Improving depth and raising the bar are of course two key factors that have got to be at the center of Arsenal’s transfer plans this summer, but maintaining a positive atmosphere in the dressing room must also be taken into consideration.
Since arriving as head coach in 2019, Mikel Arteta has worked tirelessly to create a squad that is committed to the cause after individuals attempted to, in his words, ‘harm’ the culture he was putting in place. From day one, the Spaniard has set out very clear non-negotiables that must be followed in order to become a key member under his leadership, if they aren’t, then the exit door is coming your way.
Matteo Guendouzi, Mesut Ozil and more recently Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have all departed the club following disciplinary issues behind the scenes, showcasing just how keen Arteta is to prevent further unrest amongst his players.
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Although there have been many hurdles to overcome for the Arsenal boss over the last three years, the difference in squad togetherness now is night and day. The players appear united, passionate and hungry to win, all of which contributed to a relatively successful 2021/22 campaign which saw the club return to Europe.
As we head into the summer, transfer links are already free-flowing and in general, the majority of names cropping up are encouraging. Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus is a highly admired player not only due to his footballing ability but also his positive mindset and hardworking attitude. Leicester’s Youri Tielemans is someone else who is well respected on and off the pitch.
Despite this, there is one name that has divided opinion and that Djed Spence. The 21-year-old is coming off the back of a successful loan spell with newly promoted Nottingham Forest after helping the side reach the Premier League, contributing two goals and five assists in the process. Possessing pace, energy, attacking threat and confidence on the ball, Spence was not only a standout in the Championship but also in the FA Cup too, causing problems for both Arsenal and Leicester City.
It wasn’t long before he started to attract interest from a host of clubs, with the Mirror reporting that Arteta was considering a move in January. Since then, the list of interested parties has grown and now rivals Tottenham Hotspur appear to be the current favorites. Various reports suggest Boro are looking for a fee in the region of £ 15m – £ 20m.
However, the link to Spurs may be a blessing in disguise. Spence is clearly talented, yet former Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock has opened up on his decision to send him out on loan to a league rival. “I let him go. He needed to sort himself out, really.” Warnock told talkSPORT. “I basically said to him that you can go to the top or you can go non-league.”
Fast forward five months and Spence responded to Warnock by tweeting “Oh, Where’s my Manners! Welcome to Twitter @warnockofficial,” accompanied by a picture of him with a cigar in his mouth while sitting next to the Sky Bet Championship play-off winners trophy .
I can understand why Spence may feel he’s had the last laugh, but directing a tweet like that to one of football’s most experienced managers straight after achieving promotion just seems very strange to me and signals that he still has a lot to learn. Granted, Warnock hasn’t always been a success or made the right decisions, but he has been in the job long enough to identify someone who hasn’t perhaps got their priorities in the right place.
Speaking to The Arsenal Way earlier this year, Middlesbrough fan and Manchester Evening News content editor, Ross Jackson, backed up Warnock’s claims by delivering an honest but damning verdict on Spence’s mindset.
“As soon as news of Tottenham’s interest in him surfaced, Boro never saw that promising player again,” Ross said. “His attitude looked off and there were countless occasions when he was caught moseying back to the halfway line like he was on a lazy Sunday morning jog than actually busting a gut to help out his teammates.
“It’s plainly obvious that the Arsenal squad is in desperate need of both quality and character, and Spence won’t offer you either.”