Replacing a legendary and legacy manager is not easy. Manchester United are in year 6 post-Sir Alex Ferguson, and are being managed by a Fergie Tribute Act, who got relegated with Cardiff City. Their board is a mess. Liverpool took two managers to get to Brendan Rodgers, and then moved on to Jurgen Klopp. Arsenal got the appointment of Unai Emery wrong. That was not unexpected.
When Arsene Wenger left, Arsenal were restructured so that one man could no longer hold all the power at Arsenal. But while there were obvious negatives , that at least meant that there was accountability and leadership. That is completely missing at Arsenal, for if it wasn’t, the board would go ahead and sack Unai Emery.
It would be an easy spin, too. Ivan Gazidis left in the summer of 2018, shortly after hiring Emery and becoming the most powerful figure at the club. I am told by multiple people close to Gazidis that the former chief executive wanted to hire Mikel Arteta, but was overruled, presumably by Stan Kroenke. This tracks with reports at the time—Arteta was favoured for the job, until he wasn’t, and then Gazidis departed five months later. Hiring Emery over Arteta was a justifiable decision. There were obvious risks with Arteta, and Emery could be seen as a safe choice. What is now apparent, though, is that Emery has failed at his job. The manner of performances seen this season, especially during the last month, shows that he will not turn it around. It is time to move on.
That Gazidis took public responsibility for the hiring of Emery means that Arsenal’s executive team could spin him as not their first choice. But by continuing to let Emery further bring Arsenal down, the front office are saying that Emery is their guy—and thus, not only is the first major decision after the Wenger Era the wrong one, it is also one that they are doubling down.
The Kroenkes management of Arsenal as an institution has been marked by a lack of executive leadership. The Kroenkes and Gazidis let Arsène Wenger take the blame when the standards were poor for too long. Yet in changing the leadership structure of the club, they have made it apparent that they are the ones who make the decisions. It was Kroenke who opened the purse strings in the summer, and Sanllehi who got the deals done. That brought Sanllehi in particular a great deal of credit, credit that he is in danger of losing if he abdicates a decision with Emery.
Teams get managerial appointments wrong, and do so quite frequently. That is why the shelf life of a coach is not long now. But good executive groups know when to move on. Arsenal placed a great deal of publicity in the revitalized structure of the club. There have been approving articles about Edu, Sanllehi and others in the weeks since the former Arsenal man joined the club as Director of Football. But being Director of Football and Head of Football, as Edu and Sanllehi are, means actually having to make football decisions. If they fail to do so, the idea of Arsenal as a well-run, modern club that the executive group have been putting out becomes as factual as the idea that Unai Emery is a good manager in the year 2019.