A half-empty Emirates Stadium, another tame defeat – it was all too obvious to Arsenal fans, media, pundits, and surely Unai Emery himself what would be coming next after Thursday night’s 2-1 loss at home to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Talk had been growing for some time that Freddie Ljungberg was ready to take over as temporary Arsenal manager, and it didn’t take long after this latest Europa League setback to push the Gunners bosses into the only possible course of action.
With that decision out of the way, what happens next, however, is anyone’s guess.
At the time of writing, even the best-connected sources don’t seem to have a clear indication over who the next Arsenal manager is going to be, with Sky Sports listing five names as being in the frame, with no clear theme among them in terms of their CV, philosophy, or availability.
At one end of the spectrum is Carlo Ancelotti – 60 years old, over 1000 games in a 24-year managerial career, 20 trophies, and, yet, the sense that he is perhaps now a spent force at the highest level.
At the other end, we have Mikel Arteta – 37 years old, never managed a single game of football in his life, but very highly thought of after just over three years as one of Pep Guardiola’s assistants at Manchester City.
Somewhere in between, we have former Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri – an experienced winner with plenty of silverware to his name, but almost all of that with Juventus, the archetypal modern day super club with minimal competition in Serie A and vastly superior resources to any of their rivals. The job could not be more different to the challenge that would await him at Arsenal, while the Italian tactician’s philosophy is far closer to a more well-executed version of the rigid, functional and, well, boring football served up by Emery than it is to anything Arsenal fans became used to under Arsene Wenger.
Also somewhere in the middle there is another vastly different candidate to Allegri in the form of Leicester City’s Brendan Rodgers. Whilst lacking the trophies on Allegri’s CV, he looks a better fit for Arsenal in terms of playing style after some impressive work at Liverpool and Swansea before helping Leicester become genuine top four contenders this season. And yet, that lack of going the distance and picking up major honours in his time at Anfield in particular will probably put any clubs bigger than Arsenal off hiring him.
The names on this shortlist gives a decent idea of the crossroads the north London giants are now at. Do they kid themselves that they’re a big enough name that the likes of Ancelotti and Allegri could realistically thrive in the same way as they have in their previous roles at Europe’s giants? Or do they accept that they’re in a pretty similar situation to Liverpool a few years ago, and place their trust in a long-term vision and philosophy? And even then, is there really an equivalent to Jurgen Klopp available? While there were doubts over Klopp after the way things ended for him at Borussia Dortmund, there is surely no arguing that Rodgers or Arteta are anywhere near being in the same league.
In truth, the closest thing to Klopp right now is Mauricio Pochettino, and hiring him will be nowhere near as straightforward. According to the Telegraph, friends close to the Argentine have warned him against accepting an offer from Arsenal in order to avoid tarnishing his reputation at north London rivals Tottenham, while he’s also being advised that offers from bigger clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich could be more worth waiting for.
Having sacked Emery, who himself now looks with the benefit of hindsight to have been an ill-thought-out appointment by AFC, the club must now once again answer the difficult question of who they are, and who they want to be.
The decision-makers who hired Emery in the first place, and who have recruited so consistently poorly in the transfer market in recent times, do not appear to be the men with the answers to these huge questions. Despite such a toxic atmosphere for so long at Arsenal, there does not seem to be the real sense that Josh Kroenke, Raul Sanllehi or any of the other key figures upstairs are even aware of how bad the mood has got, let alone knowing how to fix it.
At this crucial crossroads in Arsenal’s history, there is simply no sense that there is anyone capable of steering them in the right direction.