When Mikel Arteta arrived at the club, he came armed with a vision for how he wanted to play, and a remit to change the culture at the club. As it stands, it looks like he’s failing on both fronts.
Building a culture is about establishing a unifying set of standards that everyone can exist in. There are things you can do to reinforce culture. Armies have exacting standards over uniform, Toussaint Louverture, the Haitian general that led a revolution against France, decked out his free slaves in uniform to make them feel worthy and give them visual structure (they successfully drove Napoleon out of Haiti). Facebook created a ‘break stuff fast’ mentality to ensure they were ahead of the curve, and to let employees know that breaking stuff wasn’t a career-ender (that risk-taking approach had to change when they reached a certain scale). Apple has built a machine so focused on elite design, if you work them as an agency, you have to hire a world-class deck designer because the smallest error can throw a meeting.
Culture is important. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. Understand the rules that make a place tick gives everyone a very basic common grounding. Again, going back to the army, time is hugely important. If you are 10 seconds late, you’ll be punished. Why? Because in battle, those ten seconds could be the difference between life and death.
Arteta had a list of non-negotiables that he brought to the club and it all made sense. We knew Ozil would fall foul of them because he’d been drumming to his own beat for years. We knew Matteo wouldn’t be able to hack it and he was one of the first talented casualties of the regime. This is standard stuff, Netflix, a company I often write about, has a no assholes policy. Why? Because when people are behaving badly, others gossip, and office gossip leads to a lack of focus, lowered morale, and inefficiency.
Culture is hard though. It’s very easy to punish weak links because you don’t need them. It’s much harder to hold everyone to the same standard because not everyone delivers to the same level. But you simply have to bite the bullet and do it. You know the wheels are coming off an organisation when bad behaviour goes unpunished and standards are allowed to drop because it is easier to let things slide. Another sign of a culture failing is when leadership starts to treat people differently. When justice is arbitrary and equality is not sensed by all… you get problems.
I had a no assholes policy in my London job. The worst I’ve ever felt is when someone very young on my team told me his boss was being awful, I glossed over it because that boss was driving revenue… and this person pulled me on it and said they were disappointed. I’d made concessions for money. That was wrong and I have tried never to do that again.
Mikel Arteta is all over the place. There is no clarity in his system which is starting to look like an irrational authoritarian dictatorship.
Let’s look at some of the things that have gone on:
Willian breaks covid protocol to go to Dubai, isn’t dropped
Shocking performances are rarely punished unless you are Martinelli who was bombed for 10 games after a bad 60 mins versus Aston Villa
Nico was chastised for a stupid red (correct) and apologised. Granit Xhaka drops a horrible challenge, takes a red, kills the game, gets a pat on the back, and does not apologise.
William Saliba has a great loan spell in France, doesn’t get the chance to compete for his place in this seasons squad despite fitting the exact profile we look for in a defender (and being told he’d be given a chance) > Kolasinac, who was told to f*ck off in January, had a shite loan that saw his team relegated, was accused of being part of a coup on Christian Gross, keeps his place in the squad, then gets a start in central defence.
Cedric Soares is just bang average, everyone knows it, he’s basically our worst right back, but he starts against City. Ainsley, who is the right profile we are looking at for signings, has had MoTM performances in big games, apparently tells Arteta he will play full-back, gets banished to the bench and told to f*ck off by Arteta.
You can sometimes survive this sort of behaviour if you are at the very top of your game, but even then, at some point, the players get bored of you and you lose the dressing room. Just look at the Conte or Jose cycle, it’s usually a 3-year limit. Arteta doesn’t have the credibility to be this inconsistent, malicious, and wrong.
The story today is Eddie will not be moving this summer. Palace are looking to Edouard because we’re looking for too much money. So what do we have here? My suspicion if this stays the same is we’ve realised Balogun is too far off the pace to be a 3rd choice striker, so we’re going to hang on to Eddie as a stop-gap. So what of Eddie? Does anyone think the treatment he’s had over the last year has been enjoyable? Is he going to show for Arteta? Will he feel loved?
Unlikely. Wenger was many things, but he was never malicious and he had a laser focus on making people feel wanted. To his detriment, because we were basically a creche.
I covered off how overall leadership at the club has been absolutely dire. But here we have the story of what happens when you aren’t disciplined. This is the output of vindictive behaviour. This is what happens when you let a narcissist run riot without controls.
None of these problems can be isolated. They are all interlinked. This is what dysfunction looks like.
Something needs to change because this isn’t a bad luck aberration now, this is who we are, and there’s no experience to sort it all out.
Tune into the weekends content. We’ll be back tomorrow with a very big podcast to assess where we are right now.