Watching Arsenal in the Champions League is much akin to going to an extremely good strip club (I’d imagine). They are sexy and exciting, exotic and enticing, and yet after you’ve spent a good deal of money to watch them for an hour and a half, you are likely to be left achingly frustrated.
Arsenal’s 2-0 win and 3-3 aggregate defeat at the hands of Monaco could not more perfectly sum up Arsène Wenger’s post-Highbury tenure.
The 3-1 loss in the first leg was an example of all the issues that have plagued his Arsenal side since 2005. Sloppy defending, tactical naivety and the missing of golden chances gave the Gunners little hope of overturning the deficit in the return leg. Yesterday, we saw the other Arsenal. Slick, attacking football. Pace, dynamism and greater solidity.
It has to be said that this latter Arsenal is the one that shows up more often than not. The good Arsenal win enough games to keep themselves in the top four. The good Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2014 and might do so again this season. The bad Arsenal crash out of the Champions League every year, and fail to win the crucial games that would make them true title contenders.
The club’s fans are divided. When Arsenal are winning games we hear a lot less clamour, but it’s widely accepted that a fairly large portion of Gunners are itching for a change in management. They’re tired of Arsène’s repeated failings at the very highest level, and believe a fresh approach is needed. The club will never sack Wenger. The Frenchman has carte blanche. Nevertheless, at the end of this season he will have only two remaining on his contract. At that point, he is almost certain to move on.
Rather than bring up the tired debate as to whether he deserves those two more years or whether he should go sooner, we’ve chosen to look at the candidates that might replace him. The Arsenal job is an incredibly attractive one. New stadium – paid for; the highest level of facilities; squad loaded with talent; patient board; patient fans. Managers will be lining up around the block for the job. But who meets the criteria?
The Bould Choice – Steve Bould
Assistant Managers are like butlers. When there’s a murder in a stately home everyone says, “what about the butler?” When there’s a managerial vacancy, everyone says, “what about the Assistant Manager?” A former Arsenal centre back, Bould is in his third season as Wenger’s deputy, before which he managed the Arsenal U18 side to two league titles and an FA youth cup. On paper, the man is qualified. He knows the club, he knows the players and he should be able to maintain Arsenal’s current footballing philosophy. But we don’t know much about him as a coach, or manager. He rarely faces the media, rarely gets up to give orders to the players (is this Arsène’s doing?) and has never spoken of any ambition to one day be the main man. His ability to attract high profile signings would also be a serious doubt.
Captain Obvious – Theirry Henry
Thierry Henry: The Arsenal legend is doing his coaching badges and working with the Arsenal academy while he gets paid inordinate sums to be cooler and more urbane than Jaime Carragher on Sky. Nothing would delight Arsenal fans more than if he were to one day become the manager, and it seems likely at some point. In two years, however? Probably a touch early for Thierry. Also, of course, there’s no guarantee that he will be a good coach. His next few years working with the youth players should help determine that. Can you shrug and grimace a young a player into improving? We shall see.
The Ice Man – Dennis Bergkamp (+ Frank De Boer?)
Another former Arsenal striker that the fans would delight in seeing as their manager. The Dutchman has been Frank De Boer’s assistant at Ajax for a few years now, and by all accounts has been a success in the role. Like Henry, Bergkamp has spoken of his desire to one day return to Arsenal in some capacity, but given his aversion to flying it is hard to see him being more than an assistant again. These days, it is surely unworkable for the manager of a team the size of Arsenal not to be able to get on a plane. Last season the team flew back from an away game with Norwich, for heaven’s sake.
What’s more likely is that Arsenal pick up Bergkamp and Frank De Boer and bring them over as a pair. Hell, maybe Director of Football Marc Overmars can come back too. This way, Bergkamp becomes influential but in a familiar role, De Boer gets a crack at a club at the very top level and Arsenal retain their possession-based attacking philosophy. It all seems to make sense, other than that De Boer is a risk having only ever managed in Holland. He also doesn’t look like he will last another two years at Ajax, which means he may have started a new job relative recently by the time Arsène finally hangs up his puffer coat.
- Bergkamp alone 2/10
- De Boer + Bergkamp: 6/10
The Philosopher – Pep Guardiola
To footballing philosophy what Wenger is to footballing economics. A friend of Arsène, Pep came to observe the Arsenal manager’s training sessions while his own coaching career was in its infancy. Guardiola has never managed in England, and it must be an ambition. Timing will be of the essence, here. If and when he declares that he is available, he can almost literally pick the team he wants to manage. Only Stoke might say no as they are deliriously happy with Mark Hughes, for some reason. Abramovic tried to get Pep before Mourinho was re-hired. Manchester City tried to nab him before having to settle for Pellegrini. But Arsenal might appeal in that they are a slightly bigger challenge. There is massive unfulfilled potential that the Catalan will feel he can unlock. London will be attractive too, mostly because it doesn’t look like the back of a fridge, innit.
Cholo – Diego Simeone
The aggressive Argentinian looks this week like he will be signing an extension with Atletico Madrid, which is good news for Arsenal fans if they want to see him replace Arsène in 2017. Simeone has worked absolute wonders at Atleti, transforming the club from a crumbling, old-world ruin into a modern powerhouse, and in less time than it took Stalin to industrialize Russia. Winning La Liga and coming to within minutes of sealing the Champions League in the same season were astonishing achievements, but it is the fact that he is the antithesis to Wenger that makes him so attractive to some. Where Arsène is quiet, Diego is loud. Where Arsène lets players decide for themselves, Cholo doles out precise instructions. Where Arsène focuses on attacking, Simeone builds from the back. The real question is, would Simeone adapt his tactics and outlook at a club that has less of an underdog status? Or would he need to transform Arsenal into Atleti 2.0 in order to be successful? An intriguing proposition, either way.
The German Options – Jürgen Klopp / Joachim Löw
Klopp is a firebrand. His Dortmund side have been in trouble this season, but largely they have played wonderfully entertaining football on a relatively small budget. Bayern may be utterly dominant right now, but they spent a lot of money to squash Klopp’s revolution after he took two titles from them in 2011 and 2012. What may be especially attractive about him to Arsenal fans is that he has reached a recent Champions League final – something Arsène Wenger hasn’t come close to since 2006. The key doubts here would be that A) his ability to motivate is paramount to Klopp. Can he do that as successfully in a second language? B) Will he be available in 2017? He seems likely to leave Dortmund for a new challenge before then.
Joachim Löw is an interesting, outside choice. For a decade he bounced around the fringes of German, Austrian and Turkish football before rising to prominence as Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistant with the German national team at World Cup 2006. He went on to become the manager, and of course, won the World Cup last summer in Brazil. Many thought he would step down after that crowning achievement, but Löw has retained his position, possibly wanting to follow up with a win at the European Championships in 2016. If he resigns after that, he will be in a nice position to take a year out before the Arsenal gig becomes available. Plays sexy football, can get the best from Ozil (should he still be around by then), a calm, suave figure who would maintain Arsenal’s ethos? The longer I go on, the more interesting this sounds.
- Klopp: 5/10
- Löw: 7/10
So, that’s our take on the matter. What do you think? Are any of these options the right one? Do you have someone else in mind? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter.