With Arsenal’s season getting off to a rather subdued start, there’s already plenty of talk about the tyrannical, stubborn, apparent-source-of-all-Gunners-problems, Arsene Wenger, being overthrown in what would likely be a rather bloody and debasing coup. One recent opinion poll claimed around 68% want the Frenchman’s head on a chopping block.
So the question persists; who should take the reins from Wenger? Once again going on public opinion, the answer is Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp. Not for the first time, his popularity in the English press has coincided with the Gunners facing the Black-Yellows in the Champions League.
But that’s all paper talk. Brainfodder for the masses. In my opinion, there’s only one man to follow Wenger’s almighty footsteps – Everton’s Roberto Martinez.
The similarities between Wenger and Klopp are hard to ignore. Both managers have struggled but succeeded in protecting their clubs from engulfment by the financial powerhouses surrounding them, whilst remaining in the Champions League. Both managers have rebuilt and remodelled after selling key players to divisional and continental rivals. Both managers insist upon a distinctive style of attractive football. Both managers believe in the value of developing young players over taking seismic risks in the transfer market.
Yet, there’s something about Klopp, despite his outgoing, entertaining, madcap demeanour in press conferences, despite his impeccable record up until now at Westfalen, that doesn’t quite fit. He likes attacking football but it comes from a different, more industrious source than Arsenal’s expansive style.
Gunners fans will argue that’s precisely the point; perhaps qualifying for the Champions League every year wouldn’t be viewed as such a catastrophe if it was annually secured through blood, sweat and tears, rather than Arsenal’s elusive, diminutive and frankly, mercurial stars seemingly going off the boil for certain periods of the season, no logic necessary, before hitting form just in time to maintain Wenger’s 18 year-tradition.
Yet, how long would that transition take? To re-educate and re-programme an entire squad towards Klopp’s all-or-nothing mentality? To bring players in that can actually be expected to put in the leg work? To get rid of those who aren’t buying into it?
You could say that about any manager at a new club – even the legendary Brian Clough lasted just 44 days at Leeds United as the players rejected his management style and ideas – but Klopp’s Emirates arrival would undoubtedly lead to teething pains that could take two or three seasons, not to mention significant investment in the transfer market, to resolve. Klopp will have to adapt and learn from English football too.
Martinez, on the other hand, was almost born to manage Arsenal – or more precisely, succeed Arsene Wenger.
He was the mastermind behind the aesthetic football that brought Swansea City from League One to the Premier League, the administrator of Wigan’s cockroach top flight survival and the first FA Cup in their history, the overseer of Everton’s incredible philosophical transformation last season, with a virtually unchanged squad of hardmen evolving into tiki-taka enthusiasts almost overnight.
One could argue he shares too many similarities with Wenger, particularly their idealism; the correlations between the types of goal Everton and Arsenal concede, with pushed up full-backs leaving the centre-halves too exposed on too many occasions, has become glaringly obvious this season.
There’s one crucial difference however, in that Martinez is expedient enough to compromise his philosophy for crucial fixtures. Last season for example, he out-thought Wenger to claim a 3-0 win at Goodison Park, utilising Romelu Lukaku in a wide-right role to wreak havoc on the physically mismatched Nacho Monreal. Against Manchester City in the FA Cup final, he surrendered Wigan’s habitual possession-based football to grind out a 1-0 victory. Some of his other recent scalps include Chelsea and Manchester United – in a nutshell, the calibre of opposition that continue to cause Arsenal problems under Wenger.
Not that Klopp is incapable of similar triumphs – his Dortmund side reached the 2013 Champions League final, beating Real Madrid 4-1 at the Bernabeu in the process, which is an accomplishment Martinez can only dream of right now. Admittedly, the Westfalen gaffer’s impressive track record in Europe, even amid his side’s recent relegation-threatening malaise, is a major selling point.
But Arsenal don’t need a change in philosophy. They don’t need to be rebuilt into an industrious-yet-elegant Klopp variety of side. They simply need a manager, capable of working with the players already at Arsenal’s disposal, that isn’t as outdated or stubborn as Wenger.
Klopp and Martinez both fall into that category, but whilst German ideals have the potential to fall afoul in north London, the Spaniard has been auditioning for the Emirates hotseat, whether he knows it or not, his entire management career.