In May, Stan Kroenke oversaw a triumvirate of Ivan Gazidis, Raul Sanllehi and Sven Mislintat appoint a new head coach to replace Arsène Wenger. By January, a scant 8 months later, it appears that two of those three decision makers will have left the club. While one can take that in many different directions, the first departure, Gazidis’, was perhaps the most damning. The hires of Sanllehi and Mislintat, as well as Huss Fahmy, were all conducted by Gazidis, who looked to re-organize Arsenal in preparation for the departure of Arsène Wenger, and to bring the club in line with their rivals across the Premier League and Europe.
The lines of duty, then, seemed fairly clear: Mislintat would find targets, Sanllehi would complete the deals, Fahmy would be in charge of contracts and Emery would find a way to ensure the players functioned as a unit. Obviously, there’d be back and forth between the parties—this is how committees work, after all—and this is how Arsenal’s summer worked, with Mislintat most notably involved in the signings of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.
Yet since Gazidis left, there has been a colouring of the process. Most notably, perhaps, rumours have linked Arsenal with players that have worked before with Unai Emery, and, in the case of Denis Suarez, have also been signed by Sanllehi. Mislintat, it seems, has been sidelined, with Sanllehi gaining more prominence; it was Sanllehi who was promoted following the departure of Gazidis.
The other aspect that has changed since Gazidis left is that it appears, according to reports, that Emery has taken on a more active role in who Arsenal sign, which was not an expected development. This isn’t to say that Emery should have no input—that’s clearly unhealthy—but one imagines he asks for certain players or players with certain characteristics, and it works within a larger, long-term strategy that is (theoretically of course) being built by Mislintat, Sanllehi, and others.
These departures would be regardless of the current position of the squad, for it shows that Arsenal’s long-term version is not actually set, but instead, is fluid, changing rapidly within months depending on the whims of executives and management. What makes it even more problematic, though, is Arsenal’s current position: an older squad, in a Europa League position, with owners who are not investing money. One revelation from David Ornstein was that rather than using the analytical method of identifying players preferred by Mislintat, Arsenal were instead going to use the contacts of Raul Sanllehi.
This means people that Sanllehi knows from across the football world, which limits the ability of Arsenal to spot unknown or lesser-known players and buy them for a cheap price; the very model Arsenal must use if ownership isn’t going to invest money. Buying players because you know who their agent is isn’t a smart and efficient way to build a club; rather, it’s a very New York Mets way of doing things, a club noted for inducing one to bang their head into the wall in frustration (after all, a a requirement for playing for the New York Mets largely comes down to a) has this guy played in New York before and b) will he talk baseball with Fred Wilpon).
That all of this has been allowed to happen within 12 months is a huge indictment of Stan Kroenke, who, of course, became the sole controlling owner late last year. It speaks to Kroenke being unable to articulate a vision for Arsenal, beyond making him money by being in the Premier League.
Indeed, that Mislintat is being allowed to leave, and that the long-term vision of the club has shifted to being more aligned solely with Raul Sanllehi is tacit acceptance from Kroenke; a stronger, less absent owner would try to ensure that the structure agreed upon to replace Wenger a year ago would not be in shreds by the turn of the new year. It is not a characteristic of Kroenke’s work at his other franchises, and perhaps speaks to the conservatism of Kroenke that has paralyzed Arsenal for quite some time. If the Rams or the Nuggets fail completely and have an awful season, they’re financially protected, by the salary cap, and get a nice draft pick to boot. If Arsenal finish 16th, they are in big trouble.
The irony of a man married into the Walton family being paralyzed by a free-market system should not be lost, but a larger concern is that this conservatism, while perhaps preventing Arsenal from ever finishing outside of the top 6 or 7, will prevent Arsenal from making strides forward. As their competitors—Spurs, Liverpool in the Premier League, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig in Europe—get smarter and more efficient, Arsenal are, if not moving backwards, then at the very least standing pat. It may protect Kroenke’s money, but it leaves Arsenal in a sporting purgatory.