Mikel Arteta never doubted he had what it would take to lead Arsenal after the Arsene Wenger dynasty – even if he was kept waiting for the top job.
The Arsenal manager paused only briefly to consider the ramifications of taking over a team built by Wenger and developed in the Frenchman’s fashion.
It was Arteta’s fearlessness regarding the possibility of failure that persuaded him to take up the Gunners post in December 2019, a full 18 months after he came close to being Wenger’s immediate successor.
The Unai Emery era separated his Arsenal reign from Wenger’s 22-year spell in charge, and Arteta has gradually built up the north London giants to the point where a return to the Champions League is tantalisingly close. A long-term plan to revive the glory years is showing progress.
Asked whether the prospect of having to shape a club previously led for so long by one man crossed his mind, Arteta said: “It did, but it was tiny in comparison with the excitement and the opportunity that I saw to join this club, and try to do what we all want to do, which was to take the club where Arsene took it at the highest level.
“That desire was much bigger than the worries of failing.”
Arteta has now been at the helm for almost two and a half seasons, and Arsenal, who face Manchester United on Saturday, are battling for a top-four Premier League finish.
United have laboured to move on from the Alex Ferguson era, and Arsenal have had their own struggles since Frenchman Wenger’s heyday, with their decline beginning while he remained in post.
They last played in the Champions League in 2016-17, so to return there would be a feather in Arteta’s cap.
Arteta was widely tipped to succeed Wenger in 2018, before Emery, now with surprise Champions League semi-finalists Villarreal, was surprisingly given the job.
“It was close, but things happen for a reason and it probably was too soon,” Arteta told a news conference. “People made decisions, and they made a different decision.”
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Arsenal sit fifth, behind Tottenham on goal difference and three points ahead of a United side who have played one more game.
They are rebuilding impressively, albeit with a few bumps in the road along the way.
“The expectation this club is going to have is always to be the best, because we’re going to compare all the time to the beautiful moments that we lived together here,” Arteta, a former Arsenal midfielder and captain, said.
“What I’m saying is: do I really enjoy what I’m doing and how I’m doing it? Yes, because I know what we can do, what our potential is and where we want to take it.
“The rest is just fear because you’re going to fail because you are looking there.
“You need to understand when you can get there and especially how you’re going to do it. The ‘how’ is clear. It’s probably a matter of time.
“But if you start to go there and try to find the ‘how’ when you don’t have the tools to do it, I think you’re going to struggle.”
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