Welcome to Saturday my darlings, what have we on the frying plate today?
Well, we might as well continue talking about miserable things because why not.
I think one of the sub-narratives of the mess that we’re in at the moment is leadership at the very top of Arsenal.
We’re still in a very messy era. There are some very positive things going on at the club, but there a number of things that still don’t quite sit right.
The death of Don Raul last summer saw some pretty decisive moves. We used the cover of the pandemic to move on a lot of underperformers. Our scouting network was obliterated and we canned Huss Fahmy just a few weeks ago. Lots of positive moves, but we didn’t quite cut to the bone where we needed to, and I think the blunt knife we used in some areas might be problematic.
One of the least surgical decisions we made, almost immediately, was to promote Mikel Arteta to manager. The first sniff of ‘rock star’ and we caved.
On paper, it’s not a big deal. Coaches fuss about it. Pochettino went from wearing fancy threads to rolling with a tracksuit when he felt he wasn’t being listened to.
‘I might as well be coach’
It’s a power thing. When you are a coach, you take what you are given and you make it work. When you are a manager, you are in control of more things. Now, I don’t know what Arteta’s remit is inside the club, but it’s certainly not just coaching.
I would imagine on the face of it, the decision was the fairly logical view: Arteta knows what good looks like, let’s give him a bigger remit to make good elsewhere.
For me, this was a bad move. In advertising, if you are an elite creative, there’s making the work, then there’s everything else. You want your best creatives focused on making the work. Not fussing over structure, recruitment, and PDPs.
We promoted someone before they’d really done something. Arteta should be focused on the work, not the PDP for the new Gunnersaurus. This move set a tone we’ve seen before.
‘Trust in the manager’
We spend 10 years trying to escape the clutches of a manager that filled the power vacuum in the mightiest of ways. At least Wenger had won 3 league titles before things got out of hand.
The most worrying thing about the current structure is it was put in counter weaknesses we have elsewhere in our football leadership team.
This is Tony Adams last week.
“I think it got lost, this one, in the transition of the chief scout at Arsenal going out.
“He was spotted very early on, not by me, by the Arsenal recruitment office.
“The chief scout was absolutely bowled over by him and the great prospect that he is.
“He had more or less done the deal, but at that moment the new sporting director Edu came in from Brazil and had no European experience and no UK experience.
“I think it got lost in the transition, Edu didn’t know nothing about this player.”
Maybe we could give Edu a pass on Bellingham because of Raul. Maybe we could ignore our old scouts crying in the press because let’s be honest, their taste levels had been wide of the mark for about a decade (Park, Perez, Asana, Jenkinson, Yaya, Ryo, Campbell). What you can’t ignore is the fact Adams is being very pointed in his attack here.
He is saying these things because there’s weakness in the Arsenal armour and a lot of people know it and talk about it. Vinnai put Arteta on the same level as Edu, not because Arteta is a god, but because they are picking up slack for the questionable tenure of Edu so far. Expect more stories like the one from Adams to creep out of the next 6 months.
Leaks are always strategic. Follow the money. No one ever leaked against Arsene because he was literally seen as a god at Arsenal and player, agents, and coaches knew that there was no way to ever remove him. A direct attack from a legend is not good, especially when the same person was full of compliments for Arteta the week before. People know the regard Arteta is held in, they don’t fear ramifications of crossing the Technical Director.
That said. Arteta should not be on the same level as the Technical Director. That’s not how it works. Leadership structures are there for a reason. You need clarity when it comes to R&R. Someone always needs to be the boss. There has to be someone that makes tough decisions. Not every conversation can be a negotiation.
If we had Luis Campos or Ralph Rangnick running Arsenal, do you think either would have sanctioned the deal on Willian this summer? Absolutely not. Do you think Arteta would have lobbied for the deal? Absolutely. But strong leadership would have seen that sort of signing as unacceptable at a club that has haemorrhaged cash consistently over the last 5 years.
Arsenal should have stripped back this summer, made themselves lean at the cost of short term success, then built back better. We didn’t. We are still the same bloated monster we were last year. We simply prolonged the same failed football strategy we’ve been working to since 2017 when we chased Top 4 by topping up on expensive players that weren’t quite right.
A strong Technical Director would have said, ‘look, we have been hit hard by poor investments over the past 5 years. We’re going to fix it. We ripped out the scouting desk. We’re prioritising elite young players we can grow. If we’re buying senior players, they’ll need to have resale value. We installed a young developmental coach for the longterm, he will grow with the players.’
Instead, we’ve found that horrible half-space where we semi-go at being a big club. You sign a big player, but you only land one. You sign a player that does what you need… but probably way better 6 years ago. You miss out on a creative talent altogether.
None of this is to say that we haven’t made some good signings. Thomas Partey and Gabriel were laser-focused, elite, and they solved actual problems we’ve had for years. The point of the post is that if we truly believe in creating a high-performance culture, we have to make sure the leadership structure is correct. We cannot have precocious talent unfocused during the formative years. We cannot drag deadweight. We cannot shirk making difficult decisions.
I don’t have all the information on Saliba. I know mostly why he didn’t make the squad this year. What I don’t understand is why the situation has been so messy. The player has a good profile in Europe, he started training with Arsenal well before preseason started, it must have been clear that he wasn’t right this year. So where was the loan move? We have a loans manager? Now, it could have been many things. The player might not have wanted Brentford, West Ham, or whoever the club was. It might have been the club felt they needed to build him physically. It might have been a late problem with St Etienne. Whatever it was, it looks like a fuck up. Now the narrative has been lost to the fans and it’s an unwelcome grey cloud that is arguably more toxic than Ozil.
What I think you should watch for is whether Vinnai makes moves next summer. Is he a ruthless operator, or is he passive like Ivan Gazidis. The simple truth is this: If Edu were the Technical Director we believed he was, he wouldn’t have taken a demotion this summer. If I were Edu, I’d have resigned on the spot at the disrespect. Sadly, we live in a world where only the good people take news like that with a smile on their face.
Anyway, there’s not a lot that can be done right now. I still firmly believe we’ll fix the problems. There’s a way to unlock our attack and the sign of a good young coach is how they deal with adversity. The good thing is that we’re in our adverse moment now and we’re only 6 points off the top of the league. We either solve it like Wenger did in his early career, or we flunk, and we have an Emery moment. If we find a run like we did last year, all this drama will be forgotten… but we really need to fix up fast. Poor in attack, a press that has lost intensity, and boring football… a lot of fixing.
Over to you, Mikel.