Trust the process.
The phrase has been something of a mantra for Arsenal during Mikel Arteta’s time as boss.
From the outset, here was a respected former player, schooled in management by the great Pep Guardiola, with a plan to lead a lost club back onto a purposeful path to glory.
In the darkest days, most notably the three straight, humbling losses to begin this league season, it became a stick with which disgruntled supporters sarcastically beat the Spaniard.
But Arteta’s team are now unbeaten in eight league games – 10 including the Carabao Cup – and are fifth in the table with a young, largely new squad that is starting to knit together.
So has that oft-used phrase now regained some of its legitimacy and is the plan finally starting to come together?
Arteta laid out his philosophy in his first interview for Arsenal’s media channel back in December 2019.
On the pitch, he called for passion, dominance, aggression and playing in the opponents’ territory. Off it, there were “non-negotiables” – respect, humility, accountability, unity. He also spoke of trust.
It was a challenge for many affiliated with Arsenal to keep the faith after three matches of this Premier League campaign.
The Gunners were meek at Brentford, brushed easily aside by Chelsea and battered at Manchester City to leave them bottom of the table without a point or goal to their name.
It was the first time since 1954 they had lost their opening three league matches and each showcased familiar failings – an absence of a clear, coherent and effective tactical plan, costly errors, a soft underbelly and too little fight. All this after a league-high summer transfer outlay, reportedly upwards of £150m.
It followed a season that had begun well in the wake of the 2019-20 FA Cup win, but quickly went south, to such an extent that West Brom boss Sam Allardyce suggested the Gunners were among his team’s relegation rivals.
They would rally to eighth, but this meant missing out on European football for the first time in 25 years – an unacceptable showing to an expectant fan base pining for the regular title challenges of Arsene Wenger’s pomp.
Out went some of the faltering old guard – David Luiz, Willian, Hector Bellerin and Lucas Torreira – and in came six young, mouldable talents, including England internationals Ben White and Aaron Ramsdale. It was the most revolutionary period yet in Arteta’s still fledgling tenure.
But any quiet optimism from fans was quickly blown out of the water before the end of a truly dire August that saw knives sharpened and primarily pointed in the manager’s direction.
On the up…
While an abundance of noise was being made outside the club, within it the vision remained singular and focused.
There was disappointment, but no panic or wavering of belief in the man they appointed to replace Unai Emery. One who quietly continued with his plan, enjoying what he described as “the best 10 days of my professional career” in the international break after the loss at City.
Context was key for what had gone before.
Having committed the best part of 22 years to Emery’s predecessor Wenger, Arsenal’s ambition is to plan long-term.
This helped them rationalise those early results in light of losing key players to injury and illness in the build-up to facing a Brentford side flush with momentum, following their promotion, before then meeting the previous season’s two Champions League finalists.
Tweaks were made, key players brought into the side. Results since have been vindicating.