After a run of bad form which has seen his team lose two of their last four Premier League matchups and concede leads to draw the other two, Arsenal manager Unai Emery is under all sorts of pressure to see out the season.
With football spreads suggesting a top four finish is slipping from the team’s grasp, speculation about possible replacements have been rife, and earlier this week it was revealed that former Gunners captain Mikel Arteta would be free to leave Manchester City if Arsenal decided he was the man they wanted.
Arteta has worked at Man City since he finished his career at Arsenal in 2016. Prior to that, of course, he forged a name as a favourite of Emirates Stadium over his five-year career there, ultimately being named captain in the lead up to the 2014/15 season. Returning to the club would be a fairy tale that Arteta and presumably plenty of Arsenal fans would love to see, but that alone wouldn’t be enough to justify the move.
Of course, the first question that needs answering is whether Emery is actually going to get the chop. Less than 12 months ago he and the Gunners were riding an unprecedented streak, making it through 22 games between August and December without losing at any level. Very few people were criticising his management then, and where he now finds himself is a vivid reminder of just how quickly things can change in top level football.
Because now, imagining a future where he even manages to hold onto his position until the end of the season is difficult, let alone beyond that. Invariably this means that there is plenty of noise around potential replacements being looked at, and with a favourite son now in the frame that noise has only gotten louder.
So just what are Arteta’s credentials as a potential incoming manager, and would he be the man to revive his struggling former team? Having worked at Manchester City for close to four years, the former Gunners’ captain has earned plenty of respect amongst his colleagues, with current Man City manager Pep Guardiola particularly effusive in his praise. Guardiola has lauded Arteta’s work ethic as well as his ‘special talent’ for reading the game and developing solutions.
Arteta’s youth has also been cited as a positive during his time at Manchester City. Just three years out of the game as a player, the 37-year-old is able to bring a unique perspective to opposition players, as, unlike most managers who have purely seen the opposition play, Arteta has actually been out on the field against them – or in some cases, on the same team as them.
Another major factor he has in his favour is the style of play he would likely bring to the club where he was appointed as manager. One persistent criticism of Emery has been the defensive game style he has employed. Arteta, having worked at a Manchester City club renowned for its fast and free-flow style of football for close to four years, would likely look to replicate this style if he was at Arsenal.
Clearly, there is plenty going in the favour of the former Gunners captain as a potential future manager of Arsenal, but he has a lot of competition. Manager at Bournemouth Eddie Howe always seems to be mentioned when a major club is on the hunt for a new boss, and the attacking style of play he employs and a proven record would likely appeal to the powers that be at Arsenal. In a similar vein, Lucien Favre, who currently manages Borussia Dortmund, would bring experience and an entertaining game style to the club and is certainly worth consideration.
Arteta won’t be the only former Arsenal player in the mix either, with the names of a couple of club legends likely to be named in the search. Patrick Viera doesn’t have the managerial experience of the aforementioned names, but he does have plenty of experience at Arsenal and has performed admirably in his first few years in charge of first New York City in the MLS, and now Nice. Freddie Ljungberg, who played alongside Viera for eight years, is also likely to come into consideration – he has no head coaching experience but is currently assistant under Emery, and this move would make for a relatively seamless transition.
Unai Emery’s papers have not been signed yet, but it would take a brave man to bet on him coaching beyond the end of this season, if he even makes it that far. Assuming he is eventually let go there will invariably be plenty of candidates to take on the role, with Mikel Arteta just one of many. While he may not have experience of some of his competitors, however, Arteta is a club champion and has plenty of quality people vouching for his managerial qualities. It may not be the safest decision considering he has never held a head coaching role, but few would begrudge him the position if Arsenal ultimately decided to go down that route.