Since the departure of Arsène Wenger in 2018, Arsenal have been adamant about adopting a continental backroom model. Where the all-powerful Wenger assumed many roles in his time at the club, Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis became aware how potentially damaging this state of affairs could be.
Given that Wenger was the club’s most successful manager and had the full backing of both the board and the owner Stan Kroenke, it would be difficult to extricate Wenger from many of the positions that he had near autonomous power over.
However, in the final few months of Wenger’s reign, Arsenal began to slowly but surely bring in new faces to take some of the responsibility away from the Frenchman. Sven Mislintat was brought in as Arsenal’s new Head of Recruitment and Chief Scout, displacing Steve Rowley and Raül Sanllehí was brought in as Head of Football Relations.
Following Wenger’s departure, Arsenal appointed Unai Emery as Head-Coach on 23rd May 2018. Arsenal were very specific as to what the Spaniard’s job would entail. Emery would be responsible for what happened on the field and Gazidis, Mislintat and Sanllehí would deal with everything off it.
Fast-forward almost two-and-a-half years later and everything has changed again. Gazidis upped sticks to join AC Milan, barely five months later, Mislintat left under a shroud of controversy regarding the Technical Director’s position, leaving Francis Cagigao to step in as the new Chief Scout, Emery’s tenure ended in a blaze of disappointment and Raül Sanllehí found his name at the top of the redundancy list in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, Arsenal have reverted more to type. Edu, Arsenal’s Technical Director, has shouldered much of the responsibility that Sanllehí had in his time at the club, Ivan Gazidis has been succeeded by Vinai Venkatesham, Tim Lewis has replaced the outgoing Sir Chips Keswick, as a non-executive director on the board and Mikel Arteta took over from Unai Emery as the head-coach.
But Arteta’s role has changed. In the wake of a record-extended fourteenth FA Cup win and a Community Shield win, just nine months into his first ever coaching role, Arsenal have seen fit to give him the title of manager.
Though the difference in terms of the outward persona won’t change too much, the impact off the field is extremely important.
While Emery certainly had a say in what happened regarding transfers and was even known to speak to new signings in an effort to convince them to ply their trade at Arsenal, the transfers were generally managed by a central committee of Gazidis (later Venkatesham), Mislintat (later Cagigao before he too left the club), Sanllehí, Huss Fahmy (contracts negotiator) and later Edu, as well as Emery himself.
In the end, it became apparent that it was a pretty abhorrent case of too many cooks spoiling the broth and often resulted in a number of frustrating cases for Emery.
For one, Nicolas Pépee was preferred over Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, David Luiz was brought in instead of the far more expensive Harry Maguire and a pursuit of Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey (whom Arsenal still hold a vested interest) was abandoned in pursuit of other targets.
Emery did occasionally get his way, Denis Suárez was loaned to Arsenal on Emery’s insistence, though that transfer blew up pretty astonishingly and is generally considered to be one of the worst transfers in the club’s history.
Emery was also backed in his treatment of Mesut Özil, as too was Arteta, however, the role of Head Coach seemed to weigh heavily on Emery, who craved more influence over the decisions made for the team.
It perhaps speaks to the board’s lack of trust in Emery, that Arteta was handed the reigns of power so quickly, but there are also several other undeniable facts.
In the wake of the aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic, Arsenal made fifty-five staff redundant, including Sanllehí, which has perhaps created an opening for Arteta to seize more power and with his ever-growing profile in the game and astonishing performances, it’s difficult to see why Arsenal wouldn’t want to tempt Arteta with more power.
Edu’s recent harrying of the scouting department in favour of a more analytics-based approach has also led to Arsenal favouring a smaller scouting team operating together, which means that Arsenal need an exceptional recruitment strategy moving forward.
While Edu has perfected a new recruitment strategy with Head of Academy Per Mertesacker, he and Arteta will now work on refining Arsenal’s senior recruitment processes and will work together to identify problem areas and to improve the squad.
Wenger’s departure led to a power vacuum, in which every executive scrambled to retain or seize power, which seemed to see Sanllehí spinning multiple plates at a time. With Arteta now in place as manager, the club can breathe easy that they have (hopefully) avoided another mad dash for power and that the hierarchy can begin to flourish without departures or appointments.
Arteta has also seen changes to his playing staff, with the additions of Willian from Chelsea, Gabriel Magalhães from Lille and Dani Ceballos re-joining from Real Madrid, but he has also seen changes to his backroom staff as well, with club legend Freddie Ljungberg leaving to see pastures new and new coaches Carlos Cuesta, Miguel Molina and Andreas Georgson joining the club.
The news is likely to prove a boost to the club heading into the Premier League season as well. Arsenal are the league’s first kick-off, with an away game to Fulham Athletic and the news that Arteta has increased his influence over the team will likely be a source of great comfort to the fans and the players and with the imminent announcement of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s new contract, it seems as though Arsenal have plenty to be excited about for the forthcoming season.