By: Kamusime Barnabas
The Gunners boss has called for backing in the transfer market, but is owner Stan Kroenke willing and able to give him what he needs to compete?
Mikel Arteta didn’t waste much time to get his point across.
Yes, his side had just beaten the Premier League and European champions, but they had done so having managed just three shots at home and enjoying just 30 per cent possession.
It was a classic ‘backs to the wall’ victory – one built on grit, determination and a willingness to work hard. That is what Arteta demands from his players and that spirit – as well as a large slice of luck – got them over the line against Liverpool.
But this is Arsenal – not a club that can just park the bus at home on a weekly basis to grind out wins. The three points may have gone their way midweek, but the difference in quality between Arsenal and the title holders was clear for all to see.
Arteta knew it and a victory like that gave him the perfect opportunity to publicly call for more from the Arsenal hierarchy – and owner Stan Kroenke – who may have been watching in the U.S.
“The gap between the two teams is enormous,” he said during his post-match interview with Sky Sports.
“I think it’s pretty clear that we need to strengthen the squad.”
When asked whether money would be available for him to do that, Arteta added: “I don’t know. It’s a big concern.
“You need it to build a squad. It’s not magic. You need to improve with quality, quality players in the squad and you need bigger squads to compete in this competition. There’s the challenge.”
Arteta has since insisted these comments were not meant as a message to Kroenke. “If that was misinterpreted, it wasn’t my intention,” he said. But this was not the first time Arteta had made it clear how vital investment will be to his project in north London.
In the build-up to the game during the week, he pointed towards what Liverpool had achieved under Jurgen Klopp and the money that had been spent in key areas to transform the team.
“Financially they had a big backing and made some big signings which completely changed the club in my opinion,” said the Spaniard.
“You get one of the best defenders in the world with the best goalkeeper in the world with one of the best holding midfielders in the world and you change it pretty quickly. At City you can see what happened when [Aymeric] Laporte came in straight away.
“That is the way that I believe a team has to be built.”
Since Arteta walked through the doors in north London and started to pick up the pieces left by Unai Emery, the improvements have been obvious – but he can only do so much.
He knows he needs investment and, unlike Emery, who garnered little support from the fanbase and whose communication issues meant he struggled to make his feelings clear, he can go on the offensive in front of the media.
Beating the champions gave him an opportunity and he took it. If he can repeat the trick in the FA Cup semi-final this weekend he will be in an even stronger position to make demands.
Saturday’s clash at Wembley is a huge game for Arsenal. If they are to win, however, it will once again be a case of having to survive huge amounts of pressure from a Manchester City side who have beaten them seven times in a row, scoring 20 goals in the process and conceding just two.
Whatever the outcome, it will be another example of the vast gap in quality that Arteta has to bridge if Arsenal are to start competing towards the top of the Premier League – and other competitions – on a regular basis.
It’s a match between two sides with very different financial landscapes. City can approach it with the focus purely on the silverware, prestige and glory on offer should they go on and reach the final.
Arsenal, meanwhile, know that winning the FA Cup is now their best route into the Europa League next season, something that would give them the chance to potentially add around £30 million ($38m) to their transfer budget. It’s more about the prize money than the actual prize at the moment for the Gunners.
Manchester City want to win the FA Cup but it’s now a competition Arsenal must win. What happens later this summer depends on it.
“We don’t know the type of transfer market we are going to find,” said Arteta. “It is something unique.
“We don’t know exactly what is going to happen or what we are going to be able to do, or not do, to keep players or not keep. It will depend a lot on what we do on the pitch in the next three or four games. It’s in our hands so we have to maximise that.”
Years of mismanagement have got Arsenal to the point of relying on a backdoor route into Europe’s second-tier competition. Under Arsene Wenger and former chief executive Ivan Gazidis, millions were wasted on poor recruitment. The club had an opportunity to kick on, but never took it and are still struggling to cope with the wage bill that was left behind.
What happens next in the transfer window will be key to Arteta’s revolution in north London. He’s not expecting funding like we have seen at Manchester City, or even Liverpool, but he knows he must be giving some tools to work with when the market opens.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit football finances like never before and Arsenal have already labelled this period as ‘one of the most challenging’ in history.
Concrete talks with transfer targets have been put on hold for now, with the club waiting to find out whether they will be in Europe before proceeding.
Arteta is understanding of the situation, but he has shown in recent weeks has shown he not the type of person to just sit quietly and toe the line.
He is as demanding of those above him as he is of his players. His character has already brought about a change of attitude from his squad, Arsenal’s immediate future may now depend on whether he can also change the attitude of owners who have so far refused to dip their hands into their own very deep pockets.