The Arsenal fanbase remain fairly divided on the issue of Arsene Wenger’s immediate future.
With the Gunners gaffer’s contract set to expire at the end of the season however, one gets the feeling that if Arsenal fail to end their nine-year silverware drought in the form of this term’s FA Cup, where they face rather ordinary Premier League opposition in Hull City at Wembley, the calls for change will be too almighty to ignore.
Regardless, when witnessing from afar the debasing effect Sir Alex Ferguson’s summer retirement has had on Manchester United this season, the Emirates faithful endure a collective fearful shudder when considering what life may be like next season without their 19-year servant in the dugout.
Much like the retired Scot, Wenger’s position in North London has become so monolithic and vital to Arsenal’s successes that the club has institutionalised itself around Le Professeur’s image throughout the last decade. The lingering question remains; can the Gunners continue to exist – at least, in a Champions League-qualifying capacity – with the brain severed from the body?
But could a solution, a relatively riskless successor, already exist within the realms of the Premier League? Does the English top flight already possess the next Arsenal manager in waiting? And would a move to the Emirates this summer be a year too soon?
The manager in question is of course Everton’s Roberto Martinez, a man who some allege is already on path to becoming Barcelona boss in the not-too-distant future.
Much of that recommendation can be sourced to the Spaniard’s aesthetically pleasing, possession-based philosophy, and indeed, in a top flight where those in the bottom half have seemingly given up on anything that can be remotely considered ‘champaign football’, Roberto Martinez remains one of the few remaining champions of the purist ideology.
We already knew of the 40 year-old’s adoration for attractive, Wenger-esque football during his time at Wigan, where he managed to keep the Latics afloat in the Premier League for two campaigns, before masterminding the first FA Cup final win of their history against Manchester City last summer.
But it’s been the start to Martinez’s Toffees career that’s begun to earn him such widespread critical acclaim.
The Goodison outfit were never a long-ball side under David Moyes, but their basic ethos had always been centred around direct, aggressive and physical football, epitomising the Premier League’s intrinsically English identity.Yet just a matter of months later, the former Swansea manager – commonly regarded as the architect behind the purist institution the Liberty stadium has become over the last decade – has transformed Everton’s rough-and-ready clan, previously famed for their fighting spirit and determination above anything else, into one of the most eye-pleasing outfits the Premier League currently has to offer.
Indeed, Gareth Barry has been turned into Xavi, right-back Seamus Coleman has scored as many goals as Manchester City’s Samir Nasri, and even the clumsy-footed Phil Jagielka, at the ripe old age of 31, now appears to be one of the English top flight’s most composed and cultured defenders when in possession.
Martinez’s championing of beautiful football, the obvious parallels between Arsenal and Everton’s current philosophies, in addition to his Premier League experience, makes him a strong candidate for the Emirates gig.
But there’s more to the Spaniard than simply eye-catching patterns of play. Jamie Carragher described Everton’s transitional play and the organisation behind it, switching between a 4-3-3 when defending and a 3-4-3 in attack, with Gareth Barry operating as a third centre-back and full-backs Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines pushing up into midfield, as ‘international standard’.
Likewise, there’s no doubt that Martinez has done something incredibly special at Goodison this season, regardless of whether or not the Toffees make it into the Premier League’s top four. One could even draw parallels with the mesmerising transformation Pep Guardiola has instigated at Bayern Munich, insisting on a more commendable and complex style whilst still maintaining the same level of results from the campaign previous.
Furthermore, whilst in his old age, Arsene Wenger has become philosophically stubborn, tactically predictable and resultantly, one could even go as far as to accuse the Gunners of becoming dangerously one-dimensional under his leadership, Roberto Martinez, young, ambitious but respectful of his opponents, has shown the tactical expediency that his Emirates counter-part has decisively lacked over the last decade.
Although his FA Cup triumph against Manchester City particularly comes to mind, there is perhaps no greater example of this than when the Toffees took on Arsenal earlier this month.
In theory, fielding your top goal-scorer on the left wing is a terrible idea, but against the Gunners, Romelu Lukaku’s strength, power and pace created a mismatch against Nacho Monreal that his side were able to exploit all game long. Likewise, Steven Naismith took up the central striking role instead, but operating almost as a ‘false nine’ just in front of midfield, Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen – two incredibly physical defenders – had no one to directly mark, challenge in the air or jostle with for position. At the other end of the pitch, the North Londoners were slow and laboured, as if expecting their intrinsic attacking play to breach the Everton defence, rather than insisting on it. Resultantly, the Gunners were systematically cut open, and the Goodison encounter finished 3-0, with Lukaku and Naismith both getting on the score sheet.
Perhaps more than anything else, that’s why I find Roberto Martinez so convincing as a future Arsenal boss. Rather than taking the club a step backwards through his admitted inexperience, his willingness to experiment, his obvious ability to motivate players to follow his direction perfectly, his impressive tactical understanding, could provide the Gunners with that ruthless cutting edge they’ve sorely missed since their last Premier League title in 2004.
The Spaniard would not only maintain the Wenger way, which as previously discussed has become institutionalised throughout all sectors of the North London club, but possesses the talent and ambition to further build upon it, being prepared to accept the pragmatic philosophical compromises that the current Arsenal boss is not.
Roberto Martinez is a world-class manager in the making. Not only due to the impressive achievements on the pitch and his previously-discussed philosophical outlook, but his eye for a good player in the transfer market, his incredibly dignified demeanor in public – perhaps best demonstrated by his rousing speech during the Hillsborough memorial service this week – makes the Spaniard the total package.
Of any Premier League purist to grace the English top flight in recent times, none have struck as more capable of carrying Wenger’s philosophical torch than him, whilst his willingness to adapt depending on opposition positively contrasts the current Arsenal gaffer’s most intrinsic and inevitable flaw.
A solitary year at Goodison before taking the Emirates helm may seem like too sudden a rise for some, but if Arsenal don’t move for Martinez soon, another major European club undoubtedly will. With Arsene Wenger’s contract expiring this summer anyway, the occasion feels opportune to instigate a long-awaited changing of the guard.