One of the often overlooked aspects of Arsenal’s current search for a new manager is the situation in which the board find themselves.
In any normal situation, they’d simply have lined up a manager, set up a deal in principle and then announced Arsene Wenger’s departure before naming his successor. But this is no normal situation.
The Gunners are in a position that arguably only one team have found themselves in over the last decade or more: Manchester United. The comparisons with the departure of Alex Ferguson in 2013 and the Red Devils’ subsequent decline is an obvious one and is probably overblown. The two clubs are in very different positions.
But whilst no club provides the perfect comparison, and this is very much unchartered territory, there is one which is similar.
On the lists of longest-serving managers in Europe, one name used to be a staple under Arsene Wenger. The Gunners boss was there for two decades, but Saint-Etienne manager Christophe Galtier was in place for nine.
Upon his departure last summer, he was the second-longest serving manager in Europe. When it finally came time to leave, the Saint-Etienne board had realised that the world had changed in the time since they last picked a manager.
They appointed former Watford and Brighton manager Oscar Garcia and from the very start things weren’t right. The first three games started well in terms of results, but performances weren’t great.
As it turned out in the end, Garcia would only last a few weeks, leaving the club after a traumatic 5-1 home defeat to their bitter rivals Lyon. The owners made a mistake precisely because they had little experience in managerial appointments in recent times.
That’s the cautionary tale for Arsenal, not the United one.
Whilst United’s recent decline is a worry, the Gunners are already in the bottom spot in the top six, and it’s unlikely though not inconceivable that they slip to seventh. That would, however, be the absolute lowest you’d think Arsenal can slip under a new manager.
They’ve already had the Moyes decline in that sense. They won’t get that under a new man. Instead, though, what can happen is they can choose a bad fit simply because they haven’t had to appoint a manager in 22 years, and the game (not to mention chairmen and owners) have changed significantly since then.
Instead of stagnation and decline, which they’ve had for ten years already, they could get turmoil and rancour. Instead of falling any further there could be vitriolic fights and bitterness – indeed the split from Wenger is already starting to get slightly acrimonious as the manager has hinted that he was pushed into making his decision.
Arsenal’s board, like Saint-Etienne’s last summer, are in the position of the middle-aged divorcé who now has to get back out into the market and date again. It’s not an easy thing to do. An ageing man that everyone knows is going through a rough time is hardly a catch. He has baggage and he’s not entirely sure how this brave new world of online dating works.
But Arsenal, unlike Saint-Etienne, are not just coming off nine years of fidelity to one man. They’re coming off 22. That’s not just 22 years of one manager, but over two decades of a man who changed the face of the club.
When the Gunners appoint a new man in the summer, there will be a sense of freshness and hope. But ensuring it lasts any longer than the first few games is going to be the real challenge.