Preparing for a dead rubber of a second leg against Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, brings the reality home for Arsenal: they may currently have their best squad in over a decade, but the same old failings still apply.
Trapped in a Kafkaesque world where there seems to be no exit, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Arsenal’s best hope of a metamorphosis is to part ways with Arsene Wenger. They will have to do a that eventually. And one man Arsenal should be considering is Everton manager, Ronald Koeman.
Since taking over at Southampton in 2014, he has seen his stock rise steadily. It’s clear that he saw Everton as a step forward in his career, and left the south coast on the basis that the club lacked ambition. Whether or not the Goodison Park side match that ambition in the short term remains to be seen, but it’s clear that if he’s an ambitious football manager, Arsenal is a club he’ll feel he could do a lot with.
And after a few turbulent weeks before Christmas, the Dutchman’s reputation has been on the rise once more. There is probably no other manager outside of the Premier League’s top six with the same pedigree and prestige as Koeman.
Before going any further, though, it’s worth remembering that Wenger may yet stay in the job. At the moment, we’re in the realm of speculation and that’s mostly down to the fact that Arsenal – and Wenger himself – are yet to give any confirmation or reassurance on the future of the manager.
But whatever happens over the summer, Arsenal should still be looking at the market. If nothing else, the last few weeks have served as a reminder that Wenger won’t stay forever, and that we are – at the very least – entering the twilight of his time at the Emirates. And one of the men in that market who seems to suit very well as a Wenger replacement is Koeman.
Over the past decade, many men have been touted as potential Wenger replacements. But what we have seen over the past few weeks is an intensifying of the speculation: instead of young, up-and-coming managers who have shown ability and a similar philosophy to Wenger, we’ve started to see men like Max Allegri and Roberto Mancini touted with the job.
What that shows is how real the situation is getting. Arsenal, over the past 20 years, have never been part of the managerial speculation and the circus that goes with it. As a result, it’s been easy to talk about the likes of Eddie Howe or Remi Garde as potential successors to Wenger. But instead of touting these sorts of managers as genuine replacements, they are linked more as a compliment to their managerial talents and success than any real likelihood of taking over.
Now that there’s a real chance that a new man will have to take over soon, that’s stopped. It’s all well and good talking about a man who can take over and spend another 20 years at the helm, but with the pressure so high and with so many top managers in English football, Arsenal probably feel like they can’t make a mistake with this decision.
But there’s a middle ground. In order for a manager to stay around the club for a long time, they don’t need to be overly young. Wenger himself had 13 years of management experience before taking over at Arsenal.
And when you think about that, and you think about the possibility of finding a manager whose appointment wouldn’t be considered an undue risk, whose star is on the rise, and who can give his best years to Arsenal, it becomes clearer that Koeman fits the bill.