Former Gunner Mikel Arteta is the popular choice to succeed Unai Emery at Arsenal. As reported by The Sun, pictures have emerged of him meeting with the club’s executives and that seems to be fueling all the rumours. Manchester City are urging him to clarify his future and it’s fairly safe to wager Arteta might indeed get the job.
The job certainly seems to be his if he wants it.
The reasons behind that clamour are vague, though, and seem representative of a strange modern trend which values theories and ideas above CVs and resumés. Arteta is the classic example. What is he as a head coach? How, with any certainty, can anybody describe his attributes? That remains to be seen.
Arteta is under the patronage of Pep Guardiola and has been since 2016. While that obviously means he’s inextricable from Manchester City’s success and the footballing brand that has been built over those three years, it’s impossible to separate his influence completely.
Instead, his virtues tend to be “theoretical.” They’re revealed inadvertently in articles describing training methods and interpersonal relationships with players. Essentially, the kind of testimony which is nice to hear, but which isn’t the basis for much of a pitch at an interview.
The example which is always cited in this situation is Guardiola’s own rise at Barcelona, when he spent the 2007/08 season coaching Barcelona B, before being promoted to take charge of the first team. It’s not irrelevant, but it’s also not the counter-argument it appears to be.
Guardiola had a body of work after that year. The team he was in charge of played at a low level, but it was still professional and still, in its performance and habits, tentatively described what he would become.
Should they make this appointment, Arsenal would be willing to put Arteta in charge and ignore all sorts of uncertainties. Not because they’re shirking their due diligence, but because most of his coaching identity is yet to reveal itself. How does he handle the press? How well can he compromise with a transfer committee? How does he respond to pressure without the protection of a Guardiola-like figure?
How will players respond to him on the training ground when he isn’t standing next to one of the most decorated head coaches of this generation? What kind of respect would Arteta even engender among Arsenal’s senior players; what is it about this novice manager that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Hector Bellerin are supposed to be drawn to.
And not to forget, a certain Mesut Ozil and Mikel Arteta himself graced the pitch together during his time at the club. How would Ozil react to a 57th-minute substitution? Not great we can assume.
It amounts to an extraordinary gamble. It would also write another chapter documenting football’s increasing willingness to place its faith – and, inevitably, its many, many millions of pounds – in concepts rather than actual solutions.
To be slightly contrary, maybe one of Arteta’s greatest virtues is that he doesn’t have enough substance to be objectionable.
His analysis sessions aren’t too dry like Emery’s reportedly were. He isn’t too friendly with the players like Carlo Ancelotti has always been. There are none of these strikes against him yet, making any case against him incredibly tenuous. What in his coaching past suggests that he wouldn’t make a good Arsenal head coach?
That’s a strange inversion, but one football is becoming comfortable with – the question is no longer ‘why?’, but ‘why not?’. Why not Duncan Ferguson until the end of the season? Or, until very recently: why not Freddie Ljungberg even?
If something can’t be proven to be a bad idea, then it can’t be one. That seems to be the logic. Not just among supporters, but directors of football and hiring committees, too.
What happens next will be fascinating, not least because it would be the pinnacle of a thoroughly modern movement.
Arteta played for Arsenal, so he ticks that traditional box, but he would effectively be a DNA appointment. A first-time head coach walking into one of the most prestigious jobs in world football on the basis of lineage.
He’s someone who isn’t able to conclusively prove any of his credentials but is assumed to have them by inheritance. In any other industry – Arteta might as well qualify as your rookie candidate.