Each manager is his own person, has his own style, his own way of doing things. No two managers are the same, although many are similar in terms of philosophy.
Take Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola.
Both have a similar outlook on the game. Passing football heavily influenced by Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Barcelona teams.
In Mikel Arteta, we assumed we were getting a man cut from a similar cloth.
Arteta had come through the Barcelona youth system, before a career that saw him play in 4 different countries.
He would play for, and captain, Arsenal under Wenger before joining Guardiola’s coaching set-up at Manchester City.
It is therefore a surprise to many that Arteta’s Arsenal more resemble a George Graham side rather than a Wenger.
Tough to break down. Defence first. Few chances created.
As well as Graham, Arteta’s playing style is very similar to one of his and Guardiola’s countrymen – Rafa Benitez .
Throughout Benitez’s career, his sides have sacrificed attacking flair for solidity.
Benitez’s squads are usually renowned for their defensive nature and low number of goals scored against them.
With just 7 goals conceded this season, Arsenal have the best defensive record in the league. A huge shift from conceding 150 league goals in the previous 3 seasons.
Benitez would set his team up to exploit opposition weaknesses, something which Arteta also does and has seen his side beat Liverpool 3 times, Manchester United twice and both Chelsea and Manchester City once.
Benitez would also play key players in unorthodox positions to suit a formation. Think Steven Gerrard playing as a winger.
Under Arteta Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been used predominantly as a winger, whilst Kieran Tierney has played as centre back. Winger Bukayo Saka has played more in a full back or wing back position than in a forward role.
At this point, some fans might be feeling a little down, a little cheated. That we have potentially recruited a Rafa Benitez rather than a Pep Guardiola.
But that is unfair on Benitez.
In a 12 year period managing Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Napoli, Benitez won 12 trophies including the Champions League, 2 La Liga league titles, 2 UEFA Cup’s, 2 domestic cups and 5 super cups.
If in a dozen years time, Arteta has that sort of trophy haul whilst at Arsenal, his name will rightly be mentioned alongside the likes of Herbert Chapman, George Graham and Arsene Wenger.
The key difference between Benitez and Guardiola is the elder Spaniard very rarely found himself in charge of the richest side in the league (bar a spell as Real Madrid manager).
Benitez had to adapt to make Valencia competitive in Spain, winning 2 La Liga titles.
Liverpool made 2 Champions League finals in 3 years under Benitez, winning one. It was during a period when Liverpool had fallen away from being a European powerhouse.
Likewise for in Italy he never managed the richest sides in the league (Juventus, AC Milan) but still won 3 trophies in 2 years.
In just 11 months, including a break for Covid19, Arteta has already led his side to 2 trophies.
It might not be the free flowing Guardiola / Wenger football we hoped for, but there are many ways to skin a cat. Many different ways to win a trophy.
I am still confident that as our improved defensive stability continues, we will begin to improve at the other end of the pitch.
And if playing Benitez style defensive football does become Arteta’s trademark, then so be it if he continues to lead his team to trophies.
No one complained about George Graham’s Arsenal when we were winning titles!
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