It turns out to be one of Mikel Arteta’s least important conversations of the week.
The Arsenal manager stops for a chat near the edge of a lagoon that runs through the surreal sprawl of Universal Studios. His most pressing engagements took place behind closed doors.
In recent days, Arteta finalized the signing of Oleksandr Zinchenko. Technical Director Edu has arrived in Orlando as they plan further comings and goings. Stan and Josh Kroenke were also briefly in town.
The owners have invested heavily to right the wrongs of last season, when Arsenal threw away Champions League football. And they met the manager at a crucial time in his tenure.
Mikel Arteta has been busy this summer negotiating Arsenal’s incoming and outgoing players
“I was really impressed,” says Arteta. “They had been there for two days, we had a lot of time to sit down in a really relaxed way: talking about football, sports in general.
“The vision they have, the commitment and the level of understanding of the sport in general is fascinating.
“I can tell you: I have never seen an ownership at this level so committed, close and committed to bringing this club to where we want it to be.”
It’s a bold claim considering that Arteta has been at some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
And when you flip through recent history. After all, it’s been just over a year since simmering unrest at the property turned into furious protests and thousands of supporters gathered outside the Emirates to demand regime change.
The club’s doomed bid to join the European Super League was just the spark that turned the skies red with smoke in north London.
“I think before we could get an idea of what they were,” says Arteta.
“I think it’s completely changed, I think it’s been demonstrated with facts and deeds. Their presence here too. Something has to be here and something has to be here the way they were. I guarantee you: they are fully engaged, committed and really looking forward to taking this club to the top.”
Oleksandr Zinchenko, centre, is one of many new additions signed by Arteta and Edu (left)
It’s more than just keeping your bosses nice.
Arteta is right, the evidence is there. Three years ago, the Kroenke family was harassed when they attended an Arsenal friendly in Denver. There was no such vitriol this week, when they watched Arsenal take on Orlando City.
Instead, their box was a magnet for fans and stunned cameras to catch a glimpse of Zinchenko. His £32m arrival took Arsenal’s summer spending to around £120m. As things stand, the North London club have paid out more than any other Premier League side – for the second year in a row.
Few things satisfy grumpy fans like pound tickets. But how long can Arteta hope for – less expect – such generous checks?
“If you look at how other teams have done it and where we were, there’s a moment of transition where that smile has to change at some point.”
Arteta draws the upward curve of a graph with his hand.
“We are not spending the money, we have made big investments, but investments for the future with a huge talent and a lot of performance,” adds the manager.
“Maybe in the future we have to do something to have a team that can be sustainably financed on its own.” It is the objective.
This summer, Arsenal have already added five new faces – Zinchenko, Gabriel Jesus, Fabio Vieira, Matt Turner and Marquinhos.
They moved quickly and more reinforcements could still follow.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner is one of five new faces at the Emirates as Arsenal seek to strengthen
“I’m really happy,” says Arteta. “For what we had planned and where we are today, we are quite far (along).
He adds: “Everything is going very well and now it’s about finalizing what we wanted to do. Obviously we have a big team and some players have to leave and we try to find the right balance.
A striking feature of Arsenal’s transfer activity has been Arteta’s personal power of attraction. It must be satisfying to hear that players want to play for him – and believe in his project.
“I’m very happy because they really want to do it because they feel it,” says Arteta, who has been ruthless trying to rid the dressing room of toxic effects.
“Now we have players who feel this way of playing, this way of being, this way of behaving and everything is natural. I think it’s very powerful and somewhere where we weren’t there is a few years.
The next step? Paying for this renovation with results on the ground. Last season’s near miss was doubly painful – not only did Arsenal give up a place in the top four, they opened the door to rivals Tottenham.
“It was really difficult,” says Arteta. “But I know where we were, what we have and now where we want to be as well.”
Only after a forensic examination of everything that went wrong.
Arteta is ready for a tough season and he hopes stars like Martin Odegaard (above) will shine
“First of all, it’s more than a mistake,” adds the manager. ‘To understand why this happened – what is your responsibility? What more can you do? And then get facts. If we were realistic, sustainable, why we did it and what we didn’t achieve, what we could have achieved in the end. And go forward. There is no time for regrets.
So what did he discover?
“I can’t tell you,” smiled Arteta. “Yet it was very clear, I guarantee it!”
In less than two weeks, his team can start showing what lessons have been learned. New faces will help. “(Those) with the right winning mentality, the players who have done it before and can inspire others now and push the boat a lot faster.”
The only problem? Arteta knows that the race for the Champions League is more open than ever.
“It’s not the top four, it’s the top eight or nine right now,” he says. “You think you do a lot of things, you look wide and the quality and teams of these boys are amazing. So we know where we are.
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