Paul Merson has praised Mikel Arteta, saying the way he removed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Arsenal has been the catalyst to the Gunners’ unbeaten start to this season.
An Arsenal legend with 12 years of service to the club, Merson has seen their history, and has drawn parallels between the current incumbent and the management style of George Graham in the 1980s and 1990s.
Aubameyang left Arsenal in acrimonious circumstances in the middle of last season, moving to Barcelona, before returning to London earlier this week with a transfer deadline day switch to Chelsea.
Merson told The Sun: ‘I was very impressed with the way Arteta handled Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
‘He took a massive chance with a player who was a huge influence in the dressing room and it’s worked. You have to make a statement when you’re a new manager.
‘George Graham did it many years ago when he came to Arsenal and got rid of Charlie Nicholas, Tony Woodcock, Graham Rix, Viv Anderson and Steve Williams.
‘Top internationals, the lot of them, but they weren’t going to listen to some bloke who’d just arrived from Millwall and wanted to rule with a rod of iron.
‘So George went ‘out you all go and I’ll build my team around hungry young kids who will run around and listen to what I have to say’.
‘We wouldn’t have won the league without George, but he wouldn’t have won it without guys like myself, Michael Thomas, David Rocastle, Tony Adams and Paul Davis.
‘And fair play to Arteta, that’s exactly what he’s doing now.
‘For as good as Aubameyang was, the young players were going to start listening to him and Arteta didn’t want that.
‘Because as soon as you have one player who doubts you, your job becomes so much harder.’
However, despite the way the Gunners have started this season with five wins on the bounce, the 54-year-old pundit thinks Arsenal will still be thankful for a top four finish.
Merson thinks the Gunners are still some way off Manchester City – despite being two points above them after five games owing to the Citizens’ draw with Newcastle.
‘Arsenal are still a million miles behind Manchester City,’ the Sky Sports pundit said. ‘So it’s important that people don’t get ahead of themselves and talk about being title contenders.
‘They have to stay realistic and finishing in the top four this season would be a major feat.
‘Arteta isn’t yet an elite manager like Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte, but he’s only been in the job for three years.’
While Sunday’s visit to Manchester United is not pivotal to the Premier League title race like it often was in Merson’s day, the former attacking midfielder said it would be an ‘acid test’ to see if Arsenal are contenders.
Merson said: ‘The fixtures so far have been kind and they’ve only beaten teams they should have done.
‘But by winning five in a row, they can go to Old Trafford and a draw would be a decent result.
‘Because if you keep beating the lesser teams and not losing to the big boys, which is what Liverpool did last season, then you’re going to be in with a shout.’