Premier League Betting: Five ways Arteta will have to change Arsenal for any success
Alex Keble takes a look at the task facing Mikel Arteta as Arsenal manager, as the Guardiola disciple inherits a chaotic setup at the Emirates...
Mikel Arteta is set to be named the new permanent Arsenal manager despite Manchester City's protestations at how the north London club have conducted themselves in their pursuit of Pep Guardiola's number two. The Guardian suggests they are in 'final talks' and the BBC reports parties are 'finalising the paperwork'. The deal is definitely going ahead.
It could be a stroke of genius or a naively romantic appointment. Arteta is one of the most highly regarded young coaches in the game with an expected playing style that fits the Arsene Wenger model, and by hiring a former player Arsenal may have found a shortcut to building a more focused approach that cuts through the chaos.
Or, Arteta is too inexperienced to handle such a messy club in need of revolution from top to bottom. It could go either way. One thing is for sure, Arteta will need patience from supporters. There is no easy fix.
Here are the first five things in Arteta's in-tray:
Implement Guardiola-style football slowly and patiently
Unai Emery abandoned his high-pressing football when it became apparent the squad was simply incapable of following his instructions, which makes Arteta's arrival an awkward one for the rest of the current season. The Spaniard is expected to play a high defensive line, counter-pressing the opposition and instigating structured possession football in the mould of his mentor, Guardiola.
That isn't a vague tactical blueprint for aesthetic football, it's an extremely detailed plan involving precise positions and intelligent movement that relies upon exactly the right set of players to succeed. Remember Guardiola needed a full 12 months at City before things clicked. He would later argue his previous employers would have sacked him for performances as poor as City's in 2016/17.
Arteta will need even longer. They are a tactical calamity at present, stuck somewhere between pressing and dropping back, their direct attackers clashing horribly with slow defenders. Arteta's first priority, then, is to only gradually implement his ideas; a full-scale revolution would be too much too soon.
David Luiz and Sokratis are incapable of playing with a high defensive line. Granit Xhaka and Mesut Ozil won't adapt to the intensity of Guardiola football. Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang don't have the technical ability to link with midfield as Manchester City's forwards do.
Arteta will need to slow things down, adapting to the club's idiosyncrasies for the remainder of this campaign in order to keep the good will. For now, the changes should be limited to the training ground.
Retrain the Arsenal forwards to complement each other
Arsenal is a side in dire need of some coaching; of tedious long hours on the training field re-learning how to play football, how to pass and move and position oneself as part of a complex tactical system. Unai Emery failed to do this and Wenger is widely known to have been laissez-faire in his approach.
The consequences are plain to see. Arsenal amble around the pitch with no clear plan or identity, which, long-term, has left them without directional momentum; without a clear focus on what they are building towards. That has to change.
The first step is working out how to get Lacazette, Aubameyang, and Nicolas Pepe working together. Guardiola's use of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling in the same team suggests there is nothing wrong, in theory, with using Pepe and one of the two other two in wide positions. But it will take an awful lot of work, time, and patience.
Hire coaching staff and give the club direction
Freddie Ljungberg has been managing with a skeleton staff over the last couple of weeks, leaning heavily on under-23 coach Per Mertesacker to take some of the strain in difficult circumstances for the interim manager. Arteta needs new staff, and he won't be able to poach anyone from Man City.
That's quite the task for an inexperienced manager. Nobody will be there to ease the transition, while Arteta needs to build an entire team willing to listen to his instruction and offer counsel. It can take years for top managers to find a backroom staff that fits. Arteta has a month or so to get things right.
But beyond that, Arteta will also need to find a way to get the board on side and moving in the same direction. Selling a tactical vision for the club, while ensuring his coaching team are all working together, would be a good start - particularly if Arteta can build a strong working relationship with technical director Edu (who arrived at the club with Emery already in place).
A huge part of their partnership, and a vital tool in getting the club to pull in the same direction, is giving Arteta some control over transfers. Only a very particular sort of character will do for Guardiola-style tactics.
Prioritise high-energy players and ditch the rest
Before he has the chance to stamp his authority further up the hierarchy and seize control of incoming transfers, the new manager will first need to sort through the current squad and decide who to use and who to sell.
Ozil has had enough chances and needs to be quietly moved along. He was the albatross around Emery's neck, on extortionate wages and incapable of playing with the energy or discipline required. This will still be true under.
Repairing the club's relationship with the fans is, of course, one of the most important challenges facing the new manager, and getting rid of the more toxic elements will help. Consequently, along with Ozil, Xhaka needs to leave.
If high-energy possession football is the order, then Arteta must be ruthless in picking the most determined, humble, intelligent, and hard-working players. The best way to do that is prioritise youth. They will listen. The likes of Matteo Guendouzi, Joe Willock, Kieran Tierney, Rob Holding, and Bukayo Saka could all play prominent roles.
Pick a consistent back four and central midfield
The chopping and changing in defence has to stop. Arsenal badly need new centre-backs, but for the time being Arteta at least needs to pick the same two each week so they can start to forge a relationship. Rob Holding (back from injury soon) and Callum Chambers are surely his best two, supported by Hector Bellerin and Kieran Tierney.
That should give Arsenal a half-decent foundation, but it must be supported by the most energetic and defensively resilient midfielders in an attempt to fix the one area of the pitch that the Gunners haven't got right for ten years. Arteta knows all about their soft centre. Guendouzi needs to play, as does the under-rated Lucas Torreira who - with a bit more guidance - can be a top player at the Emirates.
Arsenal are not actually too far away from having a decent spine. But we should not get carried away; should not be hopeful of a fast start. Ignore the fact the Gunners are only seven points off the Champions League places. The new manager needs patience. He needs the space for gradual change. There are few more difficult tasks in English football than the one facing Arteta.
Arsenal are currently 13/5 to make the Top Six, 1/4 to not make that cut, and if you believe they can truly turn around their season with a new manager at the helm, they are 14/1 to make the Top Four.