Arsene Wenger: Is this the end? - The situation

Crossroads of seismic change facing Arsenal

The power vacuum when Wenger leaves will be exacerbated by a Gunners board apathetic about football

LONDON • It is 21 years since anyone at Arsenal has had to contemplate appointing a manager.

In the summer of 1996, after a fifth-placed finish, Bruce Rioch was shown the door, with no successor in place.

But what the club did have was a vice-chairman steeped in football, a lifelong fan and an expert negotiator.

David Dein had tried to persuade the board to appoint an unknown Frenchman 18 months earlier but his advice was ignored. This time he was not to be denied.

So confident was he in his choice that the club were willing to wait until October for Arsene Wenger's arrival - going through the first couple of months of the season with two different caretaker managers.

Now, with Wenger's time likely coming to an end, everyone is running through the contenders to replace him - Thomas Tuchel, Massimiliano Allegri and Diego Simeone.


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looking despondent as the Gunners were hammered 5-1 by Bayern Munich in their Champions League last-16 first leg tie. With no football nous on the board, the challenge to replace Wenger will be daunting  . PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

It is a plum job - a cash-rich club with a strong squad that has not managed to challenge for the league title in more than a decade and a fan base crying out for a change.

But while the obsession over who can fill Wenger's shoes is understandable, it obscures the real problems.

Dein left in April 2007 and no direct replacement has ever been appointed. Everybody is aware by now of the way Wenger's role has spread beyond that of any other manager in world football.

He controls every detail of the club, from the food in the canteen to the length of grass on the training pitches.

He dictates the transfer targets, the fees, the size of the contracts. It was not always so.

When Dein was at the club, theirs was a true partnership - a partnership of equals, both willing to challenge the other.

He was a constant presence at all levels of the club, as former Arsenal striker Ian Wright put it: "We're talking about a man who goes into the dressing room after every single game, shakes every player by the hand and who knows all the youth team players."

Dein's functions were replaced to a degree but his role was split across numerous executives, none with his footballing nous, his feel for the club, or with the power base to push Wenger to strive for more.

Ivan Gazidis arrived as the chief executive in 2009 - an appointment signed off by the manager. The governance structure has to be questioned when the person supposedly in charge of the day-to-day running of the organisation joins on the say-so of somebody whose job they should be overseeing.

Another American joined as an executive later that year to oversee transfers.

Dick Law has become the focus of much ire from Arsenal fans for the club's supposed dithering over targets and fees.

A GAPING HOLE

We're talking about a man who goes into the dressing room after every single game, shakes every player by the hand and who knows all the youth team players.

IAN WRIGHT, ex-Arsenal striker, feels David Dein, ex-vice-chairman, has been missed.

The summer of 2011 has stuck in the mind. Park Chu Young, Andre Santos, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker arrived as the transfer window closed, following the inevitable and predictable departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri.

It was not a well-planned squad restructure and it is hard to imagine Dein allowing the club's two most creative players to leave within a week of each other without having lined up a proper replacement.

This power vacuum above Wenger goes right up to the owner, Stan Kroenke.

He is rarely at the ground and seems more than happy to let Wenger act as a lightning rod for any criticism. This is an absentee owner with no knowledge or interest in football.

Beneath him Chips Keswick acts as chairman, a man who confesses to being no football expert, and who, when asked about the club's continued failure to get beyond the last-16 in the Champions League, described exasperation from fans as "just noise".

Arsenal's failures have remained eerily similar since 2008. The common factor is the manager. Would any other club of a similar stature really allow this kind of stasis to have continued for so long?

  • Who is up for the hot seat?


  • THOMAS TUCHEL, 43
    BORUSSIA DORTMUND

    His style of aggressive pressing mirrors that of former Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp. The German's focus on bringing youth players through the ranks is also similar to that of Arsene Wenger's.

    He speaks perfect English and could be an ideal option when his contract expires next year.



    DIEGO SIMEONE, 46
    ATLETICO MADRID

    The Argentinian is perhaps the best replacement for Wenger and could leave as early as this summer.

    He has been a revelation at Atletico, winning La Liga in 2013-14 and taking them to two Champions League finals in the last three years.

    However, he has revealed that he wants to coach Inter Milan in the future.



    MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI, 49
    JUVENTUS

    Apart from having title-winning experience, Allegri has been praised for his fluid tactics and calm disposition.

    If Arsenal are looking for a seamless transition, perhaps the Juventus boss is a good candidate.

    He took over from Antonio Conte in Turin and led them to two Serie A titles and the 2015 Champions League final.

    It has also been reported that the Italian is learning English, which suggests a move to the Premier League is on the cards

The problem is that should the manager make the decision to leave, is there anybody senior at the club with extensive football knowledge?

It is all very well asking who can replace Wenger but the real question is whether there is anyone left at Arsenal who is qualified to choose his successor.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Crossroads of seismic change facing Arsenal'. Print Edition | Subscribe