Gary Neville hasn’t held back in his scathing assessment of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in the past, but the Gunners remarkable resurgence this season has forced him to eat his words
Image: SKY SPORTS)
The former Manchester United defender hasn’t held back in his scathing assessment of the Gunners in recent years, but the club’s remarkable resurgence under Arteta this season has left Neville with egg on his face. The Sky Sports pundit questioned the direction in which the North London club were heading earlier in the campaign, but perhaps his most damning verdict came in December 2020.
Back then, the Gunners were embroiled in a relegation dogfight, loitering a mere four points above the Premier League‘s drop zone having amassed just 14 points in 14 league matches. Though Neville acknowledged Arsenal looked a more disciplined outfit under Arteta, his biggest gripe was that the Spaniard’s side were unforgivably “boring”.
Back then, the former United man said on an episode of the Gary Neville Podcast: “The Mikel Arteta team looks more rigid, more solid but it’s a bit boring and they’ve got to get that out. You can’t bore.
“I used to say that here [at Manchester United]. You can win, you can lose, you can’t be bored coming to Old Trafford. I think most fans are the same, they can watch the team win, they can watch the team draw and they can watch the team lose but they won’t accept being bored.
“And to me, the Arsenal players at this moment in time look a little bored and the football they are producing looks like a real struggle.”
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A year into the job, Arteta’s project was yet to take off and the Spaniard himself even admitted to questioning whether he had what it takes to turn the club’s fortunes around. But turn it around he has – and in some style, too.
The Gunners currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, three points ahead of their nearest top four rival, Tottenham, having played a game less. Arteta’s side have been in scintillating form of late and their investment in young players capable of producing the free-flowing, exciting brand of attacking football Arteta craves is paying dividends.
Their success has also seen a number of spectators eating their words – not least, Neville. In fact, so impressive a job has Arteta accomplished that the pundit is now even suggesting the Spaniard should consider targeting a managerial post at a more high-profile club. Quite the compliment.
As for that boring brand of football, Neville’s sensational U-turn has seen him laud Arteta for “getting the maximum” out his squad and implementing a definitive style of play. The words are a testament to just how far the club have come.
Speaking on The Overlap Live Fan Debate, Neville said: “I really like Mikel Arteta, I think he’s a brilliant coach. I think the team is fantastic in terms of the young players they’ve got. Arteta’s a good operator.
“My concern is if Arsenal finish fourth this season – which to be fair, I think is 50/50, I still think there’s a long way to in that race – but if they finish fourth, that’s in some ways as good as it gets. You’ve got Pep [Guardiola], [Jurgen] Klopp, Man United, Chelsea, where can Arsenal go? They’re not going to compete.
“Mikel Arteta is a brilliant coach, I love that we’re seeing a team that he’s getting the maximum out of. I can see exactly how he wants to play, we all can.
“But he gets to fourth [and] if he was really hard about it, he’d probably say “right, that’s the best I can do there, I’m going now and getting my next job.”
It’s been quite the change of tune for Neville, but says all you need to know about the grand job Arteta is doing. There’s nothing boring about this Arsenal side who continue to march towards a Champions League return next season, that’s for sure. All that’s left is for Arteta’s side to complete the mission.