Arteta casts shadow over Ljungberg as Arsenal's potential new manager arrives with Man City

Ljungberg Arteta GFX
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Pep Guardiola's assistant returns to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday as leading candidate to replace the sacked Unai Emery

Mikel Arteta believed for more than a week that he was going to be the man to replace Arsene Wenger as Arsenal’s head coach.

The Spaniard was the first person the north London outfit interviewed having whittled down their initial shortlist to eight candidates just over 18 months ago.

Others followed, but throughout the process the general consensus was the the former Gunners captain would be the man to try and fill the void left by Wenger.

But at the last minute there was a change of heart. Ivan Gazidis, Raul Sanellehi and Sven Mislintat were impressed by Unai Emery, who was a late addition to the shortlist following his exit from Paris Saint-Germain.

Suddenly there was a feeling that Arteta - who had never been a head coach before - would be too much of a risk at a time when the club was undergoing huge amounts of change.

And so Gazidis, Sanellhi and Mislintat changed their minds, and it was Emery’s name which was recommended to Stan and Josh Kroenke while Arteta was left disappointed.

There are still some with knowledge of the interview process who feel Arteta would have got the job had he not been the first person to be interviewed by the management group.

But now - less than two years later - the Spaniard is once again in the frame to return to the Emirates Stadium following the dismissal of Emery last month.

Freddie Ljungberg may be in temporary charge and sources at Arsenal continue to suggest the Swede has the club’s full backing to do the job for as long as possible during the search for a replacement.

Freddie Ljungberg Arsenal 2019-20

But there is a growing sense that an appointment could to be made soon given the lack of upturn in performances under Ljungberg, whose admission this week that the club are not yet willing to let him appoint any of his own coaching staff suggests he might not be in the role much longer.

“The club have said I have to wait, so yeah, I can’t do anything at the moment [regarding the coaching staff],” Ljungberg said after Thursday night's Europa League draw with Standard Liege. “I have Per [Mertesacker] but at the same time he is academy manager but he is helping me with coaching. 

“The club has said when they make a decision that’s it, or I am obviously leaving, or maybe then we can do something with the staff. But it is up to the club.” 

Despite turning him down less than two years ago, Arsenal once again view Arteta as a leading candidate, and this weekend the 37-year-old will return to the club he served for five years as a player when Manchester City visit the Emirates.

It is rare that someone steals the spotlight from Pep Guardiola, but it would be no surprise to see more cameras aimed at his assistant when the two teams emerge ahead of kick-off on Sunday afternoon.

Ljungberg will only be a matter of yards away and Arteta’s presence will no doubt be felt by Arsenal’s interim boss in his own technical area.

Arteta has remained silent during the past few weeks, with Guardiola having to field questions about his assistant potnetially swapping the Etihad for the Emirates.

"You can be 45-year-old and believe you’re not ready and 35 and believe you’re ready," said the Manchester City boss in the build up to Sunday games. "Only he knows.

Guardiola Arteta

"But if you ask whether he's ready in his knowledge of the game, as a person, as a professional, then he's ready.

"I’m not a guy that puts a gun to the heads of my staff or players and says what they have to do. We're human beings and everyone has dreams and desires. Hopefully he can stay this season and the next one – as long as possible in this club.

"That would be my dream, but Mikel has his own life and I will never say what he has to do.”

Arteta remains a hugely popular figure at Arsenal, even though there have been wholesale changes at the club since he brought down the curtain on his playing career in north London three years ago.

He signed in the summer of 2011 on transfer deadline day and would go on to captain the club, lifting the FA Cup twice.

During his time in the capital he made a big impression off the pitch, which is why he is being viewed so favourably for the top job, despite never actually having been a head coach himself.

“He is a man who know what he wants, he’s very decisive,” one source told Goal .

Mikel Arteta

“He has high standards and expectations. It’s all about excellence with Mikel and holding people to account. He ran the dressing room when he was at Arsenal.”

The story behind the day Arteta signed from Everton gives a glimpse into his mindset.

With Arsenal having only made their move for the midfielder on the final day of the transfer window, there were several times throughout the afternoon that the deal looked to be on the verge of collapse.

A final agreement between the clubs was eventually reached after Arteta had handed in a transfer request, such was his desire to move to the Emirates.

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But with no time left to negotiate, he simply told Arsenal he would take whatever salary they offered. There were no talks, he just signed the contract to ensure the deal would beat the clock and he would get his move to north London.

Whether that type of attitude is enough to see him get the top job this time around remains to be seen. There are other candidates, Carlo Ancelotti is a possibility, while former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is greatly admired at Emirates Stadium. Patrick Vieira is also being looked at.

But on Sunday it will be Arteta who will be in the spotlight when he steps out into the technical area in north London. Depending on how things pan out in the coming weeks, it could be a sight we soon start to get used to.