Six players that Mikel Arteta has improved at Arsenal: Elneny, Saka…

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Buykayo Saka listening to Mikel Arteta on the sidelines during Arsenal's match, North London, Emirates Stadium, 22 October 2021.

Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal look like they have hit heights they haven’t achieved since Arsene Wenger left the club.

In particular, Arteta has improved plenty of the players that were at the club before he arrived, turning them into genuine contenders for Champions League qualification.

He’s also been clever with his recruitment, bringing in young players who can fit the age profile of the rest of the squad and who will blend on the pitch with the team already established by the Spanish manager.

The young average age means that Arteta has a huge influence over the team, helping his young gunners develop into the system and style of football that he wants to play.

As a reward for his work, the manager has been given a new contract at the club which is seen by many as long overdue.

“We want to take the club to the next level and to compete really with the top teams,” 40-year-old Arteta said after signing the new deal.

“We have to be able to evolve the team, improve our players, improve all departments, generate even more connection with our fans, improve the atmosphere at the Emirates, be able to recruit top, top talent and the best people for this club to drive this project to that level.”

Here are six players that have improved under Arteta already.

Granit Xhaka

Regardless of whether Arsenal get Champions League football in the end, the Swiss midfielder has proved himself as a Champions League level player under Arteta.

It is some turnaround from the man who stormed off the pitch to the boos of the Gunners at the Emirates a few years ago.

“I was done with Arsenal. Finished. There was a contract on the table from another club and all I had to do was sign. I had talked with my wife, Leonita, and we had decided to leave,” he told the Players Tribune earlier this year.

“Our suitcases were literally placed by the door. But then Mikel began to talk about how I was a big part of his plans. I liked his warmth. He was honest, straight. Clear plans. I felt I could trust him.

“I understand that we [him and Arsenal fans] will never be best friends, but I hope we can treat each other with honesty and respect.”

Bukayo Saka

Sure, some of it has come with age. But Arteta has helped turn Saka from intriguing newbie to bonafide Arsenal star boy.

His stats have improved year upon year under Arteta, and in the league alone he now boasts 11 goals and six assists this season.

Oh, and add to that the fact he’s an England regular too. Mr Arsenal is just getting started.

Emile Smith-Rowe

It was a bold move when Arteta handed Smith-Rowe the No.10 shirt ahead of the 2021-22 season, but the Spanish manager was sure of the attacker’s ability.

Nearly a year on, Smith-Rowe has paid back that faith and continued his progression as a serious first-team prospect for the Gunners this campaign.

He’s tailed off towards the end of the season, but injuries certainly haven’t helped. Things are only going in one direction, and it isn’t downwards.

Eddie Nketiah

As much as Arsenal fans were hoping, Nketiah’s breakthrough just didn’t look like it was ever happening.

Yet suddenly, Arteta’s patience has paid off. If they do get top four, then the young striker’s incredible end of season run will be a huge reason to thank for it.

“What Eddie has done tonight is because of what he has done for the last 10 months and no one has noticed,” Arteta recently said.

“I said to him I haven’t been fair. I should have been playing him more. We have other issues as well and that has not been easy.

“When you look at him in training and how humble and hungry he is, good things happen to good people. If I’m happy for anyone it is especially him because I know what he has been through.”

Martin Odegaard

When he first emerged into the public consciousness, Odegaard was declared ‘the Norwegian Messi’.

Now, under Arteta, he has broken free of such labels and carved out a name for himself in his North London home.

READ: Call 999, Odegaard stole Bergkamp’s soul & is keeping it in his left sock

Mohamed Elneny

Elneny was on the fringes of Arteta’s squad, coming in and out of the team as he has throughout all of the manager’s tenure.

But in recent times he’s stepped up big time in the absence of Thomas Partey, so much so that there are emerging reports he’s going to receive a new contract as a reward for his service to the club as a squad player.

He’s in the middle of his best run of form since he arrived from Basel in 2016, and Arteta’s masterful man management of the whole squad has been key to that.

“I have always said that for me he’s one of the most important players in the squad,” Arteta said of Elneny.

“For what he does when you give him the chance to play and for the things that he does when he doesn’t play.

“He’s a phenomenal person and a great footballer that sometimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”

By Patrick Ryan


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