There is a new reality in Champions League football, and that’s the best chance of qualifying for the Champions League might come from actually being knocked out of the Champions League. That seems to be the case for Arsenal, as their likely elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich—following Tuesday’s 3-1 home defeat in the first leg—might allow them to focus on finishing in the Champions League qualification places for the rest of the season.
Arsenal has four points to gain on Spurs in the race for fourth position, a spot that, if achieved, will surely keep Wenger at the Emirates for at least one more year. I happen to think he should stay, at least until his contract expires; and not just because finding a new coach after a World Cup could be easier than one year earlier.
The fans who booed the team (or was it the coach?) after Arsenal’s FA Cup defeat at the hands of Blackburn last weekend may only be a vocal minority, but they are being heard. It’s all very well, if a little tasteless, for them to chant ‘Wenger Out’ in minute eight of Saturday’s match against Aston Villa to denote eight years without a trophy, but without an obvious candidate to replace the Frenchman, their argument is weakened.
Thursday’s press reported that ‘Silent’ Stan Kroenke and his board will back Wenger with more funds this summer. That only delays the inevitable, so where will they look when it eventually comes to replacing Wenger? Here are some options they might consider:
From the Premier League: Wenger may be the only French coach still in the top-flight but there is no shortage of talented pretenders who have proved themselves in the division. No, I don’t mean Harry Redknapp: Roberto Martinez and Michael Laudrup both have the potential to move to bigger clubs, while David Moyes has been linked to posts at Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City but Arsenal woud actually be a more suitable fit for the Everton boss, whose ten years at Goodison Park can be characterised by classy behaviour, spending within tight budgets, and falling short when trophies/big prizes are up for grabs. Sounds like the ideal fit.
From France: As soon as he took the job as Lyon coach 18 months ago, Garde, the first French player Wenger signed for Arsenal, has been billed as a potential successor to the job at the Emirates. French publication Chrono Foot suggested Garde is ‘the spiritual son of Pep Guardiola’ (former Lyon player, captain, and youth coach) but Garde claimed Wenger is his mentor. “He is the one who has marked me the most,” said Garde. “His personality, his vision of football deeply affected me and really influences me in my work today.” Garde is not the only Ligue 1 coach who could be considered: Christian Gourcuff, of Lorient, often takes Arsenal youngsters on loan. “I have no privieleged relationship with Arsene Wenger but for sure, we have the same football philosophy and that brings us together,” he told France Football. Rudi Garcia seems to be coming to the end of his cycle at Lille while Daniel Sanchez has impressed with his smart management and attractive style of play at Valenciennes.
From Europe’s Top Table: Every summer is billed as a potential managerial merry-go-round but this year it could really happen: Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti might be having a job-swap (claims Le Parisien) though the Portuguese has said his heart is set on a return to England. Piers Morgan has backed Jupp Heynckes to manage Arsenal next season—which would appear to kill off his chances while earlier this week, ex-Monaco chief executive Tor-Kristian Karlsen backed Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti to succeed at any club. “Spalletti easily the best coach (in the real sense of the word) I’ve ever come across,” he wrote on Twitter. “The way he sets up his teams, the way he works on the training ground, the movement and cohesion of his teams, improvement of players… He would be a great fit for most European top clubs. I wouldn’t think twice about it if I were in charge of any top club.” After the World Cup, you could probably add Jogi Loew and Louis van Gaal to that list too.
From the ‘Arsenal Family’: While appointing someone with a rich history at Arsenal might appease the fans, there is a strange anomaly you notice with Wenger’s former players. Very few have actually gone into management. Unlike Sir Alex Ferguson’s former charges at Manchester United (and yes, he has been in charge there for longer) Wenger’s ex-players rarely make the transition to the dug-out. David Platt tried, and seems happier as a number two (to Roberto Mancini); Paul Merson and Tony Adams were flops; Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp are part of coaching set-ups, and at the beginning of their journeys, as is Oleg Luzhny, in his first season in charge of Tavriya Simferopol.
From Left-Field: This one always seemed more likely when David Dein was around, as you imagine he would be happier to back his instinct even if it flies in the face of the majority. Back in February 2011, Wenger admitted that he would like the current coach of Grampus Eight, Dragan ‘Piksi’ Stojkovic, to replace him at the Emirates Stadium. “I’d love Piksi to be my successor,” he told Vecernje Novosti newspaper. “There are a hundred reasons for that. His football philosophy is almost identical to mine. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have his teams playing attacking football with many passes. He has done that, showing he will be a great coach. I told him that if he could transmit his football imagination to his players he would fly high.” If that move does happen, then Wenger’s successor will have followed the same unlikely path that he did.