The terrifying scale of Arsenal’s collapse against Chelsea at the weekend has led to a strange sequence of events at the North London club.
First there was the highly unusual news that Arsene Wenger, having spoken to the more obsequious TV cameras, would not be facing the rigorous and searching written press after the 6-0 shellacking at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal then announced on Monday that Wenger would not be holding a press conference ahead of Tuesday’s game against Swansea City either, leading some to speculate that something was rotten in the state of Islington.
A damaging draw against Swansea - with Mathieu Flamini scoring a comical own goal in injury time - has done little to dampen speculation about the manager's long-term future at the club.
Reports are contradictory on the matter: prior to the Swansea draw The Sun claimed Wenger had “stunned” Arsenal by saying he will not sign a new contract until the end of the season, despite the fact that it has been on the table for several weeks; while the Mirror claimed the Frenchman is ready to commit, but only for two years instead of the mooted three.
However, multiple papers suggest the club are making contingency plans for a future without their manager, whether he signs his new contract or not. That's left us in a strange situation where, just days after a glut of tributes to the man who changed English football, the possibility of Wenger leaving Arsenal has never seemed more real.
So who would be in the running to replace Wenger, should he actually leave Arsenal? Here we look at nine of the possible candidates - and we put forward our perfect man for the job.
If you thought Sir Alex Ferguson hand-picking David Moyes was a bad move, just wait to see who Arsene Wenger has in store for Arsenal. In February 2011, Wenger said of his former captain at Nagoya Grampus Eight: "I would love Stojkovic to be my successor, there are a hundred reasons for that. Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have teams playing attacking football with many passes. He has done that, showing he will be a great coach.” Stojkovic, who has made regular trips to London to watch Arsenal train, won the league title in Japan when managing Grampus Eight but has been out of work since 2013.
Another Wenger acolyte, Garde, along with Patrick Vieira, had the honour of being one of the first two signings of the Wenger era at Arsenal, joining the club even before the formal arrival of the new manager in 1996. His impact was rather less stellar than his compatriot’s of course – Garde retired after three seasons affected by injury - but he has built a promising reputation as a coach at Lyon, taking charge of the academy before being named first-team boss in 2011, and winning the Coupe de France in 2012. He is now pitting his wits against Juventus in the quarter-finals of the Europa League while Lyon battle for third place in Ligue 1.
Bould would be the continuity choice as Wenger’s current assistant and the Mirror indicates he will likely make the shortlist if and when the club need a replacement for the Frenchman. However, Bould has done nothing to indicate to a wider audience that he has the credentials for such a plum job; and if he did come into consideration it would be a desperately unambitious move from Arsenal, even if he did impress as manager of the youth team, winning the FA Youth Cup in 2009. On the plus side, Bould does have Arsenal running through his blood, having won three league titles and two FA Cups during his days as an uncompromising centre-back and Tony Adams’ partner in (figurative) crime.
A flight of fancy, perhaps, but Tuesday's Daily Mirror claimed that the Bayern Munich manager would be on Arsenal’s shortlist as a Wenger replacement. Of course he would - the man is arguably the defining coach of the modern era - but it seems hugely unlikely, and absolutely would not happen if Wenger goes this summer. Yet taking charge of Bayern was a left-field choice for the man who revolutionised Barcelona and won 14 trophies in four years at Camp Nou. On top of that, Guardiola might fancy replacing a man he recently described as “one of the best managers in the world”, particularly with the club’s projected increase in spending power in the short term. Desperately unlikely, but Pep has been mentioned in dispatches, so here he is.
Another man mentioned in the Mirror article. Rodgers has been indisputably the manager of the year in the Premier League, transforming Liverpool into a wonderful, dazzling, lethal counter-attacking force with one of the most prolific strike partnerships English football has ever seen. His style of play fits Wenger’s model – indeed it could easily be perceived as an upgrade – and having worked without the huge budgets of his rivals, the perennially optimistic and at times evangelical Rodgers has shown a real aptitude for maximising the resources at his disposal – a key trait for the next Arsenal manager. The problem is that Rodgers is highly unlikely to abandon what he has built at Liverpool, and certainly not this summer.
If Rodgers has been the man to upset the establishment in England, then Atletico Madrid coach Simeone has done the same in Spain. In fact, his feat is even more remarkable when you consider that with nine games of the season remaining, Atleti top the Liga standings ahead of the commercial, cultural and historical behemoths that are Barcelona and Real Madrid. Few thought La Liga was anything but a distant two-horse race, yet Atleti served notice with a Copa del Rey final win over Real last season and Simeone’s astonishing team have improved exponentially again to the extent that they are Spain’s best side at present. Remarkably tenacious, unrelenting in their energetic approach and unshakeable in their formidable mental strength, Simeone has built an intimidating team. As the more observant of you may have noted, these are all qualities Arsenal have been sorely lacking of late.
Another man who fits the bill of implementing attacking football and utilising young players on a budget, Martinez is a hugely popular coach who tasted silverware last season when enjoying a stunning victory as Wigan manager over Manchester City in the FA Cup final. Following impressive starts with Swansea and Wigan, Martinez has continued to embellish his CV with his work at Everton this season, acclimatising immediately to the environment that comes with a bigger club and developing his reputation for innovative solutions and strategies. Martinez is a supreme man manager who seeks to take his players to another level, developing all facets of their play and personality. He also has a reputation for defensive vulnerability, so would suit Arsenal nicely.
While the increasingly irrelevant Serie A continues to look as healthy as Eric Pickles' lunchbox, Conte’s achievements with Juventus still merit immense credit. Though a lengthy suspension related to a match-fixing probe kept him away from the bench for some of the 2012-13 season and brought unwanted headlines, his success in winning Serie A unbeaten the previous season had shown his quality as a coach. Juventus also walked the league in 2013 and this year find themselves 14 points ahead of Roma as well as contesting the Europa League quarter-finals against Lyon. Sent off at the weekend, Conte’s ability to attract a headline might count against him but there is no doubt he is one of the most highly-regarded coaches in Europe at present.
THE PERFECT FIT
Like the one metaphorical monkey who somehow manages to frantically reconstruct the Complete Works of Shakespeare from a smoking typewriter, demonstrating the grandeur of infinity in the process, Klopp presses all the right buttons. His Dortmund team – Bundesliga champions in 2011 and 2012, in the brief window before Bayern Munich became unstoppable – play exciting, modern football at a high velocity; they press relentlessly and break thrillingly. Klopp is also a coach who commits to a team and builds an empire – a trait which could damage Arsenal’s hopes of luring him from Dortmund, but equally gives them comfort he is the right kind of personality to replace a man like Wenger. With a winning, goofy smile and a collection of press-conference one-liners, he already has the English press in his pocket.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
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- Arsene Wenger