There's no question that the appointment of Mikel Arteta as Arsenal's new head coach is not without risk. That's true of any managerial decision clubs take, but in this case the fact that he's never taken charge of a first team game adds an extra dimension to that.
With the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Max Allegri available, the safe option would have been to go for one of those men – with a track record of success at big clubs. But then Arsenal tried that with Unai Emery, and look where that left them.
It wasn't all on the ex-Sevilla and PSG coach, but the Gunners gambled heavily on a quick return to the Champions League after the departure of Arsene Wenger. They should have made it last season but fell apart towards the end of the campaign, and lost the Europa League final badly to Chelsea. They invested heavily in the summer, breaking the club's transfer record by spending £72 million on Nicolas Pepe, but things simply got worse and Emery had to go.
Now, with the domestic season almost a write-off, there's a need for something new, something different. Arsenal are no longer a side who just miss one or two key players to make the difference – they're a team that requires an almost total rebuild. There is a project to be undertaken that will take more than one or two transfer windows to complete. A long-term strategy is needed, along with an overhaul of so many aspects of the club on and off the pitch.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, that makes Arteta more suitable for the job than some others. He has to tear it all down to build it up again. There are issues with senior players that must be addressed, problems in terms of attitude, performance and commitment. Emery was a soft-touch, something players took advantage of – especially when it became clear he was a dead man walking as he produced a litany of poor results.
Arsenal need to start again, and a young, forward-thinking coach who will be given time to get things back on track is the right way to go. As a club they need to take stock, reassess their position and stature, and consider very carefully how they got to where they are right now.
Money has been spent, but recruitment has been shoddy; the 100% ownership of KSE means there's a split between the traditional board and the executives – led by Head of Football Raul Sanllehi – who run the club these days; and despite some vague assurances from the American owners about what they want to achieve, there's never been any clear plan put in place to make that happen. It's all well and good saying you want to win the biggest trophies, but like wanting world peace, it's an aspirational soundbite which means nothing unless you can figure out a way to bring that to fruition.
It sounds like a lot for a 37-year-old – and it is – but the ability to basically wipe the slate clean and go again gives him a freedom which should work to his benefit. A more experienced appointment comes with expectation, and in the circumstances Arsenal find themselves in, even men who've been around the block more than once would struggle to put things right.
For many, the North Londoners are seen as a traditional, almost conservative club at times. A bit staid, a bit stuck in their ways, as the Wenger era seemed to epitomise – holding on to past glories for too long.
Yet when it comes to the managerial decisions, history tells us their best and most successful appointments have come from left field. Think of Bertie Mee, the club's physio, being handed the job and leading the 1971 team to the club's first ever double. George Graham was a former player – nicknamed 'Stroller' for his casual approach on the pitch – and he came from unfashionable Milwall to implement his demanding style on a club which hadn't won a title since that double. The 1989 Anfield triumph sparked a new era of success for Arsenal.
And, of course, everyone remembers 'Arsene Who?'. As fans clamoured for the appointment of Dutch genius Johan Cruyff, the club surprised everyone by bringing in a Frenchman who was managing a club in Japan. His record speaks for itself, even if the final years were more fraught than anyone would have liked.
So, with a track record of making somewhat risky – and at times unpopular – decisions about who would manage the team, it's not surprising that Arsenal have done it again.
It's a big job for Arteta, and a crucial moment in the club's history, but fortune favours the brave, and Arsenal fans will be hoping their former captain can get them back on the right trajectory – even if it does take a little while.
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