“I don’t ask for people to like me or love me,” said Mikel Arteta during an interview with The Guardian in 2022.
“It is who I am. That’s their choice. And my choice is always … to try to be myself and be the person with the values that I have been raised with.”
Self-image is of little importance. “It doesn’t [concern me] but it concerns my loved ones and obviously everybody likes to be liked.
“But what I guarantee you are going to see is who I am and not only me, about who we are as a club, which is the most important thing, much more important than me, and that perception, hopefully, is positive.
“That worries me much more than my personal one.” It’s probably just as well.
Despite the current blip, Arteta has transformed Arsenal from a mid-table afterthought into plausible contenders for the Premier League title with his trademark intensity and eye for detail.
Simultaneously, that quest for an edge on their domestic rivals has seen the Gunners boss march firmly into David Brent territory.
From pumping out ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ at training before playing Liverpool (lost 4-0), buying a chocolate-coloured labrador for their London Colney base and calling her ‘Win’ and communal palm-rubbing in the dressing room, Arteta has gained a reputation for weirdness.
Whether it’s evidence of an admirable single-mindedness and commitment to his job, or a lack of self-awareness that would’ve made Alan Partridge blush, it’s clear that the 41-year-old cares less about his self-image than a second-year student in Fallowfield.
Which explains why Arteta took a detour from Arsenal’s winter training camp in Dubai to dine at Salt Bae’s restaurant.
The Turkish chef, who has become an impromptu wallet inspector for the rich and famous since his extravagant method of salting steaks went viral in 2017, chopped Arteta’s meal with a flamboyance normally unspotted outside a Home Counties production of Othello.
After making the Arsenal manager wear that polite, patient smile everybody does when their cutlery’s laid out for what felt like light years, Salt Bae then dangled a piece of the over-priced meat in front of Arteta’s mouth.
If this was a biting take on Arsenal’s current propensity to play with their food without shoving it in their gob, it was spectacularly well-played.
As Arteta awkwardly chomped on the steak, before sharing a cringeworthy picture with his inexplicably-famous waiter, top scientists hailed the creation of the worst vibe ever concocted by mankind.
Mikel Arteta x Salt Bae in Dubai! 🧂🥩 pic.twitter.com/aei4PyzCHo
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) January 12, 2024
After taking a hefty chunk out of his winter transfer budget, the Arsenal boss will have woken up with a groaning stomach and news of the club’s first relegation since 1913.
Certainly, eating steak directly from Salt Bae’s fork feels worse than an FFP breach. Fans calling for his side to be deducted points for this crime against humanity will have the support of a desperately grappling Rishi Sunak by Saturday lunchtime.
Or perhaps Arteta was playing 5D chess and getting wisdom from a guy who has literally held the World Cup. Lest we forget that this is a man so dedicated to his job that he’ll happily burn his self-respect for a crumb of silverware.
By Michael Lee