Mikel Arteta, Marcelo Bielsa and how the art of coaching will come together when Leeds United face Arsenal

Leeds United travel to face Arsenal in the FA Cup third round on Monday evening at the Emirates

Sunday, 5th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Sunday, 5th January 2020, 11:05 am
Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta leads his first session as Gunners boss. (Getty)

Any friend of a friend is a friend of mine.

Marcelo Bielsa and Mikel Arteta have never had the pleasure of each other's company. Yet knowingly, and unknowingly, the new Arsenal manager has been heavily influenced by Leeds United's head coach.

When the former Gunners midfielder hung up his boots in 2016 he was presented with three options.

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Take a leading role with Arsenal's academy in the capital - a job offered to him by then boss Arsene Wenger - join Mauricio Pochettino's backroom staff at fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur or make the move to Manchester City under the coaching guidance of Pep Guardiola.

The choice was clear. Arteta packed his bags and moved north to be with his former Barcelona B team-mate.

"Always who is a colleague of Guardiola has an additional value," Bielsa said.

"I think that Guardiola is the best manager in the world and as a great manager, of course he distributes responsibility in his staff."

Guardiola, though, is a Bielsa disciple. And so too is Arteta. Not influenced directly, but another who believes the Argentine is a leading light in his chosen field.

"I follow their coach for a long time and I know how tough it will be to play against them," the Gunners boss admitted.

"What he gets out of his team, how he makes them fight and challenge and run and compete, and never give up in any game or any circumstances.

"He generates that belief in the players, those demands and that is why, in my opinion, he is one of the most successful managers."

Bielsa heads to the Emirates in the third round of the FA Cup on Monday night with thirty years of coaching experience under his belt. His Spanish counterpart is just three games into his tenure as a manager in his own right.

Under Guardiola's watchful eye Arteta has continued to be nurtured, and Bielsa's influence has been ever-present whether he knew it or not.

Guardiola first sought out Bielsa at the start of his coaching career. The pair met in Buenos Aires in 2006 and the rest, as they say, is history. A lengthy and deep discussion was held spanning a reported 11 hours, the same type of phone call you would imagine that is made between Leeds and Manchester now.

Arteta, though, knows from his own experiences why Guardiola calls the Argentine his footballing father.

"The best thing is that when you talk to players that had him as a coach, the words that they have for him are always positive," Arteta continued.

"They were better players after [playing for him], better people, they understood the profession better."

Arteta made a similar impression on City's players before his departure at the Etihad last month.

“I really get on with Mikel," Leroy Sane revealed.

"He’s always right. He’s a very good person, and a great coach. He has given me loads of advice.

"We speak a lot about my movements, how to run into the spaces behind the defence, what I should do with the ball and the specific moment to change my speed. He’s always there for me.”

Arteta has now taken a leap of faith with Arsenal after deciding to take his first steps into senior management with a football club who were sold on his belief in coaching rather than abusing a chequebook.

The 37-year-old gave a lengthy presentation to the Gunners board during his interview process which detailed how he could help improve every member of the squad. Arteta is also reported to have lived with tactical diagrams on his bedroom walls in Manchester; a Bielsa and Guardiola trait if there ever was one.

He is a coach and a man, though, very much in his own right.

"Arsenal doesn’t choose him just because he was staff of Guardiola," Bielsa added.

"This is just one fact of one person that has more qualities than that. The profile of one person is public, depending on the job he has. If you are a manager you have a profile, if an assistant less.

"When Arsenal play more matches we will see more things from the new manager. To make changes you make a process and keep doing this for a long time. But what I can say is that I imagine how Arteta works."

Ten places will separate the sides in the English football pyramid when they come to blows in North London. The two, though, have been worlds apart for a long time.

The Whites have spent a decade in the Championship following promotion from League One while the Gunners have won the FA Cup on three occasions in that same time period and see failure to qualify for the Champions League as a major crisis.

Coaching is an art, and one in which both Bielsa and Arteta believe in.

It is that belief that means Leeds have realistic aims of starting this decade as Arsenal's equals and not cup challengers come May. It is also that belief that Arsenal have bet on with Arteta.