Football Features

Mikel Arteta now frontrunner for the Arsenal job? Five things to know, from rivals to tactics

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:05, 11 December 2019

Arsenal remain on the lookout for a permanent man in the dugout after ending a tumultuous year-and-a-half under Unai Emery last month.

With only a few short weeks to go until the January transfer window, there are sure to be many restless nights in households inhabited by Premier League managers.

We are not even halfway through this season and have already seen five coaches given their marching orders, two of whom coached Watford, and the culling is expected to continue.

As more vacancies open up, the competition for the best coaches available intensifies. This is one reason Arsenal might be eager to make a long-term decision on Emery’s replacement soon.

His immediate successor, Freddie Ljungberg, was handed the job on an interim basis but naturally wants the gig full-time but, according to reports, the powers that be are keen to appoint former club skipper Mikel Arteta.

Mikel Arteta is among the favourites to become Arsenal’s next permanent manager. So how did we get here?

Arsenal said goodbye to legendary manager Arsene Wenger following the 2017/18 campaign. He had been at the helm since October 1996 and would usher a golden era in north London, in which the Gunners won three Premier League titles while going unbeaten in the last of those.

However, since that 2004 success, Arsenal would gradually undergo a period of decline, from challengers to contenders before looking from the outside in. This would lead disgruntled supporters to call for the Frenchman to step down, and their wish finally came true last summer.

The reality of the moment cannot be understated. Arsenal, eager to avoid replicating events at Old Trafford after long-term boss Sir Alex Ferguson departed, began the process of interviewing a host of managers.

Among those was their former player, Arteta. But ultimately the outcome was the appointment of Emery, who had previously bought three consecutive Europa League crowns to Sevilla before winning the Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain. His spell in England never got going despite reaching a major European club cup final.

A run of eight wins across 20 matches in all competitions, many of which laced with lethargic performances, ultimately sealed his fate. So, it’s now back to the drawing board. Despite installing Ljungberg as caretaker, it is reported there’s been a push towards bringing in Arteta, who is currently serving as Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man at Manchester City.

Arteta’s coaching background:

Arteta ended a 16-year playing career – with the bulk in England – at Arsenal where Wenger made him captain and though he played 150 times, the Spanish midfielder struggled with injuries, which only focused his mind on a future away from kicking a ball on a weekly basis for 90 minutes.

Learning under Wenger must have proved enlightening. Many felt Arteta would remain at Arsenal in a coaching role. But the opportunity to work by Guardiola’s side was something Arteta couldn’t turn down. To date, he’s overseen 198 matches and played his role in the club becoming English football’s latest force.

Pep’s coaching tree:

Guardiola himself is backing Arteta to one day fly the nest. And he wouldn’t be the first person to go from assisting Guardiola to becoming a manager in their own right.

Tito Vilanova, who had been with Guardiola prior to him taking over the reins at Barcelona, succeeded him at the Catalan giants and led them to a championship before his sad and untimely passing.

Domènec Torrent most recently was in charge of New York City FC, which is part of the City Football Group. He had previously worked alongside Guardiola at Barça, Bayern Munich and Man City.

What do others say about Arteta?

Arteta assists Guardiola in Man City training

“He’s a young manager, he’s 37, so he is so young but he has experience already to handle big players and teams and when it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. He’s helped me a lot. From day one, so not just the last two seasons, from day one. He has an incredible work ethic, and he has a special talent to analyse what happens, and to find the solutions.” — Pep Guardiola.

“People always ask me about training under Pep, but the things I’ve learnt from Mikel Arteta! We get on brilliantly, he’s a lovely guy and a great coach. And he’s always right. He’ll watch me at training and then afterwards he’ll tell me what he thinks. He doesn’t just suggest something and leave me to get on with it.” — Leroy Sane in ‘Pep’s City: The Making of a Superteam’.

“I am extremely fond of him and he’ll make an exceptional coach.” — Mauricio Pochettino in ‘Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs’.

“He was a leader, has good passion for the game, knows the club and knows what is important at the club. Overall he has the qualities but I don’t want to influence that publicly.” — Arsene Wenger.

Who else is in the running for the Arsenal job?

A number of other coaches have been heavily linked with the Gunners job, including the out-of-work Massimiliano Allegri and recently dismissed Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti. There is also ex-Arsenal skipper (now Nice manager) Patrick Vieira, along with the wildcard candidate that is former Spurs head coach Mauricio Pochettino. Rafa Benitez (though he ruled out an imminent move) and Marcelino, who recently managed Valencia, would represent outsiders for the post.

According to the Athletic‘s David Ornstein, Arteta is the frontrunner among a list of contenders drawn up by Arsenal that also includes former Everton boss Roberto Martinez.

How would Arteta he set up Arsenal tactically?

The most intriguing prospect of an Arteta premiership is how the Gunners could line up and play. Given his association with Guardiola and Barça background, having come through at the Spanish champions, there’s a feeling he could return a slightly more possession-based style to north London which became commonplace during swathes of Wenger’s reign. Under Emery, Arsenal averaged 57.7% possession (fifth in the league) and averaged 534.1 passes per game (fifth again). In Wenger’s final season, their average possession share was 61.8% (third in the league) and they were attempting 619 passes per game (bettered only by Man City).

Generally speaking, Emery has been lauded and lambasted in equal measure for how ‘reactive’ his ever-changing tactical approach can be. Therein lies another way in which you would expect Arteta to diverge from the previous ‘philosophy’ in place. As the City coach told the Arsenal magazine before ending his playing career in 2016, “My philosophy will be clear. I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition.

“We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative, and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us. I’m 100 per cent convinced of those things, and I think I could do it.”

Arsenal last time out against West Ham saw Ljungberg deploy the now familiar 4-2-3-1 shape, but given Arteta has been used to seeing a 4-3-3, you can imagine them playing that system with a single midfield pivot and two advanced creative playmakers. Stationed on the flanks would be wingers in support of a central striker.

This is just hypothetical but you can understand why so many are turning to the idea of appointing him including those wielding the responsibility.