Five managers Arsenal could turn to if the club decides to sack Mikel Arteta
Arsenal’s dismal campaign
Arsenal’s season continues to bound from one bad moment to the next in the early doors of the 2021-22 Premier League campaign.
From the opening day defeat to Thomas Frank’s newly-promoted Brentford to the expected loss against Chelsea, the Gunners slumped to yet another defeat this morning; a 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. Three losses from three and not a single goal scored to begin the new campaign is hardly what the Arsenal fanbase would have hoped for.
In fact, it is the worst start in the Gunners history, so where do Arsenal go from here?
Though failing to get a result against two different shades of blue can largely be excused given the combined status of the pair as current Premier League and Champions League holders respectively, beginning the season against the Bees at the Brentford Community Stadium in flaccid fashion is inexcusable. With the North London Derby just around the bend and a tricky tie with Brighton on an away day to the south coast, upcoming fixtures with Norwich (H) and Burnley (A) must see Arsenal extract the maximum point haul. Failure to do so, would – and perhaps should – put enormous pressure on Arteta to find the right result against Nuno Espírito Santo’s Spurs outfit.
Despite Arsenal running out rampant 6-0 winners against Championship outfit West Brom in the second round of the Carabao Cup, the Gunners’ start to the domestic campaign has immediately put them under threat of another season where they may be made to fight just to claw into the top half of the table.
Should the Gunners remain on a collision course with an incredibly poor start moving into mid-October, it would be hard to see a way back for the San Sebastián-native and the club has recently been linked to interest in replacing Arteta with Antonio Conte, who they view as their first-choice candidate. But Conte may be a tough manager to bring in and has already rejected a club with equal – or better – current standing than Arsenal when he turned down a chance to join Tottenham this summer before Spurs ultimately settling on Espírito Santo.
With that in mind, here is a five-man shortlist (should Conte not be a viable option) for managers that Arsenal could potentially sound out if Mikel Arteta is indeed on borrowed time.
Graham Potter; Brighton & Hove Albion
Time in charge: 2 seasons
Overall record: 26-28-34; 101GF 115GA; 1.20 points/match
Synopsis: One option to replace the Spaniard could be fellow Premier League colleague Graham Potter. Despite Brighton not being particularly glamorous when looking at his CV, his experience stands out irrespective of the just two seasons he has spent on the south coast. The most notable period of his managerial career was the immense levels of success he perpetrated at small Swedish club Östersunds FK, which saw the club climb from the third-tier in the Swedish football ladder all the way to the Allsvenskan and an appearance in the Europa League where you guessed it, he defeated Arsenal 3-0 at home.
Potter’s utilization of a 3-4-2-1 at Brighton has been notable, particularly last season where the data behind their performances showed a side that should have been fighting for Europe rather than flirting with relegation. His experience with current Arsenal center-back Ben White would certainly be a boon, as would the tantalizing possibility that, should he be hired, Yves Bissouma could follow close behind him given how well the Malian international has performed under his command. Most importantly, Potter is acclimatized to the Premier League and is unafraid to put faith in youth. Given the look and feel of Arsenal’s current squad, it could be a smart move even if it does not have a huge name attached to it.
Ralph Hasenhüttl; Southampton
Time in charge: 2 1/2 seasons
Overall record: 42-23-50; 158GF 187GA; 1.30 points/match
Though his stint in the Premier League is – on the surface – better than Graham Potter’s regarding his points-per-match while at Southampton, Ralph Hasenhüttl has hardly done his reputation well since rocking up at St. Mary’s in December of 2018. The Graz-native enjoyed successful spells at all of his former charges, including RB Leipzig, where his tactical approach and willingness to work with both young and under-the-radar players served him well and even saw Leipzig out-shine Borussia Dortmund as “best of the rest” in 2016-17 under his command.
On the surface, Hasenhüttl was the perfect fit for Southampton; a club with a strong history of producing quality young players through their academy set-up (a plus point for Arsenal given their increased reliance on Hale End) while trying to outsmart a difficult transfer market through their lauded black box that has yielded deals for the likes of Sadio Mané and Virgil van Dijk. But that willingness to try to upset the apple cart by finding quality at a bargain – long a remit of Arsenal – could not offset the fact that Saints will never be able to compete financially to truly climb up the ladder. To make matters worse, Hasenhüttl has presided over multiple embarrassing performances during his tenure and was very much on the cusp of being sacked, but despite that, his strong pedigree could serve a club like Arsenal who has a much better squad than Saints, a very promising young core, and financial means to bring in the players he requires. Hasenhüttl certainly has the charisma and desire to succeed, but his time at Saints is hard to judge and dissect regarding whether or not their failures are strictly down to him.
Kasper Hjulmand; Danish national team
Time in charge: 1 year
Overall record: 11-2-5; 41GF 15GA; 1.94 points/match
Perhaps a name no one would ever dream of considering, Kasper Hjulmand is a name in a similar vein as to what brought Mikel Arteta to the Emirates in the first place. Not in experience, but in gravitas; or lack thereof. Hjulmand is hardly a managerial new boy, having spent years in his native Denmark, beginning at Lyngby FK then enjoying two stints at FC Nordsjaelland sandwiching a season in the Bundesliga at 1. FSV Mainz 05. But Hjulmand’s star rose highest in European media this summer at the helm of a resurgent Denmark who fought their way all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2020.
Denmark’s impressive utilization of a modern back-three deployment saw them net impressive wins against Russia, Wales, and the Czech Republic after a different start in the wake of Christian Eriksen’s tragic health crisis. Denmark pushed England to the limit in the semi-finals, and though they lost, showed how far they have come in just 18-matches under his guidance after the national team spent years in obscurity. Favoring a system that was organized and effective in the press, while boasting an attack that was both direct and incisive, the likes of Joakim Mæhle, Mikkel Damsgaard, and Pierre Emile-Højberg were impressive. Hjulmand’s experience with Nordsjaelland’s Right to Dream Academy as well as Tigrene‘s history of promoting youth – like Hasenhüttl – would make him a decent fit. Tactically he would offer something very different from what the current schematic is at Arsenal, while potentially opening the door to a market that the club should be targeting. He would be a massive risk, however, having not managed a big European club or in a league of high standing.
Steven Gerrard; Glasgow Rangers
Time in charge: 3 seasons
Overall record: 116-36-25; 381GF 125GA; 2.17 points/match
Perhaps the one manager that can boast the most success out of the five mentioned in this shortlist is former Premier League adversary Steven Gerrard. Many get the feeling that Gerrard is lying in wait for Jürgen Klopp to vacate the touchline at Anfield before he returns to his footballing ancestral home, but Arsenal could offer a much bigger test for the young manager in a similar vein to Brendan Rodgers dominating the Scottish Premiership before leaving Celtic for Leicester City. Furthermore, Gerrard is said to be reveling in the success he has had at Rangers, resurrecting the Scottish giants after they spent years in a green and white shadow.
Despite just three seasons of managerial experience (still more than Arteta when he was handed the keys in the Emirates kingdom), Rangers have kicked on impressively under his stewardship and are off the back of a 2020-21 campaign that saw them “pull an Arsenal” and go their entire league campaign undefeated, while finishing 20-points clear of Celtic and surrendering just 10-goals in 33-matches. What’s more is that Rangers did unexpectedly well in their Europa League campaign, reaching the round of 16. Lauded for their impressive attacking intent under Gerrard, Rangers did not rely on a single goal scorer but spread the responsibility across the team which ended in three players breaking double-digits goals in the league. Tactically balanced, modern, and a manager who knows the Premier League while needing little adaptation, he represents one of the best options available that exist outside of England, even if it would come with a measure of risk.
Lucien Favre; unattached
Time in charge: N/A
Overall record: N/A
The elder statements of the shortlist and unquestionably the most experienced, Lucien Favre is a name that many Arsenal supporters continue to mention when debate surfaces around Mikel Arteta’s future. But despite managing clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Borussia Mönchengladbach, OGC Nice, and Hertha Berlin, Favre has not achieved a ton of actual success on the touchline and, really, is not terribly ahead of the likes of Gerrard and Hjulmand regarding major honors won.
What is most important to consider regarding Favre is that he has managed clubs with considerable pressure, especially during his spell at Dortmund where he did manage to net a DFB-Supercup win in 2019. He, like most on this list, has a history of progressing younger players and can be credited with helping along the likes of Marco Reus, Granit Xhaka, and Christoph Kramer. Typically a disciple of attacking football that relies on a balanced tempo (an area Arsenal is lacking), Favre would at the very least be a good tactical fit for the club, but his recent history of burning out after just a handful of seasons at the helm is evident during his stints at Dortmund and Nice. The risk could be worth it, however, as football is transitioning away from long-term appointments, and instead, focusing on just a handful of seasons before managerial refreshment is required. Favre would certainly be a safer play, and some may opt for that after the risk with Arteta has not come off as many hoped.