Arsenal teased being bold. They teased doing something out of left field, while maintaining Arsene Wenger’s values. In the end, they did something out of left field, but only because they let it be known far and wide that Mikel Arteta was their number one choice to be the next Arsenal manager. The two, according to reports, were 90% of the way done. It was expected to be announced this week. As late as Sunday night, Arteta was planning on the job.
Then, it was not Arteta, but Unai Emery. Whether the two broke down over control, or, as its been posited by the Telegraph, Times and other outlets, Ivan Gazidis got cold feet, it does not speak well to Gazidis’ moment in the sunshine, with Wenger gone. No matter what the club will spin over the next week, the suits in control had decided that Arteta had the potential to be an excellent manager, Arsenal’s Pep Guardiola, perhaps. And they had decided to hire Mikel Arteta, until they didn’t:
Not because that’s just what the papers said, but because that’s what anyone we had spoken to had said. It’s what people inside the club said and expected. Myself, James and two vastly experienced and well connected journalists – especially in Arsenal terms – were fully expecting the former captain to be appointed.
He had been in close contact with the club for some weeks, discussions were at a very advanced stage, he’d had all the kind of meetings you’d expect, he did some house hunting in London, and this was what Arsenal were going to do. Until, at the very last minute, they did a complete u-turn and went for Unai Emery instead.
Setting aside whether Unai Emery is any good (we’ll get to that), Gazidis’ approach (and as chairman, this is his ship) has implications for the future. To begin with, it likely ends any chance of Arteta managing Arsenal. By the time the Arsenal job is next available, Arteta will be in line to replace Pep Guardiola, and furthermore, it seems unlikely that you would want to work for a man who led you down the garden path. Furthermore, it points not only to Gazidis having a high level of caution, perhaps even cowardice, it points to a lack of conviction in a plan. Arteta and Emery single two different directions. With one, Arteta, you are building for something that is long-term. You are committing to a plan of action that, if you think Arteta is good enough, which they did, you make a bold choice that could have the reward of making Arsenal play in the style of Manchester City. With Emery, Arsenal have put their stock in making the Champions League, either through Emery’s speciality, the Europa League, or finishing 4th, which, it must be noted, Emery has not done in a non-PSG job since 2012.
This is not the only change by Arsenal recently. They’ve u-turned over Jack Wilshere, capitulating on his wages, despite Wilshere not exactly setting the world on fire. Thus, in a matter of few days, Arsenal’s squad planning and planning for next season has completely changed.
Whether Emery is the right man for the job remains to be seen. With any hire, there is a risk that it doesn’t work out. That was true of Arteta; that is true here. But with this hire, there seems a hint that no one is 100% convinced that this is the right man. Otherwise, one imagine it would’ve been briefed by the club, as Arteta’s name was. Emery, after all, announced he was leaving PSG on April 28—8 days after Wenger announced he was stepping down. He became the favourite on Monday night, a full month after Wenger announced he was leaving.
Again, this has implications for the future: promising managers will be wary when dealing with Arsenal, having seen what happened to Arteta. Rather than appointing a relative unknown, Arsenal hired someone who will not take the club out of the 4-6 range. In isolation, that is not a bad choice, but in swerving in 24 hours from one opposite to the other, Ivan Gazidis is showing a lack of courage and a lack of conviction.
If Arsenal are to progress beyond the Wenger years, they need conviction in revolution; indeed, as Gazidis said on April 20, Arsenal were going to be “open-minded and brave,” and “bold in their thinking.” A month later, Gazidis and his associates have gone scurrying for the safe pair of hands.