Mikel Arteta’s appointment might disappoint Arsenal fans, but should not surprise them

From cucumber sandwiches and industrial strength gin and tonics on Peter Hill-Wood’s lawn, the corridors of power at Arsenal Football Club have sometimes resembled a scene from Brideshead Revisited. Yet despite the Bank of England club’s starchy and conservative image, there is a parallel history of radical decisions and innovation.
Appointing Mikel Arteta as Arsene Wenger’s replacement would be another. Some wised-up supporters have responded to the club’s strong interest in Arteta with the words ‘typical Arsenal’, because his arrival would follow a long line of left-field appointments. Herbert Chapman, who had led Huddersfield Town to consecutive first division titles, was possibly the last to be considered ‘high-profile’ in his own time – and he arrived in 1925.
Wenger himself arrived from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight (stop me if you’ve heard this story before). The greeting ‘Arsene Who?’ said more about English football’s ignorance than his own CV. Wenger had more than a decade of managerial experience by 1996, so direct comparisons with Arteta are a little misguided.
George Graham impressed at Millwall, winning promotion to the second division, to land the Arsenal job in 1986. Double-winning manager Bertie Mee was promoted from the role of physio, a path also followed by league and cup-winning boss Tom Whittaker in the immediate post-war years.
At the less successful end of the spectrum, Bruce Rioch was recruited from Bolton Wanderers while Arsenal made the ill-fated decision to hire Tottenham boss Terry Neill in 1976. Despite reaching four cup finals, he was sacked in 1983 amid mounting fan pressure and his tenure is viewed as a nadir in Arsenal’s modern history. Don Howe replaced him, a renowned coach who had never managed before.
Dusty old annals were not the only source of clues that Ivan Gazidis and his merry men might go down this path, however. The final years of Wenger’s reign were defined by a glacial transfer of power away from the dugout, as the levers of control were prised from the Frenchman’s grip. Civil war would be overstating things, but it was a tense and awkward political process.
Head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, former Barcelona director Raul Sanllehi, contract guru Huss Fahmy and director of high performance Darren Burgess are the key members of a backroom revolution. After two decades in one man’s image, Arsenal are building a more collegiate system where power and responsibility is shared between a core of people with a variety of specialisms. The new Arsenal ‘manager’ will not really ‘manage’ the club, but coach the first-team. In short, there is no direct replacement for Wenger – four of five people will fill the void he leaves.
Gazidis and Arsenal will be wary of any appointment that could put this new dynamic at risk, rightly or wrongly. A seasoned manager might sniff blood, sensing naivety in a regime feeling their way through the post-Wenger era, and stage a power grab. To use another analogy from the history books, Arsenal will not want a Bonaparte-figure to emerge and hijack to their revolution, a manager who fancies himself as the next Wenger. A younger coach making his way will be easier to control.