Arsenal Cannot Support Two Projects At Once
For the better part of two years, Arsenal have supposedly been in the midst of an expansive rebuild. This entailed gutting a squad that had finished outside of the Champions League places for several years, installing a more thoughtful and analytical recruitment system that brought higher-quality players to the club, developing a defined identity on and off the pitch, and embedding a structure of competent leadership to oversee the whole enterprise. And thus, after the unceremonious exit of Unai Emery, the Arsenal project began.
To that end, the club have taken clear steps toward rebuilding. Troublemakers and players not at the level have been let go and even paid to leave at times. Arsenal’s established scouts were shown the door and a new recruitment network was built at the club. Young, high-ceiling talent has been assembled via the transfer market. Budding superstars have emerged from a revamped academy program.
But as Arsenal embarked on this new, hopeful journey, they also initiated another project. To replace Emery, they hired Mikel Arteta. The former club captain had served as Pep Guardiola’s assistant manager at Manchester City for three years, effectively becoming the protege of one of the most renowned minds in football. He had been tipped by Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, and Mauricio Pochettino to become one of the next great managers. Arteta’s promise was so sizeable that Arsenal felt compelled to send two of its most prominent employees to his home in Manchester in the dead of night in order to woo the Spaniard into taking the Arsenal job.
However, as it turns out, Arteta likely has too much to learn to realize his apparent potential in his first managerial job. In fact, the Arsenal boss is a bit of a fixer-upper. His talent identification has proven to be mediocre at best and at times downright disastrous. He has failed to consistently field a high-powered offense, despite having access to an enviable array of attacking talent. Perhaps most concerningly, Arteta appears prone to vindictive behavior toward players, having shunned and forced out several to the point of asset destruction.
Now, after 20 months of Arteta’s reign, Arsenal is practically unraveling as it struggles to nurture two massive projects at the same time. A squad that has admittedly added quality during the current manager’s tenure is still chock full of players who are not even at the standard of the Premier League. The team hasn’t scored a single goal but has conceded nine in its opening three matches of the season and currently sits at the very bottom of the table. A former academy product is pleading on Instagram to leave the club. Two-time league winner Willian tore up his contract and reportedly forsook over £20 million just to get out. Arsenal would be at rock bottom if the situation didn’t threaten to get even worse.
The simple fact of the matter is, the Arteta project is jeopardizing the Arsenal project. Instead of cradling their precious rebuild in a foundation of experience and expertise, the club put it in the hands of a raw coach and hoped he could simultaneously hone his skills while being careful with the merchandise. Arsenal made themselves a driving school for Arteta and gave him their prized antique roadster to practice with.
This decision-making has locked Arsenal into their most emphatic nosedive this century, just in time for Amazon Prime Video to capture every second of it on film. If matters continue on like this, it’s not unimaginable that the likes of Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, and Kieran Tierney would seek greener pastures. The young core of players whom Arsenal have tasked with leading the club back to prominence, the footballers who are the essence of the Arsenal project, will quickly outgrow a club that continues to shrink in respectability.
Arsenal have to choose which of their projects to give their undivided attention. They can either properly devote themselves to fostering the development of a collection of promising players into a team of veterans capable of competing for honors, or they can continue allowing a rookie manager to use the club as a finishing school at the expense of their time and resources. But they can’t do both. It’s clear at this point that the two projects are incompatible with each other. And if they don’t decide soon, the choice will be made for them.
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