Nu-no thank you; Espirito Santo the wrong choice.
When I saw the social media frenzy early in the week that Unai Emery was to be relieved of his duties as Arsenal manager, my heart soared. Finally, I thought, we might see an adventurous, attacking football under an adventurous coach. My mind immediately went to recently released Mauricio Pochettino, Leipzig boss Julian Nagelsmann, or even assistant manager Freddie Ljungberg until the summer managerial merry-go-round began. Then the whispers began.
The odd twitter ‘ITK’, some people out of desperation, and then the BBC article linking current Wolves Boss Nuno Espirito Santo with the Arsenal job. In this article, I will outline the main reasons that this would be a huge mistake on Arsenal’s behalf, and why I hope the links are nothing more than a smokescreen.
Early in Emery’s reign, the players were roared on by chants of “we’ve got our Arsenal back”. Attacking, dominating football is in the DNA of this club. It is frankly a miracle that Emery has survived as long as he has given his abandonment of these central ideas. Clearly, sacking him is the right move. Replacing him with another “pragmatist”, which Nuno Espirito Santo undoubtedly is, would be yet another step back. Santo managed Rio Ave, Valencia and Porto before joining Wolves’ project.
At each of these clubs, he has utilised different systems which asked different things of his players. In many ways, he is far more pragmatic than the current Arsenal boss. Take Wolves as an example. Yes, they have a fantastic record against the top six, and one which Arsenal wish that they possessed. However, they are not particularly easy on the eye, often defending deep before using their strikers to hold the ball up so as to spring attacks. Sound familiar?
I do not think that it is particularly unfair to say that whilst Nuno has enjoyed a rise in his reputation as Wolves boss, he is still a long way off the top table of European coaches. For all of his flaws, at the time of his appointment Unai Emery certainly was at this table, having just left the prestigious PSG job. Arsenal football club remain a top club, and certainly have no need to be immediately and desperately searching for just anyone to take the top job. This is not meant as a slight on Nuno, who has done very well with the resources he has had available.
Another worry would be the baggage that the Portuguese coach comes with. Raul Sanllehi is already good friends with super-agent Jorge Mendes, and Santo represents the first client that the agent ever had. With both at the helm, the influence of Mendes, who has undoubtedly had a huge hand in the influx of Portuguese players to Molineux, could prove a big problem going forward.
I think the biggest problem I have with this appointment, purely footballing reasons aside, is the timing of it. Mid-season is a tricky time to try and tempt managers away from their clubs, especially those who are performing perhaps above expectations (see, for example, Brendan Rodgers). The only reason to appoint a new coach in this period would be if a world-class one became available.
For Arsenal, surely either Max Allegri, (who was strongly linked before Emery took over) or Mauricio Pochettino fit this bill far more than Nuno does. With it looking as if this summer will see a lot of managerial changes, would it not be better to wait for this than to pull the trigger unless the man brought in was truly world-class? Arsenal missed the boat the last time world-class managers became available, which was the summer before Arsene Wenger ultimately stepped down.
They would do well not to repeat previous mistakes. It is not worth aiming for a slightly above average coach with a very similar profile to the current failure. It would be far better to appoint Ljungberg on a temporary basis or a manager until the end of the season. Despite the respective clubs’ positions in both the Premier League and in the Europa League, there is no doubt in my mind that the Wolves boss would jump at the opportunity to manage the Gunners. Personally, I just hope that he doesn’t get that opportunity.