After the long reign, one of the longest reigns in English football history, comes the long goodbye. Between now and the end of the season, whether that concludes with a trip to Lyon for the Europa League final, the applause will greet Arsene Wenger every time he takes to the dugout as Arsenal manager.
There are many Arsenal fans who can’t recall a time when someone other than Wenger was sat in their team’s dugout. The Frenchman arrived in North London 22 years ago and revolutionised both Arsenal and the English game as a whole. The Premier League in its current form, with all its modernities and cutting edge practices, owes a lot to Wenger.
Now, the search is on for his successor. Candidates have been put forward, with Carlo Ancelotti, Mikel Arteta, Luis Enrique, Thomas Tuchel and Patrick Vieira, among others, all linked with the job. Amid all the conjecture, a common narrative thread can be found, though – most believe Arsenal must look to the long term. ‘Stability’ has become a buzzword.
However, is it realistic to expect that after the 22-year reign of Wenger, Arsenal will shift seamlessly into another managerial era? Keep in mind that this was Manchester United’s way of thinking after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. They handed David Moyes a six-year contract, only for the Scot to last just 10 months in the position.
It’s unrealistic to expect any manager, regardless of their quality, to cope with the pressure that comes with operating at the elite level of the sport, as Arsenal are. Even Pep Guardiola, the great that he is, only ever lasts a few years at any one club, leaving Barcelona after four seasons in charge and Bayern Munich after three. His current contract at Manchester City only takes him to the end of next season.
Planning for the long term often sacrifices the short term, and that’s something Arsenal cannot afford right now. The Gunners need someone who can get immediate results with a squad of players who are much better than they have shown over the past two seasons. They also need someone who can overhaul the culture of the whole club, dispelling the malaise that has set in at the Emirates Stadium under Wenger. Whoever they appoint must start on these tasks straight away.
Football has changed in the days since Wenger’s appointment at Arsenal back in the late 1990s. Without success in the short term, a manager at the top level will be denied the opportunity to achieve anything in the long term. In the post-Wenger era, Arsenal must accept that, in a managerial sense, they will become just every other club.
The Gunners will, most likely, hire and fire a number of managers over the next decade or, such is the nature of the modern game. Look at how Man Utd have run through Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and now Jose Mourinho in the five years since Ferguson exited the building.
This isn’t to say that Arsenal will necessarily suffer the strife Manchester United have of late. Manchester City have won the Premier League title in three of the last seven seasons, but they have done so under three different managers – Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola. In terms of titles and trophies, Chelsea have been English football’s most successful team in the 15 years since Roman Abramovich’s takeover and they have had 12 different managers over that time.
The infrastructure put in place at the Emirates over the past six months or so should stand them in good stead. Arsenal won’t be as dependant on one man as they were under Wenger, with de facto director of football Sven Mislintat overseeing the direction of the club. It’s a very European model and will surely help the Gunners transition into life after Wenger.
For years, Arsenal have been an exception to the rule. Their stability was seen as an antidote to the fickleness witnessed elsewhere in the sport. That will change after the summer and Arsenal, as a club, must get comfortable with that. They might become like every other elite club, but isn’t that what they wanted all along?