Pep Guardiola was a rookie once, like Mikel Arteta, and had to weather his own crisis of confidence in his coaching ability.
Of course, given the gilded life Guardiola has led, his idea of what represents a calamitous run is on a different scale from that which Arteta has endured at Arsenal.
Arteta’s purgatory lasted from late September until Christmas, during which time Arsenal played 12 Premier League games, won two and lost eight. In ordinary circumstances, that would have merited the sack. Only with Boxing Day’s 3-0 win against Chelsea, the so-called P45 derby with Frank Lampard, did the poor form abate.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta learned from Pep Guardiola, but the two managers are not the same
When Guardiola was appointed manager of Barcelona in 2008, his elevation was similar to Arteta’s at Arsenal. Superficially, it looked sensible. Here was an articulate, bright young coach with considerable playing pedigree.
Guardiola’s own period of perdition when he was young and untried lasted all of two games: a shock 1-0 defeat by little regarded Numancia and a 1-1 draw with Racing Santander at the Nou Camp.
However, because those two games were interrupted by an international break, the period of recriminations in the media and doubts about his coaching took a good three weeks to unfold.
That week, Andres Iniesta would walk past Guardiola’s office and seeing the young manager deep in thought, contemplating the fact that his coaching credibility was at stake, the midfielder knocked on the door.
‘Don’t worry, mister,’ said Iniesta, using the English word used by Spaniards to address football managers. ‘You should know we’re with you to the death.’
Without Guardiola’s success at Barcelona, would Arsenal have given Arteta the job at 37?
We are so used to thinking of Guardiola as the invincible super coach, it is hard to imagine him vulnerable. As it was, Barca would win the next 11 games, the season would culminate with the team winning the treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League and the Guardiola dynasty was born.
Without Guardiola’s success at Barcelona, it is doubtful whether Arsenal would have had the appetite to give Arteta the Arsenal job just over a year ago at the age of 37. Like Guardiola, he was fashioned by Barcelona’s youth system, having grown up at La Masia, the farmhouse dormitory that used to house Barca hopefuls.
When offered the chance to take a coaching role when his Arsenal playing career came to an end in 2016, he chose Guardiola’s Manchester City rather than stay with Arsene Wenger. He wanted to immerse himself in the ways of the 21st century’s most-successful coach. There is no doubt Arsenal were hoping some of the Guardiola stardust would have been sprinkled on Arteta.
But the Arsenal manager will have to wait a little longer to experience success of the magnitude that Guardiola has enjoyed.
Wee’re so used to thinking of Guardiola as a super coach, it’s hard to imagine him vulnerable
‘You cannot compare his situation [at Barca] to the situation at the moment with us,’ said Arteta last week. ‘They are very, very different. You can share some values, some ideas and the way we were raised and educated in football is very similar because we had the same background.
‘The fact we worked together united us a lot, to get that chemistry and those ideas to make it work. How you make it work and what you need to make it work… you need some time, sometimes you need a lot of investment, sometimes there’s a group of players that can already provide that.
‘You have to keep evolving and finding a way because there isn’t one formula that works.’
Arteta was effectively saying he cannot be seen as Pep Mark II. And even if the scale of Guardiola’s achievement at Barca is sometime underestimated — because he inherited Messi, Xavi and Iniesta — Arteta’s job at Arsenal is hugely more complicated by comparison.
Winning the FA Cup, which included a famous semi-final victory against Guardiola, and the Community Shield was an extraordinarily impressive start. But this season has been a wake-up call for those who thought Arsenal would be back challenging the top four any time soon.
Rather than stay with Arsene Wenger, Arteta went to Guardiola’s Manchester City instead
Arteta speaks of ‘a lot of investment’ to reboot the club but that will not be an option for Arsenal in the summer. They have had to avail themselves of an emergency £120million Bank of England loan to get through a season with no fans. The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust expect the club to lose £158m this season.
Also, the club’s proud unbroken run of qualifying for European football, which stretches back 25 years may well come to an end this season, which would have further unpalatable financial consequences. Or they may endure the indignity of ending up in the Europa Conference League, a third tier below the Europa League.
Director Josh Kroenke described the club as having a ‘Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget’ in 2019. Not a lot has changed, except that they may soon be running a Champions League wage bill on a Europa Conference League budget.
Arteta may have looked like Pep Mark II but his path to potential glory is going to a hard one. And Arsenal’s board will have to strap themselves in for more bumpy times ahead if they are going to back their man for the long term.