How Mikel Arteta ‘drizzled’ psychological messages onto Arsenal squad for title run-in

Kai Havertz and Mikel Arteta after Arsenal's win at Wolves
Mikel Arteta believes his Arsenal players are mentally and physical fresh enough for season's final five games - Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane

Around this time last year, Mikel Arteta was reading a book called ‘Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment’. It is about the psychology of decision-making, especially at times of pressure.

The Arsenal manager has long been interested in the psychology of sport, of what makes people tick and perform at their best. He has learned from his own experiences and from other sports, too: he has spoken before about being part of a coaching group with figures from rugby union (including Eddie Jones), the NFL and NBA.

It is around this time of year that psychology becomes particularly important, with Arsenal going head-to-head with Manchester City and Liverpool in the Premier League title race. This is the moment to make the right decisions under pressure, to drown out that ‘noise’ and to cope mentally with the tension and demands placed upon him and his players.

It has been a draining season, and an exhausting few weeks, but keeping the minds sharp is as important for Arteta as maintaining the shape of the bodies in his squad. “There are a lot of studies that prove that [tiredness is in the mind],” said Arteta ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with Chelsea and his close friend Mauricio Pochettino.

“If you can change the context and manipulate certain things, you can get something out of people that you probably don’t expect.”

Arteta was asked if, after seven games in 22 days, his players will require this sort of psychological “manipulation” to stay fresh over the remaining weeks of the season. “I don’t think we are in the stage where we need that,” he said. “You can see that the team really wants it. There is so much at stake. We will try to be as fresh as possible but certainly I think we can cope with that.”

It has been fair to question, in recent matches, whether Arsenal’s key players have run out of energy after such a draining campaign. Against Wolves on Saturday, they looked worryingly tired in the second half. But Arteta is evidently seeing something else on the training ground, away from the watching world.

“When I saw them this morning, I had to stop them,” he said of Monday’s training session. “I had to stop them. Because winning is such a big boost of energy.”

As tiredness inevitably sets in, the Arsenal manager’s hope is that the psychological work done over the course of the season — the small messages here, the little tweaks there — will all add up over these final months. These messages, he says, are like “drizzle” falling from the sky.

“It is not something you can do on the day, to change the outcome of the next three weeks,” he said. “It is something that you do daily. I call it a drizzle. If you go out there and you don’t take an umbrella, you are constantly getting wet every single day. And then, before you know it, you are soaking wet and you are ready, because it is every single day as a habit.”