Given how articulate and thoughtful he is, it is no surprise that a conversation with Mikel Arteta should quickly turn to philosophies. When it comes to the playing variety, the midfielder has much to say and, in this period between the closing stages of the World Cup and the beginning of a new Premier League season, firm views in regards to both country and club.
Reflecting on Spain’s disastrous campaign in Brazil, when the reigning champions bowed out at the group stages having lost their opening two games, Arteta is adamant that the era of tiki-taka is not dead, primarily because the new generation of Spanish players adhere to that brand of possession football as much as the older heads who came up short this summer. It is also a philosophy, Arteta is keen to point out, that had previously won three tournaments.
Arsenal’s brand of expansive, attacking play has not proven so successful in recent years, but having ended their long trophy drought with victory over Hull in May’s FA Cup final, Arteta insists belief inside the club that they are doing the right things has only hardened, and that they too will not be changing their modus operandi any time soon.
That assertion may infuriate Arsenal supporters following a season in which their team’s pursuit of a first Premier League title in a decade was undermined by their poor record against fellow challengers, with heavy defeats at Manchester City (6-3), Liverpool (5-1) and Chelsea (6-0) proof for many that Arsène Wenger’s men lack the tactical nous and defensive discipline to be crowned champions. The vice-captain disagrees.
“We want to play in an attacking way and the manager will stand by that 100%,” insists Arteta. “ If you concede five goals away from home you’re not going to win, that’s for sure. But in the last couple of years we’ve had one of the best defences in the country so it was a big shame that those three games did not reflect how stable we are. We made mistakes and maybe early on in these games we have to be more careful, not take too many risks. But we won’t change our philosophy, for us it is the right way to perform.”
Arteta’s belief in Arsenal’s methods may have been shaken by defeat in the FA Cup final, something that appeared a distinct possibility after Hull took a shock 2-0 lead inside the opening eight minutes of the contest. Goals from Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Aaron Ramsey changed everything, however – Wenger’s side had their first piece of silverware in nine years, the manager signed a new contract shortly after and for their captain on that Wembley day, a “platform for the future” was created.
“When you are under pressure and end up winning that first trophy for a long time it creates a bit of momentum, a bit of belief in what we do,” Arteta says. “We need to go to bigger challenges now because for this club the FA Cup is not enough.
“We have been playing for three or four years together now so we have experience, and if we add in the right areas we have a great chance [of winning the title]. I think it is going to be a busy transfer window.”
That appears beyond doubt. Alexis Sánchez has signed from Barcelona, Mathieu Debuchy is close to joining and Arsenal are keen to bring in further additions. Whether Arteta is around to play alongside them in the long term is open to question, however.
The 32-year-old has one year remaining on his contact and with a fresh deal yet to be agreed, rumours persist over a move away from the Emirates. Fiorentina are the latest recent club mooted as a possible destination although his agent, Iñaki Ibanez, insists Arteta – who joined Arsenal in 2011 and has made 43 appearances in all competitions in each of his last two seasons at the club - “has no intention of leaving London”.
“I’m really happy here,” Arteta says. “I’ve always been grateful to play for this club and if I continue doing that I’ll be more than happy. If someone says ‘Mikel, you’re not going to play anymore, you’re not important’ then with my personality I don’t want to be somewhere they don’t want me. But this is not the case and I absolutely expect to be at Arsenal next season.”