Arsenal: Hunger must be the buzzword of the future

Arsenal, Kieran Tierney (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
Arsenal, Kieran Tierney (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

One key attitude that Mikel Arteta has brought to Arsenal is hunger. In fits and spurts, this team has begun to look hungry again, and it’s a sight for sore eyes. But for Arsenal to rebound from its worst ever season, hunger must become the new normal.

One of the things that makes the Premier League so great is its top-to-bottom quality. You can bet dollars to donuts that whatever team you play on a given weekend will come out fighting tooth and nail to win that game. It happens to the point where the difference in quality isn’t actually the deciding factor in the game. It’s the hunger of the players.

Now this might sound a lot like the old cliche of “they just wanted it more,” but it’s not. Because no team ever wants to lose a game. Hunger comes down to the actions of the payers on the pitch: their drive, their commitment, and their fierce dedication to the game.

Manchester City are arguably the most ruthless team on the planet, and their ability to dominate opponents—often to the tune of four or more goals—comes from an insatiable desire to win, to dominate. That desire is created by a combination of the mentality of the club and the mentality of its players. In a word: hunger.

When Kevin De Bruyne found out that he tied the assist record set by Thierry Henry, the first words out of his mouth were to talk about two assists he was denied because of deflections. 20 assists on a season, the same record as one of the greatest players of all time, and all he can think about is the two he didn’t get. I’d say we could kill for that drive and desire, but we already have it.

Well, sometimes we do.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came into the Watford match last Sunday with the Golden Boot on his mind, and played one of the most inspired 90 minutes I’ve seen out of him in a long time. The same thing happened when he was asked to lead a set of electric counter attacks against the aforementioned Citizens in the FA Cup semifinal.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the fan favorites—Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah, and Kieran Tierney spring to mind—have risen to that position because of the intensity with which they play.

Tierney especially fits the bill, with his commanding presence and bold Scottish tones often rising high above the rest, especially noticeable when you watch a broadcast without added crowd noise. At only 23, he’s already becoming a vocal leader on the team, and his hunger to play at the top of his game, and to win, is all the more evident.

But it’s not just the kids. Granit Xhaka has always been a fighter for the badge, and despite his drawbacks as a player, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and fights every game as if it were his last. His spirit is so important to our team.

And Nicolas Pepe’s play, while occasionally blunt and lacking focus, has come in leaps and bounds since the restart. Even in his worst attacking performances, he is now a willing and tenacious defender, covering ground at a rate unheralded by his performances this past fall.

This team is growing hungrier by the game, but there are sections of this Arsenal team that seem to lack that hunger, that fight, on occasion. The unhurried reliance of years past still hangs over some of the denizens of this club like a smog—it’s the exact reason Mesut Ozil needs to go—and hampers the progress Arteta is already making at the club.

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And players like Ainsley Maitland-Niles, despite his cool, unruffled confidence, do make me a bit uneasy. That confidence often leads to comfort, and comfort leads to complacency, which creates mistakes, pure and simple. As much as I love his confidence, Maitland-Niles is at his best when he fights for everything—see his domineering performance against Riyad Mahrez.

And that lack of hunger often walks hand-in-hand with ego. Matteo Guendouzi is a fighter, but he fights for himself, not for the good of the club. That’s why Arteta put him on ice, and why he remains there. His ego is greater than his willingness to fight for the club—as evidenced by the Brighton game, and his subsequent conduct.

And that type of ego cannot be a part of the recruitment process of the future. Aging superstars like Coutinho and Willian are a step in the wrong direction, mainly because they have a superstar-level ego. They would pull the club backwards in time, and serve as a detriment to the progress Arteta is instilling, experienced though they might be.

Even players like Jack Grealish don’t totally pique my fancy. The young Englishman is certainly talented, but his ego would be difficult to control. His sense of self-importance scuppered his career slightly when he was younger, and while he’s still only 24, he hasn’t showed many signs of slowing down in the lifestyle department.

Instead, targeting younger players with talent and good resale value, but most importantly, a strong drive and work ethic, will be absolutely key. Because this rebuild needs unification, and it should come together through a desire not just to win, but to dominate. In the modern age of football, mindset and mentality is just as important as talent, and in the early years of a massive rebuild, it’s not just important, it’s everything.

But even if the players are right and the transfers are right, the club still has to buy in. Which will mean that Stan and Josh Kroenke will have to hop off that high horse and come play in the mud. Because if they’re not hungry for success in North London, then there’s very little hope to begin with.

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But when everybody buys in, that’s where the magic happens. Liverpool, Manchester City, now Man United and Chelsea. They prove is what happens when a manager and an owner buy in, and create a comprehensive rebuild. They make room for the players to buy in, and from that foundation, start something truly great.

But what every one of those teams proves is that mentality is the most important thing. The hunger, the desire to win, that’s the key to success. And it has to be the buzzword of the future at Arsenal. Because otherwise, we’re just treading water.