Mikel Arteta is Arsenal's new manager, at last. After days of wrangling, Arsenal confirmed his appointment on Friday on a contract through 2023. Whether he is a good appointment only results will tell, but he is at least an interesting one, a bold one even–although the shambolic nature of his appointment makes clear the size of the task now facing him.
It’s a risk, of course, to appoint somebody with no frontline managerial experience–although you suspect it’s one most at Arsenal wish they’d made in the summer of 2018, rather than wasting time and exhausting patience with the appointment of Unai Emery. Arteta was the frontrunner then to replace Arsene Wenger only for the board to plump for the more experienced option.
Arteta has been prominent as a No. 2 at Manchester City over the past three years, even if his most public appearances tend to be as the punching bag Pep Guardiola berates when things go wrong on the pitch. Three years at City, the last two with great success, though, must have helped hone his talents, and his reputation is as somebody who is a lot more than a yes-man who puts out the cones.
Leroy Sane, in particular, has been clear in his gratitude and respect for a coach he believes has improved him. The 37-year-old from San Sebastian was one of those players who always seemed to be a coach-in-waiting. In his time as midfielder at Arsenal other players would jokingly refer to him as “Coach” because of his studiousness and air of authority.
As long ago as 2014, when he still had two years of his playing career left to run, he gave a magazine interview in which he set out how a "Mikel Arteta FC" would conduct itself. The following year, he began assisting Arsene Wenger in training sessions. Wenger and Guardiola have both said they are convinced Arteta will make a fine coach.
Much has been made of Arteta’s inexperience, but he has served a three-year apprenticeship under arguably the greatest coach of modern times. Of course it is a risk, but any appointment is a risk. Even in this age of superclubs, only four managers have ever won the English league title with two different teams. A manager who was successful at one club may simply not fit another.
Far more important is whether there is reason to believe Arteta has the vision to reshape a club that has slid alarmingly of late, to the point when it seems generous even to refer to it as one of the Big Six anymore. It may be that nobody is a fit for this Arsenal.
Arteta is intelligent, thoughtful and has been thinking of his great plan for at least five years. He has references from the best. Nothing is certain in football, but he appears as well-equipped for coaching as anybody could be. He is young and ambitious. He should have energy and perhaps the drive to turn Arsenal around. The problem is that Arsenal is sinking fast.
The squad is in shambles. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is reportedly desperate to leave–something that seemed to be confirmed when his brother, Willy, posted on Instagram that Arteta and current interim manager Freddie Ljungberg were “the same, no experience.” Arteta has said he wants 120% commitment, so offloading the Gabon international may be a useful way to raise revenue and begin the process of thinning out the absurd number of forwards at the club.
But those are specifics. The club hierarchy itself seems incapable of decisive action. Emery was sacked three weeks ago. Why has it taken this long to appoint a successor? Tottenham had replaced Mauricio Pochettino in a matter of hours. Ljungberg was told he would be given time to prove himself, but was given no support staff and apparently no indication of how much time that might be.
Then there’s the fact that Arteta was approached seemingly without City’s knowledge, a breach of protocol that may end up costing the club additional compensation, almost certainly delaying his appointment and meaning that Arteta will not be on the bench but in the stands for Saturday’s game against Everton. Perhaps he'll be sitting next to Carlo Ancelotti, who has faced similar delays in being appointed at Goodison Park.
It’s been a botched appointment to follow all the other botches of the past couple of years–yet Arsenal may, despite it all, have appointed the right man.