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Should Arsenal’s next manager be The One or The Next One?

Let’s talk about the future.

Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci in Mauritania Photo by Turkish Economy Ministry / Mesut Yesil / Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

We all know Arsene Wenger’s tenure is circling the drain. Whether that circle ends this summer or next, it’s almost the time we’ve all been waiting for - a fresh start, a new regime, a whole ‘nother way of being for Arsenal. They’ll have a new coach for the first time in what is approaching a quarter-century, and while that’s exciting to ponder, it’s also a little nerve-wracking, as we try to figure out what that actually means.

To that end, we wanted to talk amongst ourselves a bit about next steps, so we asked TSF staff - and a couple guests - the following question:

Should Arsenal’s next manager be a long-term solution, or should he be a bridge to that solution?

When Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down as manager of Manchester United, David Moyes was touted as “the guy, Sir Alex’s hand-picked successor, Manchester United’s next long-term manager.” We all know how that turned out – it was a dumpster fire.

Sure, whoever replaces Arsene Wenger will probably be a more accomplished manager than David Moyes, but I don’t think Moyes was the problem. I think the problem was that the guy on the bench was “not Sir Alex Ferguson” – I don’t think any manager would have been successful. Both the club and the supporters were too close to the Ferguson era, too used to how he ran things.

Successfully following a club legend is difficult, maybe impossible, and that’s the situation currently facing Arsenal. It would be terrible to get a promising young coach like Mikel Arteta only to have him go the same way as Moyes. The club needs a bridge out of the Wenger era, an experienced manager who keeps Arsenal competitive for the top four for a season or two but, more importantly, keeps the seat warm and gets it ready for the next, long-term coach.

Arsenal should 100% look for a long-term choice to succeed Arsene Wenger. A stopgap, like Carlo Ancelotti, may keep Arsenal competitive in the short-term, but doesn’t offer the same upside as a younger, less experienced pick, like Mikel Arteta. Though it’s certainly the riskier option, Arsenal are a stable enough club to take that chance. And though there are other people out there, Arteta is a uniquely appealing candidate due to his connection to the club and his education under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Who knows whether Arteta, or a similarly attractive long-term, big picture candidate would still be available in four or five years? If the decision makers at Arsenal, namely Wenger and Ivan Gazidis, think Arteta is ready, they have to make that move.

I would also rather not have a manager making decisions under pressure to save his job. Instead, I want a manager comfortable enough in his job security to be flexible and take chances. Arsenal need to make more than just incremental changes to truly become contenders, both domestically and in Europe. This is especially true if Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey don’t sign contract extensions. If Özil and Ramsey are still here when Wenger leaves, I would be more interested in considering a candidate who can maximize Arsenal’s competiveness with them. Without them, a rebuild to refresh and revitalize the team becomes even more pressing than it is now, and a manager planning to be here for the long haul suits that undertaking better than a stopgap.

Yeah, what Alex said.

Brandon W:
Long-term managers aren’t really a thing anymore, at least not on the level of an Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson. And frankly, given how many players are on or near the last year of their contracts, by the time Wenger does step down I think this squad is going to be in a rebuilding phase anyway, rather than a “just keep the ship steady phase,” and I’d prefer a manager who could potentially see a rebuilding project through to fruition.

There have been some good arguments already, and since I’m at a science conference and should be doing science right now, I’ll keep this short. I’d prefer a long-term solution, whatever it is that long-term will mean after Wenger leaves, largely because I don’t like uncertainty or the game of short-term manager musical chairs. I’d rather Arsenal not get anywhere near that sort of thing.

If Wenger’s comments from last season about contract issues being a source of instability are to be believed, then it would be better for the club to avoid deliberately making “temporary” hires. Arsenal should take a bit of time, make a solid plan, and get their long-term guy on the first go.

A year ago, I would have absolutely said that Arsenal’s next manager should be a short-term appointment - a palate cleanser, if you will. I thought it’d take some time to get things re-centered and that there’d be a step back on the pitch - maybe not a United-under-Moyes size step, but a step back nonetheless - while that interim guy readied the ship for “the one”.

So much has changed at Ivan Gazidis’ hands in the past year in the Arsenal front office, however, that I no longer think that’s the case. The appointment of Sven Mislintat as Head of Recruitment and Raul Sanllehi as Head of Football Relations means that Arsenal have a support structure in place they’ve never had before, which in turn means that a new manager has less of a burden to do absolutely everything. He can just step in and manage, and as long as he buys into what Mislintat and Sanllehi want to do (which any vetted manager presumably would, or Arsenal also have recruitment problems), things should go OK.

And as far as the Moyes-esque step backwards, well, have you seen Arsenal this season? They’re in the midst of it right now. And arguably have been for this season and last. While 35 years of Seattle Mariners fandom has repeatedly taught me that there is no floor, I also don’t believe Arsenal will be much worse than they are right now. They may not get better fast, but they’re making the right moves for long-term success and I’m not as worried that a new manager is an automatic step back as I was last year at this time.

It’s also important to remember that “long-term” in the case of Premier League managers is a 5-7 year timeframe at best - the era of a 20+ year tenure is gone, and Arsenal and its fans should in no way expect any manager to serve even half as long as Wenger did, nor bias their search towards someone they’d want to have stay that long.

(Ed. Note: We have a new writer! Everybody welcome Jocelyn to the Short Fuse!)
Arsenal need to look for a long term solution. I still believe that Arsenal is a “big” club and therefore should act like one. Yes Wenger has probably outlived his shelf life but part of what made Arsenal and Manchester United the powerhouses that they were in the early days of the Premier League was the stability and respect of their managers.

Man City & Chelsea have purchased their current status, and clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham are currently doing well but change their managers regularly, and despite all the accolades they are receiving haven’t won anything other than a League Cup each in the last ten plus years (if not more in the case of Spuds). Arsenal need to hire the right person, not just the flavor of the month. We also don’t need a disposable manager like Allardyce, Hughes, Steve Bruce, who go wherever the wind blows.

Long-term managers the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger will never happen again. When we ask for one, we’re looking for a manager who’ll have plans to stay with the club as long as things are going well and it appears Arsenal are on the upswing. It’s highly unlikely they will as even at the best of clubs, a single down season can spell the end of a rather good manager’s run. Rumblings are starting around Mauricio Pochettino, despite having made Spurs relevant to the top of the table, for not having won anything. Jose Mourinho’s probably in his final full year at Man Utd. Pep Guardiola might be on the way to crushing the Premier League but if he steps backward next year, particularly with the Champions League, who knows how long they’ll keep him around.

A long-term manager is at best five seasons. What Arsenal needs is long-term stability; the effort to put together a functional team that supports whoever steps into Arsene’s malfunctioning zippered jacket when he leaves. That involves ownership, the board, a director of football and scouting group. Wenger’s long had it his own way, which was largely fine because he defined the club for better or worse. A new manager won’t have the same clout, lest it is one of the big names which is highly unlikely. For the team to get the transition correct and be able to support the next manager so they can achieve something early is required for Arsenal to regain prominence in the PL. Failure to do that or, worse, dumping in a manager who they don’t obviously support while they search for the real deal, will only create chaos and keep Arsenal in the irrelevance of 6th place.

Brandon J:
Theoretically, a long term solution at manager is always the goal for a team in any sport. However, from a practical perspective, we can see this can backfire and leave a team in ruins. Currently, Arsenal have a team built around the philosophies of a single coach for over two decades. As time has continued, a sense of arrogance and excuses has riddled a club with washed up players and institutional complacency from the top to the bottom. Deflecting blame at officials, not making moves in the transfer market, not being held accountable for actions, etc. The list goes on.

A change to a short term manager maybe the best option to begin construction to relevancy again. Someone who can begin scouting young talent to help re-establish a sense of youth in an aging team. A manager who will not play their first team players out of position because they know they need to get the best out of their starting XI. A manager who can change the mindset of a team lacking confidence in themselves. A short term manager is an idea we should be getting familiar with as Wenger’s time with the club is getting closer to the end. Wenger and Ferguson’s loyalty to their clubs is something we will not see many more times.

Coaching takes a toll on the human mind, which is why we see such a revolving door of names with clubs across Europe. Conte, Mourinho, Enrique, Ancelotti, Allardyce, Tuchel. They go to clubs for a brief two or three seasons then make way for the next name, and leave their teams better than they found them. They bring in talent that will last beyond their time. They make decisions with the thought that they could be sacked for making a poor move at the wrong time. Most importantly, they are under pressure for immediate results - something Arsenal and their fan base desperately need.

So, that’s what we think. Now, tell us what you think. Do you want Arsenal’s next manager to be there a good long time, or do you want someone to get Arsenal to their next long-term manager while the post-Arsene dust still settles?