2:44 PM GMT
Ian DarkeESPN.com writer
- Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, is ESPN lead soccer voice in the United States. He has covered the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League since 1982, and has one of the world’s most recognizable soccer voices.
Arsenal are taking their time. The pace of change is glacial.
They could have jumped straight in to get Carlo Ancelotti after he was fired by Napoli on Tuesday. But the inside word from ESPN sources is that for all his pedigree, the 60-year-old Italian is not high on the Gunners’ wish list. It’s a surprise. On the face of it, the old charmer seems a good fit at a club that likes to think it has class and style.
Over 1,000 matches and 20 trophies — including a league and cup double at Chelsea and three European crowns — speaks of a coach who knows how to operate at a big club. Then again, Ancelotti has lost his job at both Bayern Munich and Napoli in recent times, and it’s possible Arsenal have doubts about whether his laid-back style can effect the kind of transformation they need. This is a club that consistently finished in the top four and were Champions League regulars, yet they’re now slumming it on Thursday nights in the Europa League for a third successive season.
So if not Ancelotti, then who? Especially bearing in mind that a lot needs to change at Arsenal.
The club looks flimsy, failing to record a single clean sheet in their past 13 games. A fruitless search for the major central defensive signing they needed ended with an emergency deadline deal for the error-prone David Luiz. And where is the steel in midfield? Lucas Torreira does not look the answer, Matteo Guendouzi is gifted but raw and Granit Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy after his ill-tempered tantrum when substituted against Crystal Palace.
Up front, Arsenal will get goals with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and the emerging Gabriel Martinelli. But ninth place, seven points back from the top four, is about as good as they have been. So who can change the mood music and add the confidence, consistency and intensity that Arsenal lack?
Sources have told ESPN that Marcelino is in the frame. He did a good job at Valencia but would be new to the Premier League. Mikel Arteta, the ex-Gunner (2011-16) who is Pep Guardiola’s sidekick at Man City, is much admired by the Arsenal hierarchy and was close to being appointed before Unai Emery landed the post. But he’s never been a No. 1, so it’s a punt to believe he could turn the tide in his first big job. (That said, Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane seemed to manage at Barca and Real Madrid, respectively, albeit with rather better players and a club structure that was rock-solid around them.)
Current interim boss Freddie Ljungberg is presumably in the frame for the full-time job, though he too would be a managerial novice. Elsewhere, Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs connections will surely rule him out as a potential leader at the home of hated rivals. A better fit would be Patrick Vieira, who was a top Arsenal player (1996-2005) and now has a bit of managerial experience in America and France.
Whoever it is will need to bring the inspiration. The budget is limited, so the new coach will need to extract a far better tune out of the available squad. That would mean getting the underperforming Mesut Ozil back to his old creative excellence, or figuring out how to off-load him and work without. Some George Graham-style sessions to organise that leaky defence would be a good start, too. Whoever gets the gig will have their work cut out.
Watch this space, but don’t expect anything to happen quickly. Arsenal want to get it right this time. They can’t afford not to.