WHAT has been the worst prediction in history?
“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere”, declared the New York Times in 1936.
“It’ll be gone by June”, pronounced Variety magazine about Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1955.
“Next Christmas, the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput”, opined Lord Sugar in 2005. (The iPod went on to sell another 400million units).
All worthy candidates. But I’d like to add my own staggeringly bad contribution to the ignominious reverse-Nostradamus list.
I complained the massive new three-year contract he had been given the previous week was “a reward for abject failure” and “utterly ridiculous”.
I then spent the rest of the season reiterating that this was a diabolical decision and he just didn’t have what it takes to lead a great club.
For all his tough-guy talk and endless “trust the process’ bulls**t”, I said firmly, “Arteta’s been a demonstrable failure at Arsenal”.
Now, at the time, these weren’t quite the woefully irrational thoughts they appear today.
Arsenal had dropped out of the top four, been dumped from both domestic cups by February, and had not even qualified for any European competition, not even the one nobody can remember the name of that nobody wants to be in (That’s the Europa Conference League, Ed.)
But then, in the summer, everything changed. Arteta signed top-class proven winners Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko from his old club Manchester City, and brought back a matured William Saliba from loan at Marseille. I was encouraged by these signings but still not wildly over-excited.
In my predictions for this season, on these very pages, I said that Tottenham would finish higher than us in the Premier League.
I explained: “It kills me to put Spurs above Arsenal but I fear they have a stronger, smartly reinforced squad, the best strike-force duo in Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, and, in their magnificently volatile manager Antonio Conte, a natural-born winner who, unlike Arteta, will view coming third as humiliating failure.”
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To be fair to myself, I also predicted Erling Haaland would win the Golden Boot, Cristiano Ronaldo would quit Manchester United, Thomas Tuchel would self-implode at Chelsea, Southampton would fire Ralph Hasenhuttl and VAR would be villain of the year . . .
Well, it’s mea culpa time, and I’m talking a Grand Canyon-sized one.
First, I was completely wrong about Arteta. More pleasingly, I was also completely wrong about Spurs and Conte. And as we head into another North London derby this Sunday, I’m happy to admit I’ve never been happier to make a predictive arse of myself.
Arsenal’s transformation from mid-table mediocrity to a properly competitive team again has been stunning to watch.
And it’s all down to Arteta, who if I’d had my way would have been abruptly sent packing eight months ago.
The Spaniard has shown he most definitely does have what it takes, and we saw his progression first-hand in Amazon’s All or Nothing documentary series about the club.
At the start, when Arteta was making the players shut their eyes and hold each other’s hands, and playing them You’ll Never Walk Alone on a little radio during training before we got thrashed by Liverpool, I totally understood why big names like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang thought he was bonkers and out of his depth.
But as the series went on, I watched Arteta grow in confidence, and saw his fiery heartfelt passion for all things Arsenal.
I also saw him win the respect of his players and of the fans.
The defining moment for me came when Arteta invited long-time club photographer Stuart MacFarlane to motivate the team in the dressing room before the North London derby in September 2021.
MacFarlane looked at the players and bellowed: “This is my club. I f***ing love this football club. And I f***ing love all of you. When you go out, first f***ing tackle, listen to the crowd. They will f***ing be on you straight away. Win every tackle.
“When you score, look in their faces. Look at their emotion, look how much they love you.
“Show them how much you love them, OK?”
I loved that and so did the players, who did what they were told and won 3-1, with Arteta hugging MacFarlane at the final whistle.
When I watched all that play out in the Amazon doc, I began to trust Arteta’s process.
I understood he needed more time than I’d been prepared to give him, to build a team in his image — one with discipline, tenacity, flair and a winning mentality. And now he has it.
Arteta’s Arsenal has become a thrilling side, bursting with fabulous youthful talent like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, supported by a rock-solid goalkeeper and defence, and the twin towers of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka in midfield.
And in Martin Odegaard, he’s found a natural-born leader with Bergkamp-esque ability to run a game.
We may not win the League because City’s oil-rich squad is so vast in comparative world class.
But we’ve got a great chance because Arteta believes we can, his players believe we can and the fans believe we can.
I’ve never heard the Emirates this loud or united.
As for Spurs, they have done what Spurs usually do, but what I thought they’d stop doing under Conte — and bottled it.
I wouldn’t swap any of their players for our first XI on Sunday, apart from Kane and that’s only because Jesus is injured. I predict a big Arsenal win and Conte to throw his touchline toys out of the pram.
And to Arteta, I say: I’m sorry for doubting you, Mikel. You’re the real deal. Keep up the great work.