With Massimiliano Allegri committing himself to Juventus, it is becoming more likely by the hour that former midfielder Mikel Arteta will be appointed as Arsenal’s successor to Arsène Wenger.
A Gunner for five years, the 36-year-old Spaniard is untested as a manager and would be the youngest in the top flight; Eddie Howe, the cherub-faced youngster in charge of Bournemouth, turned 40 this season.
Clearly, he represents a risk, but isn’t that something that Arsenal fans should be embracing?
After years of sticking with the safe, tried-and-tested option of keeping Wenger on because that is the way things have always been, it will make an exciting contrast to take a leap into the unknown.
Of course, unknown is a bit of an overstatement. Arsenal know him well. He spent half of his decade in the Premier League there, and anybody who saw him in the dressing room would have seen him as future management material.
Confident in his assertions, but keen to discuss, and with an eye for tactics which complimented his central playmaking role, Arteta had been nicknamed ‘coach’ for some time and it was no surprise to see him walk into a role immediately after his retirement.
He took the job at Manchester City under his long-term friend Pep Guardiola, despite an offer from another former teammate in Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs and a late attempt from Arsenal to keep hold of him, underlining the faith that those at the top of the game have in him to succeed.
So far, their faith has been well-placed. He has known failure at Manchester City, and he has known success. A frustrating first season under Guardiola was followed by one of record-breaking, unimaginable success.
That journey, and the adjustments made to City’s line-up and tactics over the past two years, will stand him in good stead.
Flexibility and adaptability
He is a coach who understands the need for flexibility and evolution and he has now experienced it first-hand. The Claudio Bravo experiment was written off and the early season marauding wing-back play from Benjamin Mendy reworked into an inverted role for Fabian Delph.
Arteta may already have an idea of his first XI and a tactical plan to implement, but he will also know that plans B and C have to be watertight too.
There is a danger, however, of viewing Arteta’s role at City as an interested onlooker, watching Guardiola operate and noting down his philosophies. A chat with the City manager would prove this false. He was desperate to keep hold of Arteta, but will support him in his decision to take a top job elsewhere.
Moreover, for all the well-earned praise given to Guardiola over the development of Raheem Sterling this season, Arteta has been credited with a key role in his blossoming.
One-on-one work with the likes of Sterling and Leroy Sané has brought huge rewards, which bodes well for Arsenal’s occasionally misfiring stars.
For all the doom and gloom around Arsenal, things could certainly be worse. They can and do field an incredibly exciting attack. They scored only 10 fewer goals in the league than Liverpool this season and did so without a record-breaking Egyptian leading the line.
Plenty to work with
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has taken to the Premier League like a cormorant to water, arriving with a splash and leaving with a mouthful of fish or, to bring an ill-conceived metaphor to a close, a bagful of goals.
A few precise tweaks to the operations of Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Özil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan could yield huge rewards. Of the four, only Özil will take part in this summer’s World Cup, leaving the others fresh and hungry for action at the start of next season.
It is, of course, behind them that the real problems at Arsenal lie. It is likely that only an overhaul of the defence and midfield in the transfer market that will remedy this, and it is not clear how much control Arteta would have in this department.
What is clear is that whatever players are brought in, the Spaniard seems quite capable of improving them and getting the best from them. Translating that to improved performances across an entire team will not be easy, but it is the logical next step on his coaching journey.
Evolution, not revolution
Arsenal need an injection of fresh ideas and operations without a total revolution at the club. Diego Simeone, for example, would have had to burn the place to the ground and start laying the bricks himself to bring about the sort of rebuild he would have envisaged at the club.
Arteta is a product of the Barcelona way and the footballing philosophy that Arsenal had for years comes closest to embodying such a philosophy, before Guardiola set up shop in Manchester.
The Arsenal way has become stale. Players are comfortable in their roles and don’t often seem like pushing themselves to their full potential.
The return of a fresh-faced Basque with an eye for detail, an understanding of the club, and a two-year internship with the best coach in the world to learn his trade, could be the shot in the arm they need to set their sights higher than just a top-six finish.
At long last, Arsenal fans have a reason to be excited again.
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