Life after Wenger: Who will replace Frenchman at Arsenal?
It could well be Newcastle United's manager Benitez who could serve as the person best placed to move the London club on in their next chapter
The manager Arsenal really require is Arsene Wenger.
Not, it should be said, the 2018 version of Wenger, the manager who sadly overstayed his welcome and oversaw decline, who deserves, for two decades of diligent service, to go out with Europa League glory and Champions League qualification, rather than just a lowest league finish, with a smallest points tally and the worst defensive record of his 22-year reign.
But the 1996 variant of Wenger, a manager who can be both revolutionary and evolutionary, introducing the new and working with the old, unearthing new talents and rejuvenating the players he inherits.
They need a manager with ideas and understanding, who can lend substance and style. Such individuals are few and far between. It is a reason why Wenger, the exotic import who became part of the establishment, is such a one-off.
Arsenal’s difficulties are manifold. If Manchester United present a cautionary tale, yet to fully recover from the departure of a managerial institution, the context is different.
Sir Alex Ferguson bequeathed champions. Wenger may leave a side who have finished below Burnley.
Arsenal’s stock might have slipped with their league position. Would, say, Massimiliano Allegri trade an Uefa Champions League challenge with Juventus for what looks an inferior side in, potentially, another Europa League campaign?
Likewise, talk of Diego Simeone and Luis Enrique may be fanciful.
And yet Arsenal’s recent decline offers an opportunity. They do not look credible champions next season but there is comparatively simple scope for improvement.
Their away record – they have yet to procure a point on the road in 2018 – has been so wretched any successor would surely better it.
The sense is that Wenger’s laissez-faire methods have become a hindrance in his comparative dotage.
A more meticulous replacement ought to bring organisation which, in turn, should produce greater coherence and consistency.
It is a reason why Carlo Ancelotti, the man-manager supreme but a laidback continuity candidate wherever he goes, may not be ideal and grounds to consider the credentials of Rafa Benitez.
The Spaniard’s strategic sense, his micromanagement and tactical obsessiveness may come as the jolt Arsenal need.
His capacity to improve limited players has been apparent in his work at Newcastle United. Given the sense of stasis at the Emirates Stadium, where careers have stalled and potential has gone untapped in recent years, it would be intriguing to see if a manager with attention to detail can conjure the sort of development Jurgen Klopp has engineered in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The reality, too, is that Arsenal’s January business, reuniting head of recruitment Sven Mislintat with his potent Borussia Dortmund charges Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, means they have the attacking ingredients to excel.
There is a logic to both choosing a manager who can configure a deteriorating defence and focusing on reinforcements at the back in the summer transfer market.
Perhaps that counts against an essentially progressive coach like Brendan Rodgers, though he would certainly offer the injection of ideas Arsenal require following a period of sterility.
Certainly the importance of getting the next appointment right, in a way that United did not, should lead them to look at those who have performed with elite clubs.
Monaco’s Leonardo Jardim could be a fine choice whereas Joachim Low’s terrific record with Germany ought to count for less.
Outstandingly as Sean Dyche has done for Burnley, it may not qualify him for such a different job while, although Wenger’s exiled protégés Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Mikel Arteta may have the character, presence and intelligence, a lack of relevant managerial experience makes it harder to envisage Stan Kroenke appointing either.
For much of the second half of his reign, Wenger was the owner’s safe choice, delivering Champions League football on a budget.
Now a cautious investor will be looking for a low-risk choice who can nonetheless revive, reinvigorate and restore the fans’ faith in the club.
Good luck finding him. Had Kroenke been in situ 22 years ago, the 1996 Wenger may have been too radical an appointment to consider.
Arsenal are unlikely to be as bold again, so they could do worse than plump for Benitez.
Updated: April 21, 2018 11:07 AM