Two years on from Arsène Wenger leaving Arsenal, the club have essentially done a complete 180 degree turn from the decisions made that summer. Mikel Arteta, not Unai Emery, is the manager. The three men involved in hiring Emery—Sven Mislintat, Ivan Gazidis, and most prominently, Raul Sanllehi—have all left the club. And the model that Arsenal embarked upon two seasons ago, with a football executive committee making decisions about club signings and contracts, theoretically an improvement upon Wenger deciding everything, is gone. Make no mistake about it: the departure of Raul Sanllehi means that Mikel Arteta has gained a lot more power.
This, in part, is because of perception. The leadership of clubs is often something ends up being the result of what is perceived from the outside, even if the club ostensibly decides otherwise. With Vinai Venkatesham a relative unknown, and Edu operating in the background, the perception will be that Arsenal’s leader is Mikel Arteta. Arteta has not shrugged away from this. From the beginning of his appointment, Arteta has acted more of a manager than a head coach; taking an active role in renewing the contract of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, intervening in the club’s (albeit misguided) salary cuts for the players, and taking an active role in identifying transfer targets, and making it clear that he wants to have the final say on players brought into the club.
Arteta, of course, can do this because he can point to the FA Cup that he masterminded. He can also do this because of the absentee ownership of the Kroenkes. That it has taken thirteen months for the Kroenkes to question some of the aspects of the transfer fee paid for Pépé should be alarming; indeed, as alarming as allowing Sanllehi to discuss offering Unai Emery a new contract last summer, a decision that he was eventually convinced not to do so by other members of Arsenal’s executive team. For the Kroenkes, then, the stewardship of Arteta will be crucial—a call back to the days of Arsène Wenger.
Arteta, though, will at least have Arsenal’s best interests at heart. That could not be said of Sanllehi. Pursuing only Denis Suarez in January 2019, utilizing Unai Emery’s agent (and Sanllehi’s friend) Arturo Canales to finalize the transfer of Bernd Leno, having Jorge Mendes act as an intermediary in buying Pépé, using Kia Joorabchian as an intermediary to sell Alex Iwobi to Everton, despite having an already successful relationship with Everton, and then signing several of Joorabchian’s clients made it appear that Sanllehi was acting in the best interests of agents, not the club. And with Sanllehi not adequately explaining Arsenal’s plan, Occam’s razor applied: the simplest answer is that Sanllehi was putting his relationship with agents ahead of Arsenal’s long-term interests as a football club.
Whether Arsenal end up aligning with Arteta’s long-term goals now depend on who the Kroenkes put in place around him. While Arteta will gain a significant amount of power, the responsibility will not be his alone. Arsenal will have to identify players, which will be difficult when the entire scouting network has been dismantled. A lot more focus will now be placed on the technical director, Edu, who also has a close relationship with Joorabchian. Edu, though, doesn’t come with a reputation of being exclusively contact-driven in his approach to recruitment. How he evolves in this role will be crucial. But what is clear is that Arsenal are putting their eggs in Mikel Arteta’s basket. With Unai Emery, Ivan Gazidis, Sven Mislintat, and Raul Sanllehi all having departed, it is Arteta who will be leading the club forward, and Arteta that the club looks towards for leadership.