Arsene Wenger is stepping down from Arsenal at the end of the season after 22 seasons in charge of the club.
Few will argue that it isn’t time and many will say that Le Professeur, perhaps, remained at the Emirates longer than he should have. Arsenal has not won the Premier League since 2003-2004, the famed “Invincibles” season that saw the team go undefeated for all 38 games. While the team is in the Europa semifinals, Arsenal is set to miss out on the top four for a second straight season. The last time that happened in successive years was in 1995 and 1996, the final two campaigns before the Wenger era began. It seems to be a natural bookend for Wenger’s tenure.
But even if the split between the club and manager was one best for both parties, Wenger leaves a daunting legacy behind and a Herculean task for his successor to live up to at the helm of the Gunners. In his time at Highbury and then the Emirates, the Frenchman captured three Premier League crowns, seven FA Cups and helped establish Arsenal as a perennial Champions League presence.
In looking to replace Wenger, Arsenal must not make the same mistake that Manchester United did when Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Jose Mourinho is the third manager the Red Devils have had in the five seasons since the Scotsman left Old Trafford after 26 seasons after David Moyes and Louis van Gaal failed to assert the kind of presence necessary to maintain success. The steady hand of Alex Ferguson made United a European juggernaut and getting away from that kind of consistency in recent years has seen the Red Devils in the midst of their longest league title drought in 25 years.
With the missteps of their rivals in mind, the Arsenal board’s goal now must be bring in a successor to Wenger who can usher in stability, vision and the will to once again make Arsenal a title contender. Who, then, should the Gunners be looking at to assume control at the Emirates?
Carlo Ancelotti – The Italian has been a winner everywhere he has gone, winning trophies at Juventus, Milan, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern and Chelsea. Now 58, Ancelotti’s silverware cabinet has three Champions League crowns and four league titles. There are few available managers who bring the pedigree that Ancelotti does and he’s a man who knows the Premier League. So why not Ancelotti? Ancelotti comes from the same vintage that Wenger does and his dismissal earlier this season at Bayern came with the suggestion that he was yesterday’s man. Still, Ancelotti would be a safe, if unspectacular, choice to steady the ship and, perhaps, buy time for Arsenal to find a long-term successor.
Thomas Tuchel – Tuchel has been out of work since his dismissal from Borussia Dortmund at the end of last season. His exit wasn’t so much about performance as it was about the disconnect between the 44-year-old former defender and the BVB board. Tuchel wasn’t afraid to publicly call out the bean counters when star players like Mats Hummels and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were sold, even if that meant straining the relationship with the people who could keep him employed. Tuchel got the Dortmund job after his stunning work in getting Mainz promoted, established again as a regular Bundesliga side and even qualifying for Europe with up-tempo, attacking football. He succeeded Jurgen Klopp at BVB and Arsenal would hope that Tuchel would have a similar impact that his predecessor has had at Anfield. Another thing to consider – two of Tuchel’s prized attackers at Dortmund, Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are now at Arsenal. But Arsenal’s newly installed director of recruiting is Sven Mislintat, who held the same position with Dortmund and reportedly had a falling out with Tuchel prior to his departure. The Gunners will have competition for the German with PSG also vying for his services and, perhaps, having the inside track. If Arsenal want to take the logic in moving for Tuchel to the extreme, they could even target wunderkind Hoffenheim gaffer, 30-year-old Julian Nagelsmann.
Patrick Vieira – The stalwart former Arsenal midfielder was a member of that famed Invincibles side and plied his trade for the club for a decade. After three seasons at the helm of the Manchester City reserves, Vieira has been the head coach at the City Football group’s Major League Soccer side, New York City FC since 2016, leading the side to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Eastern Conference. While Vieira would be a nostalgic choice, harkening back to the Gunners’ halcyon days of the early-aughts, the Frenchman might not be far enough along in his coaching career to merit consideration. Yes, getting somebody who can grow into the role might be of paramount importance in the coaching search, but Vieira could represent far too risky a pick and find himself out of his depths quickly. This is probably the same reason why Thierry Henry, now part of the coaching setup under Roberto Martinez with Belgium, won’t merit a serious look, either. That’s not to say that either man won’t eventually end up with the Gunners – both men look to have the potential to be as good off the pitch as they were on it. But like Manchester United did when Ryan Giggs asserted his candidacy for the permanent manager’s role following the departure of David Moyes, Arsenal is apt to steer clear from the wistfulness.
Luis Enrique – Managing at Camp Nou weighs on a manager. It’s not easy. That’s not to say leading a massive club like Arsenal would be a walk in the park, but the former Barcelona gaffer would come in battletested. In his three years at the helm of Barca, the 47-year-old Enrique won the La Liga title twice, the Copa del Rey on three occasions and the 2015 Champions League crown. Out of the game since stepping down from the Barca job last spring, the former Spain international midfielder is reportedly plotting a return to management and the Emirates could represent a tantalizing opportunity for Enrique. Really, he ticks a lot of boxes for Arsenal. He’s young enough to grow into the role, he’s experienced and he’d represent a glamour appointment for the Gunners. Sure, there’s some concern about how quickly he would adapt to the English game, but that would be a minor one. Bringing in a manager of Enrique’s stature would represent a big statement of intent for Arsenal.