It is not too long ago that the Arsenal manager’s influence on incoming transfers resembled a footballing version of knocking your head against a brick wall. In the summer of 2019, their then-head coach Unai Emery was part of an operation that left transfers to the club’s dealbroker — he coached the players, Raul Sanllehi supplied them.

And so it came to pass that Nicolas Pepe arrived that August for an eye-opening, club record fee of £72million ($94.3m at current exchange rates). Emery had asked for Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace — a right-footed left winger with proven Premier League credentials. He was given Pepe, a left-footed right winger who had never played outside the French league.

Safe to say Arsenal lived and learned.

The chances of something similar happening now at Arsenal are nil. A transfer might not work out, but the thinking behind their signings is at least unified and coherent. A bid for a player that present manager Mikel Arteta is not absolutely central to is hard to envisage. His very specific plans and demands are the oil in the Arsenal transfer machine.

From conception to execution, the manager is heavily involved in doing everything in his power to persuade everyone to run along with him. If a player isn’t absolutely sure, he soon will be. If the club are being pushed beyond financial terms they are comfortable with, they will soon find a way to work on the numbers. He delivers his convictions with a mix of certainty and positive energy that is infectious. Arsenal’s transfer team — with sporting director Edu and director of football operations Richard Garlick taking care of business, and the Kroenkes, the club’s owners, giving the final nod — do the rest.

Someone who calls themselves Gabeast on Twitter caught the giddy summer mood quite well by announcing: “Put Arteta in a room with (Paris Saint-Germain striker and France captain Kylian) Mbappe, if Mbappe don’t pay for his own transfer to Arsenal call me a bastard.”

Put Arteta in a room with Mbappe, if Mbappe don’t pay for his own transfer to Arsenal call me a bastard.

— 𝙂𝘼𝘽𝙀𝘼𝙎𝙏 ✍🏿 (@AfcGabeast) July 6, 2023

Forgiving the tiny exaggeration there, it is true that being in the room with Arteta carries some force.

Declan Rice’s conversations with Arteta were fundamental to a deal which Arsenal hope will be transformative. It is not just the detail and thought that goes into a presentation to a potential signing, showing great depth and nuance about how a player can flourish to the maximum were they to come to Arsenal. It is also in the communication. In close, informal conversations, Arteta conveys his ideas with a cocktail of belief, excitement, and warmth. He can make someone in the room feel like they are the most important person on the planet. It is compelling.



Inside Rice’s move to Arsenal: Arteta influence, long-term plan, no transfer request

When Arteta succeeded Emery in December 2019, it was not immediately clear he would develop that kind of magnetism. Even the fans, with an ex-Arsenal player in charge, did not get an easy feel for his character. Arteta was aware he still had plenty to learn about the man-management side of the game. Connecting with people in the best way he could always mattered to him but it was a work in progress. He has grown into it, relaxed into it.

His approach has not always worked — the differences that led to the difficult parting of ways with both Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for example, demonstrate it can be tricky to reconcile strong demands with amiable relationships. But Arteta has found a better balance with greater experience. Once the basis of respect is there, taking time to get to know someone and work together for the best results all-round is what it is all about.

Arteta’s explanation of manager-player relationships is interesting: “I always say we are like — not heart surgeons — but we have to understand what is happening inside. Because the way I transmit a message to you can be perceived in a really different way — because of your background, because of your education, because of your culture, because of your nationality. ‘When he leaves through that door, what is he thinking? Did he get the message that I really wanted? Or is he thinking something different?’. That’s a process of spending time, really; trying to engage with them and understand how they act and react, and how their feelings are.”

Arteta’s pitch to Rice was key to getting a deal done (Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Arteta is not the first manager to possess that persuasive sway that makes a player feel that this manager, and this club, and this role, are tailor-made for them. Sir Alex Ferguson was famed for chatting to a potential Manchester United recruit with the personal touch to make the difference. Arsene Wenger shared a similar knack when he was Arsenal boss. Jurgen Klopp, in more recent times, talks with the kind of charisma that makes the prospect of joining his Liverpool squad tremendously exciting.

It is a weapon in a manager’s armoury that is significantly helpful, particularly in the competitive waters of transfer deals.

This early-summer push is a reflection of another change to Arsenal’s tactics in the window. They have had a habit of waiting until very late in the trading period to get deals done in recent years, which impacts on preparations for the new season and on those matches played before deadline day.

This time, it is as if they have been operating according to their own internal deadline. Arteta wanted all his major signings in place before the team set off today (Sunday) for a three-match pre-season tour in the United States. For all the negotiations and hitches and foibles of getting deals completed, the club have delivered just in time.

Amazon’s All Or Nothing documentary series on Arsenal allowed a peek behind the curtain into Arteta’s personality and interest in driving ideas in different ways to keep things fresh and interesting for his players. They might listen to hundreds of his team talks across a season — training ground meetings, pre-match, half-time, full-time, post-mortems et cetera. Keeping players fully engaged, motivated and reflective demands a certain amount of creativity and flexibility.


After losing their first three league games of 2021/22, Mikel Arteta delivered this emotional and powerful pre-match speech to his players 🗣

All or Nothing: Arsenal, coming to Prime Video on 4 Aug 📺 #AONArsenal

— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) July 27, 2022

Arteta might have been mocked for some of his concepts — lightbulbs, piped-in music, drawings and so on — but it speaks of a desire to continually inject stimulus for players both as individuals and as a collective.

It is obviously appreciated. Otherwise the spate of contract renewals, including the globally coveted talents of William Saliba, Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka, would not be so straightforward. Nobody at Arsenal wants out. It has been important in the recruitment of all this year’s summer signings so far — Kai Havertz and Jurrien Timber, along with Rice, had only one destination in mind once they had received the talk from Arteta.

The new club record deal for Rice has echoes of the very single-minded approach for Mykhailo Mudryk during last January’s window. So much preparation had been done and the player made no secret of his desire to join Arsenal.

In the end, agreement was not possible between the buying and selling club, but there was no question Mudryk was sold on Arsenal and Arteta’s vision for him in the red and white shirt. He ended up being sold by Shakhtar Donetsk to Chelsea. Time will tell whether the loss was Arsenal’s, Mudryk’s, or a bit of both.

Arsenal have pivoted a few times on transfers in recent times, missing out on target No 1 but recovering to recruit elsewhere.

That flexibility has worked out quite well. But make no mistake, Arteta is thrilled to get his main men this time around.

(Top photo: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)