Mikel Arteta believes he joined an Arsenal that was “damaged and hurt badly” and the Spaniard was shocked by the disconnect between the team and supporters when he was appointed.
Arteta was hired by Arsenal in December last year, taking over as the permanent head coach following the sacking of Unai Emery at the end of the previous month.
In the intervening period, Freddie Ljungberg presided over just one win in five matches as caretaker, with Arsenal sat 10th in the Premier League upon Arteta’s arrival.
A former Arsenal captain, Arteta had earned a burgeoning reputation working under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and expectations of him were high.
He is widely thought to have elicited a positive response from the Arsenal squad, while he has made demonstrable strides towards implementing a style of play and philosophy, something Emery was routinely accused of failing to achieve.
But although some recent performances have given fans cause for concern, particularly the 3-0 loss at home to Aston Villa prior to the international break, Arteta has reminded supporters of the turmoil he found Arsenal in less than a year ago.
“You cannot build something new [quickly], when something has been damaged and hurt badly, that you can see a big split between even our own fans and the team,” he told Arsenal’s official website. “When you were in that stadium 10 months ago, I was shocked.
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“You have to rebuild that [bond]. In order to do that you have to build some foundations, and afterwards start a process. You have to prioritise that process at the start, and where you are going to get to.
“To do that you need some pieces that you have to fill in there and you have to start to create a puzzle and try to manage it because there will be bad moments and you don’t want to break it.
“All the time you have to be very alert because it takes very little to break what you are building.”
Additionally, Arteta accepts playing in empty stadiums is not helping matters, suggesting it is having a negative mental impact on players, particularly the feeling of purpose.
Fans have been unable to attend Premier League games since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and although there were plans in place earlier this season to begin reopening stadiums this term, they have since been put on hold due to a second wave of COVID-19 sweeping across the United Kingdom.
“It is definitely affecting the players,” he said. “Now, for example with the lockdown: you win at Old Trafford, you feel excited, your adrenaline is really high, you go home and you want to celebrate, you want to do something, but you just go home, by yourself – some of the players live by themselves – and you go home, sit on the sofa, and that’s it.
“To find that purpose and say, ‘Okay, I work so hard for this moment, I want to enjoy it, I want to have people around me’ but you have nothing, so it is a completely different life.
“In our case, when you try to build a new project, you need to engage the fans with the team. They have to see live what the team is transmitting. It is completely different on the TV, you are not able to do that.
“Without creating that chemistry between players and fans, for them to believe, for them to see live what we are trying to do, it is complicated. We need that.
“The players have to feel, ‘Wow, these guys are really behind us, they are really pushing, they are liking what we are trying to do… I feel more motivated, more engaged, I want to participate’ – and we are lacking that.”
Arsenal return to Premier League action on Sunday at Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United.
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