Although Arsenal are still waiting on any decision made by Max Allegri, and sources close to the club say they are still “testing the waters” on any potential alternative, circumstances now feel like they are falling a certain way in the search for Arsene Wenger’s successor. It is not a way that everyone would immediately be able understand but here it is: Arsenal have got to the point where a man who has never managed a competitive match is gradually becoming the most obvious choice. It is ‘obvious’, however, because there is actually a lot of internal logic to the line that could well lead to Mikel Arteta’s appointment.
A huge part of that is because Arsenal do not want a traditional manager in the way most would view it. This is why such concerted moves have been made over the last year to change the football structure of the club, why they made so many backroom appointments, to decentralise power. They saw what happened at Manchester United after the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson, and wanted to avoid that.
So, while the intention was not specifically to go to the complete opposite of what Wenger was, that is inadvertently the consequence. Arsenal primarily want a head coach as figurehead in the managerial structure, rather than an outright manager.
They also want that to be a very modern head coach willing to work in such a structure, and that immediately reduces them to a certain profile of figure. Julian Nagelsmann had been seen as an ideal, particularly by head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, but he has made it clear that he will not be leaving Hoffenheim this year.
There is then the effect of two successive seasons without Champions League football, with that effectively costing them £60m. Arsenal are not going for the ‘cheap option’ that so many have criticised, but they aren’t exactly as flush as they might be right now, and it has had an effect on potential deals with Luis Enrique and – to a lesser extent – Allegri.
Allegri probably still ticks the most boxes, and it could yet happen that he decides to test himself at Arsenal. Those close to the situation however feel that, when it comes right down to it, the lure of trying to win the Champions League with Juventus will be decisive for him. There may well be a definitive answer from him this week.
Allegri would probably most excite supporters, and the Arsenal hierarchy are highly conscious of the genuine need for excitement after so much discord among the fanbase. Majority shareholder Stan Kroenke is meanwhile said to have been particularly struck by empty seats in the last days of Wenger’s reign, and the need to have them filled. As one source said, “empty seats don’t look good on US TV”.
That is why Arteta’s Arsenal history is seen as so important, and why he is now looking like such a viable option. He is a modern head coach who has that connection, whose popularity should allow fans to rally around him once the season starts.
There is of course more to it than the connection. Arsenal have done their homework on how Arteta works. He was often called “coach” when a midfielder at the club because of how he comported himself in training and spoke, and those at Manchester City say their current players really like him. While Arteta hasn’t been overly involved in sessions, he is brilliant at dealing with the squad, and is said to have an excellent tactical overview of the game. He is also an assertive character.
As to whether that can translate into the different and difficult issue of winning football games, that is another issue. Many at Arsenal feel the initial ingredients are all there, especially given what they need, but they have still not come to the final decision either.
There is still plenty of space left in this search, even though they would like to have a coach in place before the next World Cup. It’s just there aren’t too many out there that fit so many requirements. And, while Allegri would obviously be an ideal, it would suit Arsenal’s ideals as a club to unearth a new gem of a manager in that way.
Arteta could well be a hugely astute move.
Or, it could instead be too huge a swing from what Wenger was, and some consideration is being given to whether they are going too far to the other extreme. Having had one man as an all-powerful figure at the club for 22 years, it is now as if Arsenal are doing the complete opposite and looking to fit many different pieces together.
That situation is arranging itself, however, so that – unless Allegri makes an unexpected decision, and unless there is another late candidate – the remaining space might best fit Arteta as that last piece.