The former Gunners defender, who is now head of the club’s academy, admits a return to elite European football may still be a few years away
Per Mertesacker admits that a Champions League return for Arsenal may not happen for another “two or three years”, but he has urged patience with Mikel Arteta in what remains a “big, big transition” for the Gunners.
North London heavyweights have failed to qualify for elite European competition since Arsene Wenger was still at the helm, with their last top-four finish coming back in 2015-16.
Arteta is the man charged with the task of reversing that trend and despite questions being asked of the Spaniard’s ability to deliver on lofty expectations, Mertesacker insists he is the right man for the job.
What has been said?
Former Arsenal defender Mertesacker, who is now head of the club’s academy, has told The Beautiful Game Podcast of the current state of affairs at Emirates Stadium: “Massive transition, that’s what I would class it as. I think it was clear when Arsene left the void that needed to be filled wouldn’t get sorted in a couple of seasons, or three to four years.
“You always want the shortcut, you know, bang straight back into the Champions League, straight back into being successful. I think even myself, realising and working now with the academy, going more long-term developmental, I think we see kind of similar-ish traits in the first team, and I hope that Mikel gets the time that he needs.”
The World Cup winner added: “I want to be successful tomorrow, I want to go back in the Champions League tomorrow, I want to speak to people and say ‘listen, we have got the best club in the world who challenges for titles every single year’. That’s not the reality. I think the earlier we get on the train of we are in a big, big transition still [the better].
“To have sustainable success there needs to be some trust. I’m all for trusting people in people. If Mikel Arteta, and I perceive him to be the right person, let’s give him the trust and the development squad that he can take to the next level that will achieve Champions League football, maybe in two or three years.
“From a club person, thats my take basically at the moment, because I’ve worked with Mikel very, very closely.
“I know how much he wants it, I know his work ethic, I know how intense the squad works at the moment to get to a better level. I think we all have to swallow disappointment at the moment, which I’m keen to change, but the environments that we are going to deliver in the next years will be key for our success.
“The stakes are very, very high, and I understand that there is a lot of criticism, but some people need to swallow that and try and grow with it, and Mikel is someone that does that.”
What shape are Arsenal in?
Arteta has delivered FA Cup and Community Shield glory since succeeding Unai Emery at the helm in December 2019.
Progress has been slow since then, though, with a pointless start through three tough opening games in 2021-22 seeing pressure piled onto a 39-year-old coach.
Back-to-back wins over Norwich and Burnley have helped to silence some of the doubters, but questions continue to be asked of the direction in which Arsenal are heading.
They are without continental football of any kind this season, having finished eighth last term, and are still looking for the desired return on a club-record £145 million ($200m) investment during the summer transfer window.
Exit talk is also being sparked around the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Bernd Leno, with no new contracts in place, while club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who has often been a talismanic presence – has managed just two goals through his last 10 Premier League appearances.