My Post a few days ago showing how Arsenal’s form since Boxing Day has been good enough to secure a top four finish if spread across a whole season prompted a vigorous debate.
If anything the weight of opinion was stacked against my optimistic outlook, with a sense that many supporters (including those who comment here on AA) have little faith in the ability of Mikel Arteta to bring back the good times to N5.
That more pessimistic outlook may well prove to be correct, but I’ll keep banging my drum for our young manager until the facts tell me otherwise.
And to that end I wanted to say a quick word about some of the “alternatives to Arteta” whom fans have mentioned over the last year-to-18-months.
I think it’s fair to say that most of us were prepared to give Arteta a chance when he was appointed, but that we undoubtedly had reservations about the fact that he was young, inexperienced and had never managed any club let alone a ‘top’ club like Arsenal.
But when things went a bit south in the first half of this season I read (and heard) a lot of comments along the lines of “we should have gone for…”
Among the names in the frame were Carlo Ancelotti, Brendan Rodgers, David Moyes, Marcelo Bielsa, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Rafa Benitez. Some people even mentioned a certain Jose Mourinho, but the less said about that the better.
Taking a quick look at how those ‘alternative Arsenal managers’ have done over the last season or so quickly demonstrates that there are no easy answers in football.
Brendan Rodgers has been the one clear success story, head and shoulders above the rest. He has steered Leicester City to an FA Cup win and almost certainly a Champions League place next year.
But after that, the other contenders aren’t so impressive. David Moyes has probably overachieved at West Ham given how poor they have been in recent years. At one point the Irons were looking like a good outside bet for a top four finish, but they have fallen away badly in the latter part of the season and it’s not inconceivable that Arsenal could overtake them. Their late season decline reminds me of what used to regularly happen when Moyes was in charge at Everton.
And speaking of Everton, Ancelotti was probably top of the list of managers whom some fans said we should have appointed instead of Arteta (he took up his post at Goodison at almost the same time that Arteta took over at Arsenal).
Rather like Moyes, Ancelotti had an impressive first half of the season but Everton are currently one place and one point above us in the table and, again, we may well finish ahead of them.
Leeds, too, had a strong start to their campaign but have fallen away really badly under Marcelo Bielsa and now languish in 10th place, while Southampton, under Hasenhuttl (a manager whom I was touting as a possible prospect for us!) are in 14th after a poor season.
And what of Rafa Benitez you may ask? Well, he left his Chinese league club in April, having had a very indifferent season with them. He has not currently found a new coaching role.
I’m sure there are many other managers who were mooted in relation to Arsenal and whom I have overlooked here, but some will have been unattainable for a club like ours and others unavailable as realistic options for other reasons.
My point is not to criticise the coaches mentioned above: they are mostly very good. It is to make a plea for judging Arteta by a reasonable standard. If we had had Ancelotti, Bielsa, Benitez etc would we have had a better season in 2020-21? We’ll never know, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as simple as “appoint Ancelotti, get top four” as we’ve seen with his campaign at Everton.
This debate will no doubt rumble on for a long time (probably until Christmas, by which time we will know whether we are properly competitive under Arteta or whether it’s time for a change), but the comparison with other “might have been” Arsenal managers is an interesting diversion in the mean time.