Unai Emery’s team is finally starting to progress, with consecutive wins last week and some overdue momentum, but away from the pitch Arsenal are as directionless as ever before.
The news earlier this week that Monchi has turned down Arsenal’s offer to be technical director, choosing to return to Sevilla instead, leaves their year of internal turmoil and turnover still unsuccessfully resolved. The sense that the club is still muddling its way through endures.
The reason that this is significant is that Arsenal were confident until very late in the day that they had secured the signing of Monchi from Roma. And that is why his late decision to reject them and return to Sevilla instead hurt so much. For Monchi it was a personal decision as much as a sporting one: Sevilla is his home and he wanted to go back. But it leaves Arsenal lost again, having failed to appoint their new technical director and wondering where to turn next.
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This marks the continuation of the state Arsenal have been in all season, since Wenger was encouraged to step aside, and before Ivan Gazidis, the man who oversaw that transition, decided not to stick around for the aftermath and go and run AC Milan instead.
Back in November, after Gazidis left, Arsenal decided to create a new technical director role. The idea was that Raul Sanllehi would appoint someone before the end of 2018, who would oversee recruitment, the academy and the football side of the club. They could add more football expertise to a management team that sorely needed it.
The early favourite for the role was Sven Mislintat, the head of recruitment who arrived from Borussia Dortmund in November 2017, back when Wenger and Gazidis were still in place. Mislintat had been in charge of signings in 2018 and had impressed in that role. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Sokratis Papastathopoulos had settled quickly into the first team while Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi, picked up on the cheap from Lorient, were astute signings.
But in fact, Mislintat was surprisingly overlooked for the technical director role. After the departure of Gazidis, who had brought him to Arsenal, he was short on allies and had not built his own power base at the club. Having been passed over for this promotion, Mislintat left the club last month.
Mislintat was Arsenal’s third major departure in nine months, after Wenger and Gazidis, and still left Sanllehi looking for a new technical director for the club. Monchi had been popular for his work with Sevilla and Roma and was the leading external candidate.
The others in the frame for the role were two old colleagues of Sanllehi from Barcelona: Andoni Zubizaretta, who was Barcelona’s technical director from 2010 to 2015, overseeing the signings of Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, and who was now at Marseille. And Roberto Fernandez, another former Barca player who had been a director there from 2015 to 2018.
Then there was Edu, the midfielder of the Wenger era, who has been working for the Brazil national team recently and was under strong consideration for the role. And Marc Overmars, who played for Arsenal in the late 1990s and was is technical director at Ajax, where he had overseen the club’s revival in European football. But just this month he has signed a new long-term deal to stay in Amsterdam.
But now Arsenal have to consider going back to these candidates as they attempt to fill position. But there is a bigger question here than simply which well-paid football executive they are going to appoint. And that is what direction the club is meant to be going in. Without owners as ambitious as Liverpool and Manchester City, and without the experience of Wenger and Gazidis, the whole enterprise currently looks adrift.
There is a view is that the club lacks leadership or any sense of what it actually needs. With no clear plan, the club has been left making things up as they go along and is now finding that they are struggling to get other people to buy into it. Because until they know from the top what they want to be, and where they want to go, then how can they persuade anyone else to help them get there?
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