Arsene Wenger: What happens when long-serving managers stand down?

Arsenal will welcome a new manager into their club for the first time since 1996.

That’s a sobering thought in itself, but because of the fate of post-Alex Ferguson Manchester United is so fresh in the memory, it seems like a scary prospect.

But it might be the case that the Gunners can hardly fall much further than the lowly position they’ve now reached. They are a Europa League side, these days – at least in terms of league finishes – and at the moment they are the top six’s also-rans, well off the top four pace. If Arsene Wenger manages to deliver Champions League football for next season, it will be through the back door.

The sheer length of his reign at the Emirates Stadium might well seem unique in modern times – and we may never see the like of it again – but there are plenty of examples in footballing history which show just how hard it can be for a new man to take over from a club legend, despite the rot which appears to have set in.

Matt Busby – Manchester United

Old Trafford pays tribute to Munich Air Crash victims

Manchester United fans still chant about playing football the Matt Busby way. You wonder if Arsenal fans will still be singing about the elegance and guile with which Wenger’s teams played in his early period as manager in 50 years’ time.

Busby built a phenomenal Red Devils side in the 1950s, but after the tragedy of Munich he rebuilt and forged a side capable of winning once more and conquering Europe, too.

It helped that he initially left United when he was still winning trophies, but it’s worth noting that Busby’s 8 major titles as manager (five league titles, two FA Cups and a European Cup) means Arsene Wenger’s haul of 10 (three league titles and seven FA Cups, with the potential for a European title to come) surpasses even the great Scottish legend.

After Busby became a director, United declined sharply. They pottered around mid-table for a few years before finally succumbing to relegation.

Willy Maley – Celtic

Celtic Park on a Champions League night

From one Scot south of the border to another north of it. Willy Maley is a Celtic legend and a man who oversaw the club for a frankly ridiculous 43 years. His reign spanned from the Victorian era to World War Two and took in five British monarchs.

The trophy haul is just as impressive: 16 league championships and 14 Scottish Cups in the days before European football. Maley was winning titles right up until the very end.

He shows, perhaps more than anyone else, how difficult it is to restructure a club after one man has such dominance: in the 25 years after his departure, Celtic would win just one league title and a paltry three Scottish Cups until Jock Stein came along in the 1960s.

Alan Curbishley – Charlton

Alan Curbishley watches Fulham v Norwich City

The former Charlton Athletic manager is only man on this list who wasn’t the custodian of a major club who won regular silverware under his reign, Curbishley makes the list for one significant reason.

There is a vocal (if not unanimous) section of Arsenal support who have turned on Arsene Wenger over the last few years. Their team was stagnating and it was obvious that something had to happen, but whilst the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ isn’t one anyone wants to hear, Charlton perhaps show why it’s one that needs to be uttered.

A little like Sean Dyche at Burnley, Curbishley inherited a workmanlike club in the second tier and in an area where there were traditionally much bigger teams and turned them into Premier League mainstays, recording safe midtable finishes with the occasional foray into the top half.

When he left, it was because Charlton thought they could challenge for Europe on a regular basis. Instead, they were relegated the next season.

Alex Ferguson – Manchester United

Sir Alex Ferguson presents Arsene Wenger with a gift at Old Trafford

This is the obvious comparison because it is the most recent, but perhaps it is also the biggest red herring.

Arsenal are not in the same position as Manchester United were when Ferguson left the club in 2013, and the dip experienced at Old Trafford since then has arguably already been experienced at the Emirates in the past few seasons.

If anything, it shows that the top six clubs in England are now so rich and so protected that falling much further is almost impossible and that the even if the Gunners have a period of rebuilding to do when Wenger leaves. It is unthinkable that either club could have been relegated in the 21st century just like United were in the 1970s.

Bill Shankly – Liverpool

Under Shankly’s leadership, Liverpool were promoted in 1962 and within a decade had won the league title three times as well as two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup.

When it came to his retirement, however, Shankly’s number two Bob Paisley took over, and Liverpool just carried on winning.

Paisley’s story shows that success can happen straight away even after a big change at the helm, but perhaps it also proves that the replacement has to be someone who knows the club and what made it successful in the first place. There may only be one man who fits that bill for Arsenal – though the Gunners haven’t been particularly successful in quite some time.