Mikel Arteta has not been in situ in the hot seat at Arsenal for a full calendar year yet, but the knives are sharpening for the Spanish manager after the latest nadir of the Gunners’ record-breakingly poor season - a 1-0 home defeat to struggling Burnley.
The loss saw a VAR-assisted red card for hot-headed midfielder Granit Xhaka, and his midfield colleague Mo Elneny could have well followed him for a similar rush of blood to the head only to get an unexpected reprieve from VAR. As if the collective loss of discipline and control was not enough, Burnley’s only goal was scored by an Arsenal man - the own goal by talismanic striker and captain Pierre Emerick Aubameyang means that he has now scored as many Premier League goals for Burnley as Arsenal this season.
Things are going from bad to worse for Arteta, who led the stumbling club to an 8th place finish in the league last season after the Covid shutdown but triumphed in the FA Cup. Arsenal currently sit in 15th place after 12 games with only 4 victories - not the place the club expected to be, with high hopes they could chase a top 4 berth and secure a return to the Champions League, a competition they have not featured in since the 2016/17 season when their legendary French boss Arsene Wenger still ruled the roost.
But a return to European football’s top table looks further away than ever. The club’s worst start to a league season since 1959 leaves them looking down, not up, and begs the question of whether the board might decide to dispense with the services of their rookie manager. That might seem harsh with him yet to complete a full season in charge - and having won a trophy (two if you count the Community Shield) but the Premier League is a harsh, unforgiving place.
If they do decide to go in a different direction though, who could be heading for the hotseat in his place? Here are some options.
The Italian manager is probably as close to guaranteed success as you can get from currently available managers, as he is still a free agent having left Juventus, after leading them to five Serie A titles and four Italian cup victories.
The question is less “would Arsenal want Allegri?” than “would Allegri want Arsenal?”. After having only the best during his time at Juventus, whom he turned into the most dominant club side in Italy, would be settle for scrapping for a Europa League place (at best) in his first season or two at a team in transition. The truth is he can afford to sit back and wait. Having been linked in the past with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea he might opt to keep enjoying his sabbatical and wait to see if a better offer comes along. If the Gunners can tempt him, though, what a coup it would be!
This might be a case of “right man, right time” as the Swiss boss has just been sacked by Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Ultimately it did not work out in Dortmund for the man they call “The Brain” for his tactical acumen, but his young side played some thrilling attacking football at times, and he re-established the club as the main challengers to Bayern Munich after a few rocky post-Jurgen Klopp years. He would, at least, bring a bit of excitement to the Emirates Stadium after months of Arteta’s safety-first style.
Okay, this one is unlikely. Currently unemployed after his glorious spell at Tottenham Hotspur turned sour, the Argentine manager is unlikely find his next job at their arch rivals Arsenal. The man himself as spoken of such rivalries before, once ruling himself out of the job at FC Barcelona due to his previous association - as a player and manager - with their city rivals Espanyol.
If he could be tempted, though - and if Arsenal fans can get over the bitter sting of being run by a man once in charge of their greatest rivals - he would be a good fit. His teams play an exciting, attacking, aggressive style and his well known faith in youth could prove a boon for a club with a clutch of promising youngsters breaking into the first team.
Arsenal have gone for Premier League rookies with their first two post-Wenger appointments. Unai Emery had plenty of experience as a manager but had never managed in the Premier League before, while this is Arteta’s first experience of a top job anywhere, having cut his teeth as one of Pep Guardiola’s assistant coaches at Manchester City.
If Arsenal want to go for experience with their next appointment (if they do sack Arteta) then they don’t come more experienced than Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard has not solely managed in the Premier League, of course, with La Liga spells with Valencia and Real Madrid under his belt, and is currently managing Dalian Yefeng in China. Best known for his time at Liverpool, he also managed Chelsea and Newcastle United in the league, and would probably be excited by the challenge of getting Arsenal back to the top - particularly because he would have much more control over transfers than he had at Newcastle, if given the same amount of influence as Arteta holds currently.
This may be even a longer shot than Pochettino, but honestly, can we really rule it out? The Frenchman has not returned to the dugout since his Arsenal departure in 2018, but has never officially confirmed his retirement. Since then he has done some work as a pundit, released a second autobiography and taken up an advisory role with FIFA - could he be tempted by a return to management with the club he loves?
Let’s face it, the post-Wenger era has hardly been a roaring success, maybe it’s time for the Gunners to go back to the future and give Wenger another go.