LONDON • Arsene Wenger believes that Gareth Southgate is the outstanding candidate to be appointed the next permanent manager of England.
In a very small field, Wenger has been linked to the position as well, with the Football Association (FA)'s chief executive, Martin Glenn, having said that "he'd fit the criteria perfectly".
Wenger's contract with Arsenal expires at the end of the season and he has flirted with the idea of managing the country in which he has lived and worked for the past 20 years.
But it is certain that he will be offered a new deal at Arsenal and, in recent days, he has appeared to distance himself from the possibility of taking the England job next summer.
The Frenchman's priority is Arsenal and he has effectively offered his blessing to Southgate.
READY FOR THE CHALLENGE
It's obviously a level up from what I have had to deal with before. I feel confident. The rest needs serious consideration from everybody's point of view.
GARETH SOUTHGATE, England interim manager, on dealing with his first two matches in charge in the past week.
Southgate is currently two games into a four-game spell as the caretaker manager, following Sam Allardyce's departure last month.
"Is Southgate the outstanding candidate for the job? Yes," Wenger said yesterday. "In England, there's always the demand for the big names - that is the difficulty.
"What is most important to me is the competence of the person and, if a person is competent, then he can make a name for himself.
"I'm happy to see that he (Southgate) has an opportunity to show that he has quality.
"He has handled himself quite well... He has to show that the decisions he makes are the right ones, and that he has the strength to do what he believes is right."
The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the FA is increasingly open to the idea of Southgate taking the England job on a full-time basis despite the two disappointing performances so far in his brief period as caretaker manager.
Southgate has impressed his employer with the manner in which he has approached the job since he was promoted from his usual position with the Under-21s in the aftermath of Sam Allardyce's departure.
There is also a feeling within the FA that it would have been unfair to expect too much improvement in the games against Malta and Slovenia.
While Southgate has been candid enough to recognise both performances could have been considerably better, he has also talked about inheriting "a mess" on the back of Allardyce's ignominious 67-day spell in charge and England's galling experiences at Euro 2016.
He has subsequently backtracked on that word, saying he should merely have called it "difficult circumstances" but the FA does recognise there are mitigating factors.
Southgate's chances of being offered the job properly will hinge more on England's games against Scotland and Spain next month and he sounded like he was growing into the idea of taking on the position.
This is in stark contrast to his admission after Roy Hodgson's departure about not being ready for it.