When Mikel Arteta returned to Arsenal in December 2019, he was shocked by what he found.
It’s only been three years since he began his playing career and left north London to take up a role on Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff at Manchester City, but much has changed in the short space of time. there.
The club he left behind in 2016 feels different.
The stadium, training ground, even some players remain the same. But most of the soul was sucked out of that place.
It’s not like Arsenal anymore.
When asked during the official press conference to reveal whether he thinks the club has lost its way, he replied: “That’s what I’m feeling from the outside. I want to take some steps to get started. First understand why.
“There’s going to be a reason behind it, and a history behind it, and I have to try to understand quickly why that is.
“We had to create the right vibe, the right energy, and everyone in the organization had to feel so honored to be here. There was no other way.”
It’s been almost two years since Arteta made those remarks and he’s spent most of his time trying to bring a sense of identity to the club’s inner sanctuary.
During his stint as a player in north London, which lasted from 2011 to 2016, Arteta was well aware of what it means to be at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger spent two decades building an identity for which the club is known around the world.
But that identity became fractured during the last period of the French reign.
There is controversy behind the scenes over how to handle Wenger’s departure, while a large section of fans are becoming more and more frustrated with the direction the club is heading.
Unity was a thing of the past and rifts began to widen during Unai Emery’s brief tenure.
The Spaniard is an extremely hard worker, but that comes at a heavy cost.
He often shuts down in his office, which is located near the entrance of the main London Colney building, and players and staff often go for hours without seeing or hearing from him.
And he usually doesn’t have time to be interested in any kind of youth team or attend any matches held at the training ground.
A disconnection occurs. There is no unity, no feeling that everyone is pulling in the same direction in an attempt to turn the tide.
“I found an environment, a culture that I didn’t feel identified with,” says Arteta. “It’s a feeling of being privileged to represent this club every time you walk through that door.
“If that’s lost, you have to go, get back in your car and drive home because we’re not going to move this club the way we want without purpose.”
The Gunners boss added: “If I had to define our identity, it’s in one word: Unity. Without solidarity you cannot achieve what we want to achieve.
“Unity means everyone works in the organization. It’s how we play, how we deliver our values, how we connect with our fans, our ownership.
“All people, uniform, think the same way, the same purpose, without any personal agenda, without any ego.
“That’s what we want to get, and I’m going to push the boat very, very quickly.”
One of Arteta’s greatest strengths is its ability to make players buy according to their own mindset. But he was also ruthless, as many have discovered.
His first two years at Arsenal were spent trying to completely overhaul an already fractured squad, which was already bloated and filled with big-money players he didn’t believe fit the bill. the direction he wants to take the club.
It took a while, but slowly they were all moved and now, for the first time since his return as manager, he has a squad that resembles his own.
The summer transfer window is a pivotal moment in rebuilding, with six additions bringing a fresh and vibrant feel to the dressing room.
And the changes are now starting to bear fruit, with Arsenal going to Manchester United on Thursday night, fifth in the Premier League and outside the top four on goal difference.
But not only on the pitch but things are improving. Arteta’s behind-the-scenes work is also very effective.
He has pushed for major changes to the training ground, which has been upgraded to celebrate former glories and remind current players of the standards they need to strive for and follow.
Arteta felt the corridors around London Colney were too sterile, so paintings, murals and inspirational quotes were hung on the walls, and soon to follow.
A giant mural that the team must pass before hitting the field for daily practice celebrates their 49-game unbeaten run, while a huge mural of Arsene Wenger now greets the players as they enter the building every morning.
A quote from Wenger is placed on the wall below it, which reads: “Here you have the opportunity to realize the greatness that is within each of you.”
When asked why Wenger’s presence at the training ground was so important to him, Arteta told Goals: “For me, it’s something we’ve lost and we have to recover from.
“I wanted that photo and a very inspirational phrase at the entrance because it was such an important part of what he did at Colney and how it all started at the Emirates.
“You just look him in the eye and it’s like he’s there. He has this energy, he penetrates when he looks at you. The players really benefit from that. He has must be there.”
Arteta is now urging Wenger to return to the club directly, although not in any official role.
What the Spaniard wants is for his former boss to feel welcome to visit London Colney whenever he wants and to be able to pass on his experience, both to the coaching staff and to the players. intimately.
“I think he’s going to have a great time just seeing the environment he can create around him around this place,” explains Arteta. “Things take time and I think he has to dictate those times.
“That’s what I can say from my side, and I think on behalf of everyone that we would be happy to have him much closer.”
As part of the London Colney reshuffle, Arteta has moved out of the office that both Wenger and Emery have by the main entrance and into an office that sits next to the offices of other members of the coaching and management staff. .
He works extremely closely with technical director Edu and academy director Per Mertesacker, with team meetings now being held in an open space in the new training area to try to ensure there is a sense of urgency. sense of openness and cohesion throughout the building.
Arteta is now regularly spotted hanging out to watch young players’ games and training sessions, and along with Mertesacker he wants to bring legends back to work with the club’s young players.
David Seaman has returned in recent months to informally assist academy goalkeepers, while Jack Wilshere has been given the opportunity to work towards his coaching badge while he has trained. fitness before the January transfer window.
There is still a lot of work to be done at Arsenal and the “process” that Arteta has spoken of since his return is not yet complete.
But there is certainly a feeling that the club is currently in the best shape behind the scenes it has been in a long time thanks to the work it has gone through during the past two years.
Arteta said he found an environment he couldn’t identify when he arrived in 2019. Now, two years on, the environment at Arsenal is starting to feel a little more familiar.