Arsenal: How Mikel Arteta has stemmed the toxic flow

For several years, Arsenal were characterised by their infamously toxic and virulent fanbase, led by AFTV. Mikel Arteta, though, has stemmed the flow.

The toxic nature of the Arsenal fanbase has long been known and painfully understood. From the depths of Twitter to the incessant fighting on Arsenal Fan TV, where die-hard Arsenal fans with a lexicon of the latest words in London slang took to the internet to vent their misery about the state of their club, the togetherness of the supporters has rarely been a characteristic of the club in recent years.

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In the later years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, the conversation was dominated by this pernicious atmosphere. Poor contract situations, internal turnover, and subpar transfer decisions began to overwhelm the club. The on-pitch performance started to matter less and Arsenal soon became a laughingstock of the football community.

The situation worsened under Unai Emery. The Spaniard incessantly tinkered and tooled with the team and the results continued to decline. Even when the team was winning, it was only a matter of time before they started losing again. And throughout this entire period, AFTV, and the role that it plays in the support of the team and discourse of the modern supporter, often dominated the debate.

But that time is past. AFTV is no longer the central focus of the fanbase, while the general feeling among the fans is far more harmonious and supportive than it has been in a long time. For that, credit is due to a number of sources, starting on the field.

No matter who is in charge, it’s ultimately up to the on-field performances of the players, their dedication, their fight, their success. Under Mikel Arteta, this current outfit is built out of different stock than previous Arsenal teams.

Every goal they score is almost a reaffirmation of their togetherness and collective spirit. The hugs, smiles, and words of affirmation are all evident, but even more so is the communication. The Gunners take every goal celebration as an opportunity to engage each other and reinforce their mutual support. We haven’t seen that in an Arsenal team in a long time.

But even more credit goes to the way they have overcome their own shortcomings. Nicolas Pepe, who isn’t known for his defensive work rate, ran himself into the ground against Manchester City on Saturday. Dani Ceballos, primarily tasked as a creative player, has shown a willingness to fight and scrap and puts in at least one key tackle every game. And Granit Xhaka has overcome his own lack of athleticism and lack of composure, both in and out of possession, to cement himself as a midfield lynchpin.

And that’s not to mention the defenders. Shkodran Mustafi, David Luiz, and Sead Kolasinac have all had ugly performances this season, but their resilience and surprising consistency have outshone that for the most part. Nobody is perfect, but the improvements since the restart, especially this past week, have been stunning.

It is not just the veteran players, either. One of the most exciting aspects of this season has been the club’s academy products. Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, and Joe Willock have really begun to make a name for themselves this season. Rob Holding and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have continued to improve and grow, with the latter especially prominent against Manchester City, and with Emile Smith-Rowe and Matt Smith waiting in the wings, the future is bright.

Because of the talent generated by Hale End academy, much of the negative focus called by AFTV and others has been flipped on its head. A lot of the news out of North London is now hopeful for the future, not pessimistic about the past. Even if this season isn’t quite going to plan, many of the squad’s problems have been plastered over by the accomplishments of Hale End.

And then there is the manager, who is often the lightning rod for criticism at the club. Mikel Arteta has changed everything. While he’s not a revolutionary in his field, he doesn’t need to be. He has given Arsenal the three things they needed most at the managerial position: strength, consistency, and spirit.

Wenger was a consummate gentleman. He built the spirit of Arsenal from the ground up. With morality, good behaviour, and good character as central to the club’s mission as attractive football, playing for the Gunners was a privilege.

That legacy has been challenged in recent years, making Wenger’s cool composure look foolish as the legendary Frenchman refused to evolve with the times. However, Arteta has both brought that gentlemanly spirit back to the club and modernized it, such that the team can still advance and remain competitive without losing its identity.

Emery was a tinkerer, never happy, always changing the formation and the squad. He never allowed the team to settle into a rhythm. Arteta, though, has brought high character, something that Emery also emulated, but also consistency back to the club. He used January and February to get the measure of his squad, before developing a series of tactics that uses all of the players in the squad to the best of their abilities. They are played in their most comfortable positions as often as possible. It is no surprise, then, that many of the players ridiculed by supporters not so long ago have formed the backbone of a shockingly resilient, giant-killing Arsenal squad.

Arteta also has Emery’s strength. Where Emery fell short was not in his lack of resolve or boldness. Rather, his tactics and poor team selections were his undoing. Arteta marries the pair, providing the backbone that Wenger never could. He has the strength not to pick favourites, instead selecting a cohesive and purposeful squad without regard for salary or fame. He has held his ground against the players who did not act in accordance with the club, while he possesses the resilience to deal with criticism and move forward regardless.

In this, he has unified the club. Unlike the divisive AFTV, Arteta’s has placed equal importance on the players, the coaches, the club and the fans. He makes a point of fostering togetherness. He is a staunch egalitarian and prefers the title ‘Mister’, or even Mikel’, to the more traditional ‘Boss’. This is the players’ team as much as his, and it shows.

Arsenal have hope again. It stems from Arteta, flows through the players, and settles in the stands. There is reason to support as the winds of change blow once more.