There will come a time, either before his current agreement is up or when it expires, that Arsenal will transition the reigns of the club from legendary manager Arsene Wenger to his successor, simply due to the conventional wisdom that this is likely his last contract. Talk has slowly built up over the years since Wenger guided the club to their historic undefeated season that he's no longer capable of achieving the type of success he once brought, but the rhetoric to see him exit during or after this season has reached levels and volumes not previously seen - much in part due to Arsenal's worst league start in over thirty years.
Arsenal have been extremely lucky and fortunate to have had the kind of consistency they've experienced, both in results and within the squad, in large part to having a manager who's stayed on as long as Wenger has. One of the main attributes of a club that a player weighs when deciding their new destination is the stability of the manager and his coaching staff. Players aren't exactly desperate to join a club under a manager that could be gone within twelve months. A player can join a club knowing they're a crucial piece to the puzzle only to see the manager that recruited him fired after a bad stretch of results and the new manager instead see them as surplus to squad requirements. With Arsenal and Arsene Wenger, though, that's never been much of an issue. His position within the club has been secure for years. It's not a shock anymore to hear new players mention one of the biggest reasons for joining Arsenal is knowing they'll be working under Wenger for, more than likely, the duration of their stay.
However, Arsene's not a young man anymore, and the league has changed around him. He turned 65 years old this past October. If he finishes his current contract, he'll be halfway to 68. When Arsenal last won the league there were two legit rivals for the title (Manchester United and Chelsea - which was the first year under then-new lavish owner Roman Abramovich). They had yet to endure years of self-induced austerity thanks to the highly-ambitious, self-financed move to Ashburton Grove and had yet to work through an environment that saw the positive impact of the EPL's global marketing efforts translate to foreign ownership and unprecedented investment within the league. Right or wrong, the notion that Wenger's been slow to respond to the change around him hasn't quieted down as Arsenal have gone on to suffer continual defeats to clubs they used to routinely dispatch with flair and arrogance.
As a result, the factors have compounded and provided the foundation, walls and roof to the current environment within Arsenal's fan base and media critics - groups that have seen league results nose-dive just as the club started to invest a portion of their vast fortune in some of the best players in the world. It was right to assume that, by bringing in such players as Mesut Özil and Alexis Sánchez over the past 15 months, Arsenal would be able to challenge their deep-pocketed, free-spending rivals for the title. Instead there was an apparent lack of cohesion within the squad to start this season that's been coupled with yet another lengthy injury crisis. Matches versus opponents that used to be an afterthought have since been anything but (Swansea City comes to mind). Large banners proclaiming Wenger should leave Arsenal have been unfurled immediately after league victories. The fan base has never been as toxic as now, aided and guided by its containment in the forever-lasting hurricane that is social media, and a large part of the vitriol is due in part to the belief that Arsene Wenger's bulletproof.
All of this, and the subsequent manager profiles, is not to say that I personally blame Wenger for the way this season started out and he should leave as a result. Far from it, actually. This is an attempt to have a logical, level-headed discussion on the candidates best suited to take over Arsenal from Arsene Wenger. Life as we know it at Arsenal won't end with Wenger's eventual departure, but life as we know it at Arsenal won't ever be the same. There's a huge part of me that'll be sad and upset when the day comes. We know that day is coming, and not talking about who the best candidates are to take over Arsene's spot isn't a stance we should assume. I'd rather not follow an ostrich effect, of sorts, when envisioning the long-term status and health of the club from a managerial standpoint.
So if it's not Wenger to lead the club past this season or next, then who is? That question is what this series will be about.
I think there will be little who will disagree with the assumption that the managerial position at Arsenal is one of the top three coaching jobs in the world right now. Think about it: you have a Board that runs very little - if any - interference with the manager's plans, one of the healthiest financial situations in soccer, a stadium and training facility that many consider each to be one of the finest in the world, contained in a city that's arguably one of the world's best, a club with nearly one hundred years of success in league that continues to see money pouring in by the vast millions. Needless to say, virtually every manager will be on the Board's radar, and vise versa.
I'll present ten candidates we, the writers at The Short Fuse, think are the top to succeed Wenger, counting down from the least-likely to the one we feel is most-likely. I'll lay out the arguments for succeeding and reasons why each of them shouldn't, or couldn't, take over. Also of note: the ten candidates I'll present don't follow the order of odds that many of the betting houses have laid out as the managers likely to succeed Wenger. Our list of ten managers are just our subjective opinion on whom we feel are the top ten candidates.
With that, stay tuned for the first - and least-likely - manager we feel will succeed Arsene Wenger.