I guess I knew that at some point in my #ChallengePaul series someone would test me with an Arsenal related question. It was kind of inevitable. However the question that came was more tricky than I would have liked. But life is far more fun when it is made interesting, so here goes.
“Careful what you wish for” is the first thought that springs to mind when I think about life after Wenger. I am so old school Arsenal that I not only remember the days of Graham, and “one nil to The Arsenal, but I also remember Howe, O’Neill, and even Bertie Mee. So I am one of those fans that really does remember life when we were not very good.
As an Arsenal fan who would say that the greatest day of my entire life was May 26th, 1989, I remember why that night meant so flipping much. We had not won the league in nearly two decades, we were not even close, we played rubbish football, and had a rubbish team. But we were still the Arsenal and still started every season believing that this was our year. It never was, well not until that beautiful Friday night in Liverpool. So the point I am making here is that, under Arsene we as Arsenal fans are so seriously spoilt. We have never had it so good, never. So what life will be like after is anyones guess. This does not mean we should not have a change, at some point, just that we should be mindful of history.
So when that day comes and we move into life after Wenger, what will it look like. The first thing is that whoever comes next they are going to be under far more pressure than Arsene ever was. The expectation level will be a lot higher. The excuses file will be almost empty. You see what so many fans appear to choose to forget is that Mr Wenger did more for Arsenal Football Club than any manager in history. More than just the results on the pitch, he reinvented an entire football club, rebuilt it from top to bottom, and in so many ways we just cannot fathom, even as the most ardent supporters.
So who comes next? Well I believe that Arsene will be the manager of Arsenal through the 2016-17 season. At the end, his current contract ends and I think it has reached the point where it is right for the era to end. And as in life, timing is everything. There are a large number of Managers that won’t be the next Arsenal manager. Even some I would have loved, Pep and Kloop. And those I just could not accept, Jose (#TheFakeOne) or Rafa. But then there are the “Dream team” possibilities that just would not be ready, Henry, Vieira, Bergkamp, Pires. And lastly, those who have missed their chance, Adams or O’Leary. So for me, I do believe it will be an outsider, someone with no Arsenal connection at this point. So let me list three names, Low, Koeman, Allegri. All are status acceptable, success level acceptable, age acceptable, and I firmly believe all would see Arsenal as a dream job.
However, could a possible “dream team” work? Henry & Vieira, or Henry & Bergkamp, as two examples. Well I am not sure. Yes Bergkamp has become a serious, and successful assistant manager at Ajax. Vieira is taking his first steps in New York, and Henry is right at the start of his coaching career. So while I think former players should be involved, and should be involved considerable more in the club, I love the Ajax operational model, I think the timing on Arsene’s departure rules this option out as a good choice, or the right choice.
However there is one possible option open to us, but it really depends on the personalities involved. An experienced manager supported by one, two or even three of those former players. So for me, at this point in the debate, I would like to see Low, with Henry & Bergkamp, or Low with Bergkamp & Vieira. But done in a structure that would have Pires and Henry included. My second choice would be Koeman, with Bergkamp & Henry as his assistant managers, but I have no idea if Koeman and Bergkamp would work together, the dutch are funny folk.
Whatever happens, and however this all plays out, the Arsenal that our next manager inherits is so very different from the one Wenger took on 20 years ago. While money is far less an issue there are two huge challenges that will be seriously difficult to get past. The first is Arsenal’s owner and majority shareholder, the silent one, the unambitious one, the business one, Stan Kroenke. I just don’t like the man. And the second challenge is “expectations”, we must be one of the most over expectant clubs in the world, with a very large exceptionally shallow section of supporters. These two things, far more than having to replace a legend will be hurdles any manager may find hard to overcome.
So life after Wenger is simple a case of “be careful what you wish for”. Yes in so many ways it is easier than other clubs, and certainly easier than in days gone by, but in key areas it is a challenge that only the best will survive or prosper.