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Mikel Arteta is a Guardiola disciple but may have learnt more from Klopp's Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta before Arsenal and Liverpool's 1-1 draw earlier this season
Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta finished December's 1-1 draw on friendly terms - Getty Images/Andrew Powell

From the moment Arsenal’s executives were pictured leaving clandestine talks at Mikel Arteta’s Manchester home, in the dead of night in December 2019, the assumption within the footballing world was that they were targeting a manager who was effectively a younger version of Pep Guardiola.

Arteta, like Guardiola, had been schooled at Barcelona. And, of course, he had worked as the Manchester City manager’s assistant for the previous three years. If anyone was going to be able to replicate Guardiola’s approach, it was going to be Arteta.

In many ways, those assumptions have been proved right. Arteta has, over the years, built an Arsenal team that plays with a similar style to City. Possession-based build-up, inverted full-backs, false nines: tactically, it is not hard to see that Arteta and Guardiola both enjoyed the same education.

But Arteta is not simply a Guardiola clone, and those close to him would reject any suggestion that he has tried to imitate his mentor. The Arsenal manager has other influences, within football and from other sports, and it could be argued that he has taken almost as much from another Premier League winner, Jurgen Klopp, as he has from his former boss.

Evidently it would be wrong to say that Arteta’s relationship with Klopp is comparable to his bond with Guardiola. In November 2021, the two managers clashed furiously on the touchline at Anfield. It has not always looked particularly friendly between them, and it probably won’t be when they meet at the Emirates on Sunday.

Jurgen Klopp and Mikel Arteta clash at Anfield during Liverpool's 4-0 win in 2021
Klopp and Arteta clashed on the touchline in 2021 in a game Liverpool would go on to win 4-0 - Shutterstock/Tim Keeton

But Arteta’s respect and admiration for his counterpart is obvious, and there are clear similarities between Arsenal’s development in recent years and Liverpool’s re-emergence as a genuine force under Klopp.

On the pitch, Arteta’s approach is still closer to Guardiola-ism. But off it, in a wider cultural sense, there is more than a hint of Klopp in the way that the Spaniard has taken control of Arsenal and moulded it into something new.

Asked this week what he has learned from Klopp, Arteta said: “A lot of things. Especially the identity that his team has, the identity that the club has. It is very clear. He is someone who is so determined to make sure that stamp is put in across the club. The team has very clear intentions and behaviours, regardless of where [each player] plays. I love that.”

The words “identity” and “stamp” are two of the first that come to mind when one considers Arteta’s impact at Arsenal. Unlike his predecessor Unai Emery, and very much like Klopp, Arteta has reconstructed Arsenal in his own image. He is not just the head coach of the first team — he leads the entire culture of the organisation, involving himself in decisions that go far beyond team selection.

Three examples. When Arsenal considered expanding their medical department, it was Arteta who decided against it. When Jack Wilshere interviewed for the role of academy coach, Arteta was part of that process. And when Arteta felt the training ground would benefit from the presence of a dog, it was he who chose Win, the chocolate labrador who arrived in north London a year ago. His role is all-encompassing. His power is enormous.

Similarly, it was Klopp’s recommendation that Liverpool leave Melwood, their old training ground, for their new base in Kirkby. These men are not just coaches, playing one role within the organisation. They are the heartbeats of their clubs.

One of Klopp’s greatest successes at Liverpool has been his weaponisation of the Anfield crowd. He has challenged the home supporters, even provoked them at times, and in doing so has created a strong sense of unity. Arteta has worked hard to do the same, and the Emirates has been transformed as a result.

It was Arteta, for example, who pushed for a new pre-match anthem to be played before kick-off in every home game. Louis Dunford’s “The Angel” has become Arsenal’s own version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, even if it currently has none of the same emotional significance or historical power.

There are similarities in their teams, too. Klopp’s most devastating forward? Mohamed Salah, a left-footed winger who plays off the right. Arteta’s most devastating forward? Bukayo Saka, a left-footed winger who plays off the right.

Klopp’s attack used to thrive because of a Brazilian striker — Roberto Firmino — who was better at creating than scoring. Gabriel Jesus now plays the same role for Arsenal. At the back, Klopp has built on the foundations provided by the titanic Virgil van Dijk. Arteta is now building from William Saliba.

Above all that, both Arteta and Klopp are managers who have used emotion. Klopp harnessed the emotional power of Anfield, of Liverpool, of the club’s standing, and channelled it. Arteta has embraced the history of Arsenal, strengthened the connection with the fanbase and injected that same passion as he attempts to achieve similar glory.

At City, the quality of the football and the slickness of the organisation has been almost scientific under Guardiola. Precise, clean, controlled. Klopp’s Liverpool have been more chaotic, more rough around the edges — and Arteta’s Arsenal has generally been the same.

Will that remain the case? Perhaps not. Arteta is gradually moving his team away from jeopardy and towards control. But to watch Arsenal play, and to see how they operate as a club, is to feel as many echoes of Klopp’s Liverpool as there are of Guardiola’s City.

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