Arsenal have handed Mikel Arteta significantly more power by promoting him from head coach to first-team manager, formally widening his remit across their football operations.
It is a reward for the eye-catching impact Arteta has made, materially and behind the scenes, since succeeding Unai Emery. His first half-season brought an FA Cup win and a transformation in mood. Key players such as Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose new contract will be confirmed soon, have been persuaded to stay and the ease with which he took to matters away from the training pitch became evident immediately.
Although the change may appear semantic, the difference is considerable. As head coach, Arteta was essentially responsible for running the first-team’s coaching department. In his upgraded role, all matters relating to the senior setup will feed into him and the technical director, Edu.
“He hasn’t been a head coach from the very first day he walked in the door,” the Arsenal chief executive, Vinai Venkatesham, said. “He has been doing much more than that. He has walked into probably the toughest nine-month period this football club has had. During that period Mikel has lifted the spirits of fans, staff and players. His capabilities fit much better as a manager than as a head coach.
“Mikel and Edu will lead all the disciplines in the men’s first team, whether that’s analysis, scouting, medical, high-performance. And ultimately [they] will be responsible for the technical recommendations we make: the players we sign, the players we sell, the players we loan.”
Arteta’s promotion had been on the cards since Raul Sanllehi, the head of football, departed in August. Arsenal have shapeshifted several times in the post-Arsène Wenger era and their latest restructuring has been aggressive. The scouting department has been reduced, with the former recruitment head, Francis Cagigao, among those to leave. That raised eyebrows but Edu – who joined Venkatesham in a media briefing – said the intention was for a leaner approach and greater reliance on the club’s internal analytics company, StatDNA.
“I want to work with [fewer] people,” Edu said. “I want to work with StatDNA a lot more. The people I want to work with, I want them to be very close to me. I want to create a group of people working together. I don’t want individual people working in one area or for one country. [Fewer] people with much more responsibilities.”
Arsenal’s dealings with Kia Joorabchian, who represents three first-teamers, have come under particular scrutiny. Venkatesham rejected the idea Joorabchian, or any other agent, wields too much influence.
“We don’t select players based on the identity of their agent, he said. “Who the agent is comes out at the end, once we have decided who the player is. We are not signing players based on the identity of the agent. That would be a crazy strategy.”
Venkatesham also defended the 55 redundancies Arsenal announced last month. The precise ramifications of those cuts, which he described as a “really, really tough” decision, are being laid out to staff this week.
“If you work for an airline you need to buy new planes,” he said. “If you are working at a restaurant you need to invest in the restaurant. Here, we need to invest in the team and that’s what we’re doing. I understand the position of redundancies and then investing. I think the jobs and positioning exists because [here] it’s all people and in other organisations it’s all about machines. But when we invest as a football club, it’s predominantly with players.”
One asset providing little value is Mesut Özil, who was frozen out by Arteta after the Covid-19 shutdown. Edu suggested Özil had simply not been performing well enough. “I know how important and how big the player is when you mention Mesut but in the end we are talking about performance here,” he said.