AS Mikel Arteta feels the heat after an underwhelming start to his first full season in charge at Arsenal, searches are under way to find a realistic comparable.
The one that stands out is Jurgen Klopp, who like Arteta, joined an underperforming side in Liverpool mid-season.
Both had unenviable tasks of lifting the clubs out of the glories of the past and into successes and titles of the future.
But how truly comparable are they? What are the mitigating factors that must be considered? And what does it tell us about where Arteta stands, after less than a year in the job, in his bid to make Arsenal true challengers in England and Europe, like Klopp has managed to achieve, currently in his fourth full season.
Jurgen Klopp took over Liverpool on October 8th 2015, just four days after the sacking of Brendan Rodgers following a 1-1 draw with Merseyside rivals Everton.
Having been appointed during the international break, Klopp had time to assess his squad before his first game on the 17th – a 0-0 draw away to Tottenham.
He inherited a team and a style that was rather confused. Under Rodgers, they had varied from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 that at the time still had defensive and negative connotations.
Less than a year on, and he was able to find a 4-3-3 set-up that worked and could withstand a season, having found himself with workman-like players that could press all over the pitch.
As for Arteta, he officially took the reins on December 20th 2019 after Freddie Ljungberg’s interim audition from November 29th.
After watching from the stands on December 21st as the Gunners played out a 0-0 draw at Everton, his first game in the dug-out was just five days later away at Bournemouth, where they came from behind to draw 1-1.
Much like Klopp, Arteta inherited a squad with no real style or consistent pattern, with then-boss Unai Emery flicking between several formations to find a successful formula in his second season.
They began the campaign with 4-2-3-1, buts switched between 4-3-3, 4-3-1-2, 4-4-2, 3-4-1-2 and even a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond before Emery's sacking.
Arteta’s vision is much like Klopp’s with a 4-3-3, having seen first hand how Pep Guardiola used it to win the Treble with Man City as his assistant.
But he has opted for more defensively sound systems with three at the back and overlapping wing-backs having inherited players not used to playing such a dynamic and modern style.
And like Liverpool’s with Klopp, the Arsenal squad itself was seriously lacking upon Arteta’s arrival. They were in dire need of quality reinforcements in three key positions; CB, CDM and CAM.
Has Arteta done this? In terms of two imposing and consistent centre backs, he has one in Gabriel, signed this summer, but remains on the hunt for his partner.
A mobile defensive midfielder has finally been found after what seems a decade in Thomas Partey, who was also signed this summer.
But despite his best efforts with Dani Ceballos, a lack of a creative midfielder is his biggest headache, which he hopes will be fixed in January.
In comparison, Klopp arguably had more key areas to improve; a GK, CB, Winger and CF.
Two of them took almost three years to find in the form of Alisson (summer 2018) and Virgil van Dijk (January 2018), while Mo Salah was signed in the summer of 2017.
The one Klopp secured early on was Sadio Mane in the summer of 2016, probably one of his greatest and most efficient signings.
Optimism should remain high then that Arteta’s rebuild is still at the early stages, and has the chance to find several transformative players within the next six months.
Getting a two-month head-start on Arteta, as well as getting a few more weeks training in before his first game in early October, Klopp’s first season saw him play 30 league games.
A tricky start meant he would win just four of his opening 10.
But he would go on to win 13, draw 9 and lose 8 – a win percentage of 43 per cent. With 55 goals scored, he averaged an impressive 1.8 goals per game (GPG), but also conceding 1.3 per game (CPG).
For Arteta, beginning in late December, he also won four of his first 10, and added five more to make it 9 wins, 7 draws and 5 losses in 21 games – an identical 43 per cent win percentage.
Scoring 32 goals in the process, his GPG was lower with 1.5, but conceding 21 saw his CPG slightly lower with 1.
Come the end of the season, both finished 8th – Arsenal with 56 points and Liverpool with 60 points.
Arsenal were 10 points off the top four and a staggering 43 points off top spot – but it could be argued the eventual champions Liverpool enjoyed one of the greatest seasons ever in Prem history with 99 points.
In comparison, Liverpool under Klopp for the first time were six points off the top four and 21 off top spot, with Leicester winning the league that year on a relatively low total of 81.
And while Klopp ended the season trophy-less after finishing runners up in both the League Cup and Europa League, Arteta claimed the FA Cup after a disappointing Last 32 exit in the Europa League.
FIRST FULL SEASON
So far in Arteta’s first full season, it is an understatement to suggest they are not where they want to be or thought they would be in the league after an impressive summer haul of players.
They spent £77.14m on transfer fees alone, and that doesn’t take into account wages on the purchases of Willian and Cedric on free transfers.
Arsenal also secured a big new contract for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang worth £55m over three years, but made back £23m will sales that included keeper Emiliano Martinez.
Klopp had a similar first summer window – spending £61.9m on new signings as well as then seeing Philippe Coutinho sign a new five-year deal worth £40m in the January
But the big difference was the money they recouped in sales; under Klopp, Liverpool made a staggering £76m in that summer alone through the likes of Jordan Ibe (£15m) and Christian Benteke (£27m).
That allowed the club to carry on spending in the summers to come, while Arsenal are still yet to shift a lot of deadwood that Arteta deems unwanted, such as the £350k-a-week burden that is Mesut Ozil.
Arteta vs Klopp spending in first full season
ARSENAL SUMMER 2020
TRANSFERS IN: £77.14m
TRANSFERS OUT: £23M
NET SPEND: £54.14M
LIVERPOOL SUMMER 2016
TRANSFERS IN: £61.9M
TRANSFERS OUT: £72.8M
NET SPEND: -£10.9M
10 games in to this season and Arsenal have a 40 per cent win average; winning four, drawing one, losing five.
And worryingly, with just 10 goals they are averaging just one goal per game, and conceding 1.2 per game after letting in 12 goals.
Their start has been anything but straightforward, taking on the likes of Liverpool, Man United, Man City, Leicester and Wolves – but the 3-0 loss at home to Villa was concerning.
They sit in 14th with 13 points – eight points off top spot and five points off the top four.
In contrast, Klopp’s first full season in 2016/17 got off to a flying start with seven wins from 10, drawing two and losing just one in the process.
And although their goals conceded per game average was higher than Arteta’s in 1.3 after letting in 13 goals, they averaged 2.4 goals per game with a stunning 24 goals.
It saw them sit in 3rd with 23 points – they were level on points with top spot Manchester City and, ironically, second placed Arsenal.
They too had not had the easiest of opening 10 games, facing the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Man United and reigning champions Leicester, but were unbeaten in that run picking up 11 points from a possible 15.
Liverpool ended that season in 4th with a return to Champions League football, while Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, finished a point behind in 5th – outside the top four for the first time in the Frenchman’s reign.
It goes to show that having a solid start in 10 games is no guarantee of a good season, but what are the other mitigations that see the comparison between Klopp and Arteta questioned?
The lack of pre-season for Arteta’s men due to the coronavirus pandemic cannot be ignored. Just 42 days separated Arsenal’s FA Cup final win and their season opener against Fulham.
In comparison, in between Klopp’s last league game of the 2015/16 campaign (West Brom on May 15th) and their 2016/17 opener (Arsenal on August 14th) were 91 days.
One can also look to Klopp’s inheritance of certain creative players that allowed him to focus on building the base defensively before adding more firepower.
From the off, Klopp could use the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino across the front line and as attackers from deep. An embarrassment of creativity.
For Arteta, the loss of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla in recent seasons was not replaced by his predecessors, and has had just one summer window to deal with what he feels are more important glaring holes in the defence and midfield.
It is why the side are currently struggling to create despite improving defensively, with Arteta still searching for that creative link between defence and attack within the players he already has.
But despite these advantages Klopp had over Arteta in his first full season, it is clear that the former dug out performances to land an all-important Champions League spot straight away with an average squad that was still not his own.
And he did that while relying on the likes of Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, Alberto Moreno and Loris Karius to produce consistent weekly performances.
The comparisons between Klopp and Arteta are there for all to see.
And while Klopp's early success did not pave the way for a trophy until the summer of 2019 with a Champions League triumph followed by the 2020 Prem title, Arteta may have bought himself more time with that FA Cup victory last summer.
And with plenty of time to right wrongs this season for Arsenal, Arteta must follow the path of Klopp once more in digging out results this season in preparation for two transfer windows that could determine whether he is given the time to scale the heights of Klopp’s dynasty with Liverpool.
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