Arsenal, at the moment, is what happens when an organisation that had an overriding strategy replaces it with indecision and dysfunction, and it should be a cautionary tale for all football fans - this could happen to your club.
The Arsene Wenger situation was always going to be difficult to navigate. A man synonymous with the club and so utterly set in his views on the game and how it should be played left him with all of the control but an increasingly outmoded set of principles. But sometimes, the alternative can be worse. Managed decline becomes freefall in plain sight, and that is what is being experienced at the Emirates.
When Arsenal hired Sven Mislintat in December 2017, it was a step towards modernity. The club installed their own data collection and analysis team in house and Mislintat, who had been chief scout at Borussia Dortmund for a decade prior to his appointment, was to use this numbers-led approach as their Chief of Recruitment.
But ultimately, the club was mixing two approaches; Mislintat’s modern scouting philosophy and Head of Football Raul Sanllehi’s agent-led approach. The latter relied upon established intermediary relationships to drive recruitment, and the fact that neither man is currently at the club speaks volumes over the schizophrenia that is driving Arsenal into the gutter.
Managed decline can become freefall in plain sight, and that is what is being experienced at the EmiratesFC
Mislintat left before he could be pushed after just 14 months, exasperated at the lack of identity and his team being undermined at the whim of agent offers for players who were never right, but always available.
The German said: “We had different approaches. Previously we had a strong systematic approach to transfers, a mixture of watching things live as well as quality data and video analysis – Arsenal actually owns their own data company.
“However, the new leadership work more strongly with what they are offered from clubs or agents through their own networks."
That was Sanllehi’s wheelhouse, and how Kia Joorabchain was able to negotiate deals for David Luiz (one-year extension), Cedric (four-year deal) and 32-year-old Willian, a £200k per-week Bosman deal that already looks grossly misjudged.
And in the middle of all of this is Mikel Arteta, a disciple of Pep Guardiola who has ruled the dressing room with an iron fist and has left a trail of Unai Emery devotees in his wake. Arteta has taken no prisoners. Matteo Geundouzi has been ostracised and was critical of his attitude before sending him on loan to Hertha Berlin. William Saliba has been waiting nearly 18 months for his Gunners debut and it doesn’t seem any closer to happening, and who Arteta clearly doesn’t trust.
He sanctioned the sale of Lucas Torreira. He has left Sokratis, an ageing player but one well-liked in the dressing room, out of the Premier League squad. And then there’s Mesut Ozil, an erstwhile playmaker collecting £370k a week to send out Tweets about the status of the team. Even in normality this level of wastage is irresponsible but in a post-covid world, it’s a level of incompetence that simply cannot be tolerated.
And the worrying thing for Arsenal fans is just how quickly this situation has gone south. From an FA Cup achieved over Man City and Chelsea, to defeating Liverpool, Arteta appeared as if he had stumbled upon a successful formula. But it was all a mirage. Those performances - in which they ceded possession, lost the expected goals count and relied upon individual moments of brilliance from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or defensive blunders in order to win - were the exceptions, and not the rule. Arsenal aren’t just doing an Arsenal, they are rewriting how bad that cliche can be.
Forwards who can’t score, defenders who can’t defend, a team without application with or without the ball and an atmosphere of disaffection which is now bordering on toxic. They are no fun to watch, even less fun to get behind on a collective level and also have a personality vacuum within the first team squad, typified by Granit Xhaka, a player who consistently confuses rock-headed aggression with passion for the cause.
Arsenal are just five points above the relegation positions and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. Their next four matches are against Southampton, Everton, Man City and Chelsea, all better teams than the ones they’ve lost to recently. Arsenal have never lost five home matches in a row. Ever.
And while the hierarchy seems intent on standing by the Arteta project, it would help if they had anything positive whatsoever to work with. But they don’t. The entire organisation is affected by a schism of philosophy and a two-faced dressing room that says one thing on social media but shows quite the opposite on the field.
The agony of the Arsenal fans on social media is palpable. They feel trapped by a team that’s giving them nothing back and it’s difficult to envisage anything positive coming from his season. Remember, folks, it’s easier than you think for good teams to go bad.