(This post originally appeared on Sabotage Times)
I can’t remember Arsenal before Arsene Wenger; the manager and club are intertwined in my head. Sadly, after 18 years in charge, there’s a growing feeling amongst the support that this should be his final season. This campaign promised so much, but we now face a familiar fight for fourth place. We’re only a couple of players away from being true challengers, but that’s been the case for years now, at some point there needs to be a change.
Wenger’s contract expires at the end of this season, and he’s yet to commit to the new deal on the table. All good things eventually end and if he does decide to leave, lifting the FA Cup would be a fitting way to end his era. As Manchester United are proving, it’s crucial to make the right decision when appointing a successor to an outgoing club legend, so here’s a look at some of the candidates that could potentially replace Arsenal’s best ever manager.
Dragan who? The former captain of the Yugoslavian national team, he played under Arsene during his time in Japan and is the boss’ preferred choice. Back in 2011, Wenger said: “I would love Stojkovic to be my successor… Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football.” That’s wonderful in theory, but Stojkovic has only managed in Japan, and Alex Ferguson has shown that the incumbent is not necessarily the best person to choose their own replacement. His appointment could be a revelation, but it also has the potential to be a Moyes-style disaster.
The ‘continuity’ choice – Bould is the current assistant manager and is largely credited with the defensive solidity shown over the last year or so. He also knows the club inside out, having spent 11 years here as a player and had a period in charge of the youth team. There’s little to suggest he deserves the opportunity to step up though.
Arsenal are reportedly stepping up their efforts to recreate the German national team this summer with moves for Julian Draxler and Lars Bender, so why not get the manager as well? The Sunday Times named Löw as one of the candidates to replace Wenger last year. He knows how to get the best out of Mesut Özil and Lukas Podolski, and his Germany play in thrilling fashion, but they do have a habit of falling with the finish line in sight. There are also question marks over his club managerial record.
Bizarrely, you can get odds as low as 10/1 with some bookmakers for Guardiola to be the next Arsenal manager. The best manager of a generation, his Barcelona proved that sport can indeed be art and Bayern seem intent on shattering every Bundesliga record in his first season there. He won 14 in four years at Barça and is on course for the treble at Bayern. He’s the fantasy option; it’s not going to happen.
The Telegraph reports that Rodgers is drawing admiring glances from the Arsenal board, as it dawns on everyone that Liverpool might actually win the league this year. This is another one that almost certainly won’t happen. Remember Liverpool’s response to our bid for Suarez? They won’t be too receptive to an approach for the man behind their revival.
If anyone could be Arsenal’s own Guardiola – a managerial novice steeped in the club’s traditions, ready to inspire them to a new era of glorious success – it would be Dennis Bergkamp. Arguably the most important signing in Arsenal history, he’s adored by the fans and his recent memoir makes it clear that he’s a student of the game as well. Unfortunately, his well-documented aversion to flying probably means he’ll never be a manager of a top-level club, but he has said that he’d like to join the coaching staff in the future. Imagine being a young striker, getting tips from the maestro himself. Get him back ASAP.
The Italian has a history of exceeding expectations and getting the best out of his squad. Capable of building teams that play sensational football, as anyone who saw his strikerless Roma team (a style adopted and tweaked to era-defining success by Barcelona and Spain) will attest to. Currently out of work after being sacked by Zenit, he might not be a big enough name to satisfy fans, but would nevertheless be an intriguing choice.
According to the venerable Richard Keys, creator of one of the internet’s best blogs, Roberto Mancini is the answer. The question isn’t who would get into a fight with their own players, or how do you finish 11 points behind a Man United side with Tom Cleverley and Ashley Young, so you’d have to assume we’ll pass on the former Man City manager.
A popular manager with a track record of developing young players, a commitment to attacking football and tactically adept, Martinez seems to tick all the boxes. Most impressive is his refusal to work within limitations. Look at the refreshing way his Everton team (and his former Wigan side) attack the big teams away from home, instead of trying to minimise damage. He’s thriving at Everton and gives the impression he would be more than comfortable at a higher level.
Klopp would be the perfect replacement for Wenger. His Dortmund side play at electrifying pace, full of adventure and energy, and they charmed all of Europe on their way to a valiant defeat in last year’s Champions League final. Like Martinez, he refuses to be bound by financial limitations or intimidated by status, but he’s also a proven winner. Dortmund were convincing Bundesliga champions in 2011 and 2012, despite Bayern’s array of talent and huge wealth. He also shares Arsene Wenger’s penchant for developing a team over time, though he’s not quite as idealistic, which isn’t a criticism of the German.
He seems happy at Dortmund, but the chances of further success there are slim with Bayern now so dominant. It doesn’t help that they keep taking his best players either. Arsenal have a talented young squad, a shiny new stadium and all the money – it’s a tantalising opportunity for an ambitious manager. If Wenger does go, CEO Ivan Gazidis’ next move should be to call Klopp and give him a decision to make.