuring. It’s time to move on from Mesut Ozil and co.