When it comes to man management Mikel Arteta’s record has definitely been a lot less than exemplary during his time at Arsenal as a manager.
The Spaniard’s unrelenting ostracism of Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendozi had caused a split among the fanbase, followed up with his public lambasting of Nicholas Pepe after his red card at Leeds last season, which drew loads of criticism, especially when compared to what looked like his much softer approach to Granit Xhaka’s dismissal against Burnley a few weeks later.
The tension further escalated with his high-profile decision to drop Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for the North London Derby in February after the Gabonese sauntered in late for a team meeting, which subsequently sparked rumors of a rift between the Gunners captain and the unflinching manager.
However, Arsenal’s spritely 3-1 win over Tottenham Hostpur in the north derbies shows that the Gunners boss has already flipped the page and is apparently coping just great with one of the biggest issues hounding him in the last campaign.
And his star striker and captain’s performance against Tottenham on Sunday has clearly proven that the Gabon international and his manager have now moved on and are both on the same page, in accordance to the Spaniard’s precise game plans for his skipper. Which is a testament to the Arsenal manager’s improved man-management skills.
It might be something of a football cliché, but there seems to be some truth in the adage that disgruntled players are not well disposed towards playing their best for their managers, so it stands to reason that Aubameyang must be pretty pleased with his manager now, judging from his incredible performance.
The Gabon international followed Arteta’s game plan down to the dotting of the i’s and crossing of the t’s, as Arsenal romped to a most comfortable victory against their local rivals. The tone was set from early on with the 32-year-old’s determined high press.
It soon became evident as the game progressed that the Gunners were targeting Davinson Sanchez from the get-go when the Colombian was in possession due to his perceived weakness when playing out from the back. The very first moment Sanchez received the ball within the first minute, Aubameyang made a beeline for him, relentlessly pursuing him into the left corner of the pitch before blocking his attempts to clear twice, and giving the center-back a shove for good measure as the ball trickled out for a Spurs goal kick.
The same pattern of play was repeated continuously across the match as the Arsenal captain made 20 presses – more than he has in any other Premier League match so far this season. Only Martin Odegaard (22 presses) made more for the Gunners.
It was also pretty evident that Arteta was able to incorporate into his skipper’s game an increased quality in his link-up play, which is pretty creditable and praiseworthy.
Back in April the Gabonese forward had revealed that his manager had asked him to drop deeper to help the build-up when in possession.
“As a center-forward I try to be involved more in the game because the coach is expecting from our number nine to give some solutions to play during the game,” said Aubameyang. “So it’s a bit different when you come from the left.
“But I try to give my best because I know that I’m there to improve sometimes when I’m playing with my back to the goal.”
What the Gabonese had asserted was obvious in the build-up to his goal as the 32-year-old dropped to just in front of the halfway line to receive a pass from Kieran Tierney that he immediately flicked round Sanchez into the path of Emile Smith Rowe. Upon doing this, the captain then used his scorching pace and savvy movements to charge into the box to be on the receiving end of Hale Ender’s cutback to make it 2-0 on the day.
The Arsenal boss and his captain’s renewed unity was clearly on full display as the Gabon forward was one of the first players Arteta ran towards to embrace at the full-time whistle.
“I’m really happy with the performance today, the performance against Burnley and what he (Aubameyang) is doing,” said the Spaniard in his post-match press conference.
“When he is getting criticized and we ask him to do more he stood by it. He puts his head down and is working tremendously hard for the team.
“Now I can tell you he’s really leading the team.”