As Arsenal prepare to take on Bournemouth this weekend, all eyes are nominally focused on last season’s encounter between the two. But that’s just a ploy.
Last January, Arsenal and Bournemouth played out a 3-3 draw which saw the Gunners come back from three goals down to equalise with just minutes to go. Perhaps the biggest story from the game was Olivier Giroud’s equaliser, which he celebrated with a scorpion kick celebration, wasting time as the Gunners looked to find a winner in the closing seconds.
If that was the biggest story, the lasting image, however, was that of Alexis Sanchez throwing a strop on the pitch at full-time, clearly frustrated at his side’s lack of ability to fight on in the Premier League title race.
That, and Sanchez’s rumoured interest in a move to one of the two halves of Manchester is the focus of the interest in this game. Which rather leaves both managers off the hook.
After so long in charge it’s only natural for Arsene Wenger to have had many potential proteges who have come and gone, falling by the wayside. For a long time, potential successors to the Frenchman have included the likes of Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde in the past. There are plenty of other examples, and this weekend’s opponent Eddie Howe has been mentioned in the same sort of way for a long time now.
Yet in the last few months, Howe’s achievements at Bournemouth have started to be questioned slightly. From heralding the fact that this was a man who was able to bring a team of players he picked up in League One to Premier League safety, Howe hasn’t really kicked on. The Cherries are in the midst of a battle for survival again this season, but the telling part isn’t in their league position – outside of the top six, pretty much everyone is involved in the survival battle royale – but the squad.
Bournemouth’s team is hardly the same side as when they came up, but Howe’s ability to succeed in the transfer market is certainly questionable.
Since their arrival in the Premier League Bournemouth have broken their transfer record each summer. That’s thoroughly unsurprising, and indeed exactly to be expected. Most promoted teams do that, and when you get established you can spend even more thanks to your season in the big time. Over the last two or three years – happily enough for the Cherries – Premier League spending has gone through the roof thanks to the recent TV rights deals.
And yet despite bringing in nominally better players, Bournemouth’s transfers haven’t changed their squad to the extent you might have expected. Max Gradel, Juan Iturbe, Lys Mousset and Lewis Grabban are just some of the names to have come into the Bournemouth side since their promotion, and all have been either bought in or loaned with the aim of boosting the profile of a side which was still filled with players who came up with the club.
By now, then, that’s the main point to stand against Howe’s management.
Indeed, you might think that a modern manager is only partly to blame for failed transfers. After all, directors of football and chief scouts – people Arsenal fans are hearing more and more about these days – are the ones bringing in the players at most clubs. Most managers just manage. But that’s the point: Howe was perfectly adept at getting the most out of the players he took to promotion. Since they achieved that heady success, he’s been unable to build further.
Not being able to build more than one winning team at a club is hardly the worst crime in the world. But the whole point of suggesting Howe as Wenger successor was the fact that he seemed so suited to carrying on Wenger’s work, ushering in a new dynasty. The evidence of what he’s achieved at Bournemouth shows that whilst he’s done a great job, it’s questionable whether he’d be a good fit at the Gunners. And as such, the links seem to have cooled.
When Wenger does finally leave – we’ve been saying that for years, but he can’t go on forever… – it looks like it’ll be a coach with the worldwide profile of a Carlo Ancelotti or a Thomas Tuchel, not one like Howe. And that’s not because the Premier League is biased against English coaches, it’s simply because there are now serious questions over Howe’s abilities to manage at the very top level.
This weekend’s game will see all eyes on Alexis Sanchez, and last season’s game gives media outlets a chance to focus on that. But if it weren’t for that thriller of a game, we’d more than likely be talking about Wenger, and probably Eddie Howe’s fitness to succeed him. And the Cherries’ coach certainly has the Gunners’ current fine mess to thank for that.
On the other hand, for the Gunners, the list of possible successors has changed: whereas it used to be about men who could carry on the Wenger dynasty, it’s now starting to look like a list of men who can fix years of rot.
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