Gunners star, Joe Willock, admits that many of the players at Emirates hardly knew what to expect when they got wind that a former club captain, with impressive proven credentials on the pitch but short on managerial experience was stepping into fill the vacancy left by sacked coach Unai Emery.
Willock also came clean in admitting that the players were “a bit sceptical” of Mikel Arteta, the former club captain to be appointed as the Gunners’ new boss, but quickly added that the doubters have all been quickly won over since then.
The Emirates big brass were forced into a managerial rethink back in November 2019 after a disappointing start to the current campaign that culminated in the sacking of Spaniard Unai Emery and Freddie Ljungberg being placed as interim-in-charge of first-team affairs.
The Gunners then embarked on an exhaustive search for a suitable candidate to fill the high-profile post and eventually ended up on the pathway that led them towards a figure they were all very familiar with.
Although, off the cuff, Arteta had obviously insufficient time racked up as a coach of proven renown and experience, having only been serving time as an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at the Etihad, the bosses opted to bite the bullet and take a calculated gamble gamble as reports of Pep’s faith in the young Arteta was something they felt were worth the risk. After all, the younger Spaniard was someone who had Arsenal’s DNA coursing through his veins since his days as a player for the club.
Despite the Gunners still being very much a work in progress, on and off the field, it is evident that positive steps are already being taken heading in the right direction as has been recently proven in their unexpected victories over league champions Liverpool and the previous year’s title holders, Manchester City. Now the Gunners are waiting with arms akimbo for the 2020 FA Cup final to kick off on 1st August at Wembley. Not exactly a bad position to be in for a team under the guidance of a coach with hardly any weight-worthy experience, one must admit.
“To be fair when he [Arteta] came in, we were a bit sceptical about what he could do,” Willock told The Beautiful Game Podcast.
“Obviously he’s a very young manager and most of the players that play now have all played with him. So we were a bit hesitant on how to approach the situation.
“But we all let him in with open arms and we all thought let’s see what he has to offer.
“He’s come in and to be honest, he’s been nothing short of amazing really – his detail, the way his man-management is with every single player. And we’re just all excited to work with him.
“I’m learning about the game in ways I’ve never learned them before. He’s an amazing man and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.”
Arteta is clearly leaving no stones unturned and hell-bent on reshaping Arsenal as he envisions it to be, but admittedly many improvements are already obvious across his tenure, notably in the defense where the gaping leaks of the early months since he took over are already starting to be plugged to keep stride with their innate ability to attack with a variety of options.
Academy graduate Willock himself accepts that to be a major positive, adding: “We used to give the opposition gifts and hope. He is cutting out that hope.
“We cut out that hope and in every challenge and every duel, we are the ones who are stamping our authority.
“To have that winning mentality, in every different circumstance we have to be on it and that’s what we’ve been working on in training and it is showing on the pitch.”
Arsenal are unfortunately on course to miss out on a place in the Premier League’s top four this season, but European qualification and potential FA Cup glory do not sound too unappealing for a team that’s still largely considered a work-in-progress striving for long term results and glory, by any standard.