Whoever gets the Arsenal job will have an easy time of it, at least for a season or two. That’s the view of our football editor Dave Marshall.
Historically, it’s the Arsenal way to give managers a chance, allowing them to bed in, get up to speed and slowly build their teams. Both Terry Neil and George Graham were given time at Arsenal, and it is likely that Arsene Wenger would also have enjoyed that luxury, even had he not brought them almost instant success by winning the Premier League in only his second season in charge.
That is not to underestimate the task at hand, however. The new incumbent will need to be comfortable working within the new coaching, scouting and recruitment structure implemented by Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis. With former director of football at Barcelona Raul Senllehi installed as head of football operations, Huss Fahmy negotiating contracts, Darren Burgess in charge of the medical and sports science department, and Jens Lehman as first team coach, the new manager will not have carte blanche to do as he pleases. He will need to leave his ego at the door and be flexible enough to work within a fairly rigid framework. More flamboyant characters need not apply.
Stronger competition and a lack of Champions League football will also pose a challenge, both in terms of attracting top talent and retaining the club’s best players. In practice, it could mean having to pay over the odds for players, in order to compensate them for foregoing elite competition. That is not something one can imagine Stan Kroenke doing willingly. It seems the new manager may need to be a bargain-spotter of sorts, or a moulder of young talent, but if he can emulate Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool recruitment team in that regard the fans will no doubt be happy.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the new manager will be addressing the club’s notoriously unreliable defence. Quite how Arsene Wenger never managed to sort out that problem in the fourteen years since the club’s last Premier League success is one of football’s great mysteries. Having tried countless combinations and permutations, a persistent susceptibility to crosses, fallibility under pressure, and individual howlers were never fully exorcised, and the new manager will have his task cut out rectifying those issues. The hard part will be to do it without turning Arsenal into a counter-attacking team, which would likely happen under coaches like Massimo Allegri or Diego Simeone, and which would run counter to one of Arsene Wenger’s greatest legacies – the philosophy of attractive, attacking football.
One positive facing the new manager will be fans’ relatively low expectations following years of Premier League famine. Unlike David Moyes and Louis van Gaal who followed on the heels of Sir Alex Ferguson’s record run of league titles, a top-four finish will likely satisfy the Arsenal faithful, and would represent tangible progress given the backward steps the club has taken over the last several years. Only once that task has been accomplished might they begin to set their sights higher and put the new man under pressure.