Arsenal have appointed Mikel Arteta as their new permanent manager.
The former Manchester City coach played 149 times for the Gunners across a five-year spell at the club. He’s a beloved ex-pro and succeeds compatriot Unai Emery.
But who are the winners and losers of this managerial appointment?
Winner: Mikel Arteta
First thing’s first: whenever you get a chance to walk into a Premier League job as your first in management, you’ve played a blinder. Frank Lampard had to drop down a division, Steven Gerrard went north to Scotland, Paul Scholes managed in League Two (for a month). So for Arteta to walk into a job as big as Arsenal’s having only ever been an assistant is just outstanding.
Secondly: it’s his former club! Arteta spent a good five years at the club — eventually being appointed captain. In fact, the Spaniard was the first Arsenal captain to lift a trophy in nine years when they won the 2014 FA Cup final. For him to return as first-team manager is a dream come true for him, so he could only be a massive winner.
Loser: Mikel Arteta
Here’s the thing, though. Arsenal squad is a mess. The Gunners needed drastic squad additions in the summer, particularly in defence. Instead, they spent a massive wad of cash on the brilliant Nicolas Pépé when they had the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette in need of key minutes and prodigies like Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka waiting in the wings.
For defence, they picked up David Luiz on the cheap, a player who offered no significant improvement over the Gunners’ already subpar defenders. Then at full-back, they signed an injured Kieran Tierney (again, on the cheap) to match the already injured Héctor Bellerin.
Basically, they need an almost total rework of the defence and even parts of the midfield. There’s no way Arteta will get enough funds to make all the changes needed, not on the evidence of recent spending patterns. Plus, there is so much dead weight to shift that his dream job could very quickly become a nightmare.
The Gunners’ hierarchy will adore getting Arteta. Firstly, there’s a very real chance that he will actually be a good manager. Beyond that, even if he’s only okay, he’s an Arsenal club legend. He will be given a lot of leeway, even by the notoriously hard to please Gunners faithful. There will be scope to get things wrong in a way that Unai Emery never had (not that Emery helped himself).
Signing Arteta is also a massive PR coup. Bringing in a club legend, poaching one of the defending Premier League Champions’ amazing coaching staff, it’s all good stuff for the Gunners. Especially as it also takes the heat off the board for messing up the transfers and failing to invest fully in the squad. Even if Arteta is a disaster, that’s a good few months of the Spaniard taking the heat for the board.
Loser: Manchester City
What a hammer-blow for Manchester City, their attempt at a second consecutive title defence is going terribly. The Sky Blues are miles behind Liverpool atop the Premier League table and Pep Guardiola is looking jaded. The possibility that he leaves at the end of this season isn’t looking as far-fetched as it was a couple of months ago.
To that end, losing Arteta (who Guardiola has always touted as being the man to carry on his project after he departs City) leaves City rudderless should Pep go. Their succession plan is now torn up and they are left scrambling to find a suitable coach to take over from Guardiola and carry on his good work, none of which is guaranteed to be a success in the way that appointing Arteta would have ensured the kind of continuity that would allow the side to keep on.
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Winner: Freddie Ljungberg
Poor Freddie Ljungberg. The Swede is an Arsenal legend and had been given a job coaching the u-23’s at the club. However, in the summer he got promoted to a first-team coach, and then replaced Unai Emery on an interim basis when the Spaniard was sacked. However, it’s not clear that Ljungberg wanted the job, or at least, wanted the stress of the job in these circumstances.
There is a desperate shortage of first-team staff currently on the books at Arsenal. Academy director Per Mertesacker has stepped up to help out but the German is pulling double duty. Other members of staff are helping out but that’s not a situation that can last. “I don’t have many staff. If you keep on going like that for months and months, it’s not easy,” said Ljungberg.
So for Arteta to come in, allowing Ljungberg to return to his former role, would be an immense relief. The Swede would no doubt remain part of the set-up at the Emirates, but it would be in a much more positive context.
Arsenal weren’t the only club chasing Mikel Arteta. Everton are also in the hunt for a new manager and Arteta were one of their prime candidates — and you can see where they’re coming from. Arteta spent seven years on Merseyside and is even more of a legend there than he is in North London; it would have been amazing for the Toffees if they got him.
Of course, there are rumours linking them with Carlo Ancelotti, but even if that dream comes true, Ancelotti is not a long-term coach and will be ready to leave in a couple of years, the opposite of Arteta who would bed down roots and establish a genuine sporting project at Everton; the kind of project to focus their impressive spending into something that would generate success.
So with Arteta going to Arsenal, none of that can happen, leaving Everton praying for a dream or suffering the coldness of reality.
Winner: Granit Xhaka
You’d figure every player would be a winner from Arteta’s appointment, but one more than any other will have been desperate for a pass-first manager like the Spaniard and that’s Granit Xhaka. Mismanaged to the point of cruelty by Unai Emery, Xhaka has quietly become part of the scene again under Ljungberg, but he still looks out of place in the Arsenal midfield.
With Arteta in charge, however, you would have to think the Gunners would play a passing style of football in the same kind of way that Manchester City do. A system that demands control of possession and has a well-structured midfield. That would benefit Xhaka hugely as he would be able to make use of his greatest skill (passing) while minimising the ground he has to cover. A huge winner.