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Man City humiliate you, Wolves insult, Brentford think you’re a soft touch – mind games of Arteta

Old school managers have long posted the disrespectful comments of opponents on dressing room walls, to give their players an extra edge in the battle ahead.

And while Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta may often be described as ‘modern’ and ‘forward thinking’, he knows the value of some old-fashioned motivation.

In amongst the psychology, props, flipcharts and tactical prompts Arteta employs pre-match, is an approach that every park player would instantly recognise.

Rendered to its simplest form, it translates as, ‘they think you’re s**t’.

All or Nothing has revealed Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s approaches to team motivation

The second three - of eight - episodes in the series will stream on Prime Video from Thursday

The second three – of eight – episodes in the series will stream on Prime Video from Thursday

One of the most fascinating strands in the All or Nothing Arsenal docuseries has been Arteta’s team talks.

Seen by some as ‘weird’, they are unquestionably innovative and appear to provoke a reaction from the players.

Previously, we have seen Arteta ask his players to create a bubble of energy by holding hands and frequently sharing his own insecurities and fears in an attempt to help them relax.

In the latest episodes, which will stream from Thursday, we see Arteta cast aside the clever stuff and go straight for the gut – the pride of his players.

‘It is still in my stomach and I have managed to keep it [there] for six months,’ seethes Arteta before he sent his team out to face Brentford at the Emirates in February.

Arteta has been seen as a tactician, selfless in taking the pressure off players, but in the latest instalments of All or Nothing, he highlights the approach of other teams to challenge players

Arteta has been seen as a tactician, selfless in taking the pressure off players, but in the latest instalments of All or Nothing, he highlights the approach of other teams to challenge players

Arsenal were embarrassed by Brentford in the first game of last season, losing 2-0, and the Bees centre forward, Ivan Toney, had celebrated with a little tweet, which had needled Arteta to such an extent, he had saved it for half a year.

It was now projected onto a whiteboard in the Arsenal dressing room.

‘This is Toney after the game,’ declared Arteta to his assembled players, banging his knuckles on the board.

‘When we played at Brentford, you know what he did, you know his tweet,’ added Arteta, before reading staccato from the screen, his finger jabbing at each word.

‘Nice. Kick. About. With. The. Boys. This. Afternoon…’ read Arteta (who added the last two words for dramatic effect). The implication was that The Arsenal had been a soft touch and Brentford and Toney had hardly needed to exert themselves to beat them.

A tweet from Brentford striker Ivan Toney infuriated Arteta, which he showed his players

A tweet from Brentford striker Ivan Toney infuriated Arteta, which he showed his players

Arteta projected the tweet onto a whiteboard in the Arsenal dressing room ahead of the reverse fixture in February

Arteta projected the tweet onto a whiteboard in the Arsenal dressing room ahead of the reverse fixture in February

Arteta is a passionate manager who is happy to use mind games to give his players the edge

Arteta is a passionate manager who is happy to use mind games to give his players the edge

The Spaniard wasn’t having it, and he was not prepared to let his players accept it, either.

‘So, today they play in our house, boys, and there is only one team on that f*****g pitch. And it’s us. Only one team and it’s like they don’t play football.

‘We take that f*****g ball, we take the game and we go for it. And we f*****g win this game. Let’s go…’

Arsenal responded and won the match 2-1, with goals from Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka.

It was not the only time last season that Arteta detected a slight, even Manchester City, where he was assistant to Pep Guardiola, before becoming the main man at Arsenal, were singled out.

The Gunners suffered a painful defeat at the Etihad in August losing 5-0. They were already two goals down when Granit Xhaka was sent off.

On New Year’s Day, City visited the Etihad and Arteta was forced to give his team talk over Zoom because of a Covid infection.

Bobbing about on a big screen erected in the dressing room, the coach cut an animated figure.

Arteta was forced to give his team talk ahead of Man City over Zoom because of Covid

Arteta was forced to give his team talk ahead of Man City over Zoom because of Covid

Arsenal players stand arms linked over each other's shoulders as they focus on Arteta's words

Arsenal players stand arms linked over each other’s shoulders as they focus on Arteta’s words

Despite testing positive for Covid, Areta's team talk was an animated one via the Zoom call

Despite testing positive for Covid, Areta’s team talk was an animated one via the Zoom call

‘I am really sorry I cannot be there because we are going to go to f*****g war, today,’ said Arteta, via Zoom.

‘One thing guys, be yourselves,’ he continued, picking up the pace and passion. ‘I want a game with you face to face [with City]. I want to see [our] players confronting them.

‘When we were at the Emirates, remember what they did…Three-nil down and with 10 players and they went f*****g putting [Riyad] Mahrez and [Raheem] Sterling on the pitch to humiliate you.

‘Let’s f*****g go for it, guys. We are a completely different team and to go from the first minute, think forward, act forward and play forward… every f*****g one of you.

‘I am proud of you. Let’s go out there and win this f*****g match.’

Gunners stars at the Emirates look on ahead of Arteta's zoom-based pre-match team talk

Gunners stars at the Emirates look on ahead of Arteta’s zoom-based pre-match team talk 

Arteta has been seen using innovative methods, including playing You'll Never Walk Alone across the training ground to prepare his players for a trip to Anfield

Arteta has been seen using innovative methods, including playing You’ll Never Walk Alone across the training ground to prepare his players for a trip to Anfield

When Arsenal played at Wolves Arteta told his players to be ready to be provoked and insulted

When Arsenal played at Wolves Arteta told his players to be ready to be provoked and insulted

The Gunners played hard, by Gabriel Martinelli overstepped the line and was sent off

The Gunners played hard, by Gabriel Martinelli overstepped the line and was sent off

Arsenal put on a fantastic display and despite losing centre-back Gabriel to a red card on the hour, they almost secured a draw, but Rodri stabbed home from close range in the third minute of added time to win it 2-1.

At Wolves, the boss turned the tables and challenged his players to stand up to the intimidation he expected would come their way.

‘We have to start super-fast, have courage and play the way we want to play.

‘Be aggressive and have balls and have the courage to go. I want to see people who make decisions and have the eyes to win the match.

‘Compete, because you know what they are going to do… they are going to dive, they are going to insult you, they are going to provoke you and going to provoke you even more. Let’s go and win this game…’

And they did, one-nil, despite Gabriel Martinelli being sent off in the 69th minute for two fouls within one 60 seconds. 

Arteta is a thoughtful coach. He is highly attentive to his players and their welfare, constantly thinking about how he can help them be the best they can be.

Arteta opens up to his players and also the Amazon Prime Video cameras in All or Nothing

Arteta opens up to his players and also the Amazon Prime Video cameras in All or Nothing

But he is not weak. The decision to removed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last season was a tough call, which he saw through in order to set the standards he believes are needed if the team is to become re-established in the top four.

And when Arteta returned from Covid he had some home truths for his players, after watching videos of more than 20 training sessions while he was ill. The boss didn’t like some of what he saw.

‘There are a few players who train exceptionally well,’ he told an increasingly uncomfortable group of young men.

‘There is the vast majority of players, who train well. And there is a group of players, who just come.’

Some members of the group no doubt swallowed hard.

The boss, who joins in training (above), was disappointed with the levels of some players

The boss, who joins in training (above), was disappointed with the levels of some players

‘The training session on Sunday, if I was here, four go out of the session. Four players after 15 minutes. Gone,’ Arteta continued and the squad sat in stony silence.

‘We are not training in the park. We are not in nursery. And we are not here wasting our time. Too many players laughing. And the other thing is, complaining.

‘Someone gives a bad pass… complaining. I give a bad pass… it’s his mistake. No! We have to raise the level and it goes for everyone. Every single one, because now is in or out.

‘So, every f*****g day in training, every single ball.’

A couple of days later, Arsenal travelled to Championship side, Nottingham Forest, in the FA Cup and Arteta’s fears about low standards were realised. Forest and a raucous home support bullied the Gunners and with a changed team they slumped to a 1-0 defeat.

Arteta roared at his players after defeat at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round

Arteta roared at his players after defeat at Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round

Arteta was furious as he marched into the cramped changing room at the City Ground after the final whistle.

‘I accept losing, I accept losing, but I don’t accept these f*****g standards. I don’t accept them. It is nowhere near. NOWHERE NEAR,’ he bellowed, the impact of his words even greater for the small changing area.

‘Attitude is not enough. Courage is not enough. To run is not enough. You have to have much more than that and it is nowhere near. You agree with me, guys? Yeah? Then between you, f*****g do it!

‘Demand [it of] yourself. That is what I am telling you [in] f*****g training, because I see it in training that it does not matter to give the ball away. It’s OK… I go for the next ball…

‘No!’ Arteta roared in the silence that had descended on the dressing room. ‘Because in the game, it’s gone. When I lose, I am upset. When I lose the small-sided games [in training] I’m upset. Because that is the f*****g standards. You come here and you know you f*****g lose.

Arteta picked up the laundry basket and let it fall to the ground, before turning on his heel to leave.

‘It’s f*****g s**t, I’m telling you. S**t!’

The manager has established a reputation through the series as a thoughtful coach

The manager has established a reputation through the series as a thoughtful coach

However, Arteta is full of praise when the players get it right, which for him is a combination of proper defending and courage on the ball.

At Liverpool, in the semi final first leg of the EFL Cup, Arsenal played more than hour with 10-men after midfielder Granit Xhaka was sent off.

The Gunners stood tall, perhaps taller than an Arsenal team has stood for years in the face of sustained physical and mental pressure, in a stadium where they rarely prosper.

‘[I said before the game] I wanted to see a team that plays with emotion and plays with courage. Sometimes when I watch you play, I have goosebumps,’ a hoarse coach confided in his players after the game.

‘What you did here today, to compete the way you did, to show the courage, the fight, the discipline. it was absolutely magnificent. I am so proud of you.’

And that sums up Arteta. He is demanding, clever, will use every motivational tool he can, but his default position as a coach is to reinforce the positives, the things the players do well.

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