Should Arsenal be worried with life after Wenger?

Arsenal’s annual general meeting took place on Thursday, with the manager, the shareholders, the chairman and, of course, the fans all converging to discuss finances, performances and the future of the club, among other matters.

Unlike in recent years, actual silverware was on show at Thursday’s meeting, with both the FA Cup and the Community Shield proudly displayed as evidence of the Gunners’ on-field triumphs over the past twelve months. In fact, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke could barely conceal his joy at the presence of such decorations.

“It was really fantastic to win the FA Cup,” he claimed.

“To be up here with the silverware is remarkable.”

Remarkable indeed, as the Gunners had gone a chastening nine years without lifting a trophy before May’s FA Cup victory over Hull City at Wembley. For many, this success was a vindication of persisting with Arsene Wenger – with patience running thin among Arsenal fans for the Frenchman’s failure to replicate the enormous success he achieved as manager in the late 1990s to early 2000s, the long-overdue triumph quelled the doubts of many concerning his continued suitability to the role of manager.

Fully aware of the debt of gratitude he owed the fans for their loyal support, Wenger went on the charm offensive at the AGM with quintessentially Gallic allure.

“I know I don’t always please you like I’d love to,” he crooned seductively to his audience.

“Every season, there’s an apprehension we may not fulfil your expectations. But we give it everything to please you.”

This was vintage Wenger – Arsenal fans may have had their fair share of disappointments in the barren years following the FA Cup triumph of 2005, yet they have never turned their back on the man who clearly has the club’s best interests at heart.

Nevertheless, Wenger is not getting any younger, and the day will eventually come when Arsenal have to bid adieu to their beloved, long-serving professor. The matter was discussed at the meeting – it would have been incredibly myopic had it been overlooked – with Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick keen to stress that the issue of replacing Wenger would be dealt with as sensibly and as meticulously as possible, especially in light of David Moyes’ calamitous tenure at Manchester United following the retirement of Alex Ferguson, another long-serving manager who had brought considerable success to his own club and was universally adored by the fanbase.

There would be no shortage of applications for the job, Mr. Keswick claimed, and he is correct in this assertion, as most of the best coaches in world football would relish the opportunity to manage a club of Arsenal’s size and stature. However, it was another passage of Mr. Keswick’s address that proved to be most pertinent of all, and which suggests that the transition to life after Wenger may not be as smooth as he is making it out to be. Referring to the extent of Wenger’s involvement at the club, Mr. Keswick had the following to say:

“I don’t think that my wish or intention is to double guess what Arsene Wenger wants to do – as you know, your board backs him 100 per cent. If he has a plan, we back him, if he doesn’t have a plan, we keep quiet.

“So let’s not be in a muddle about who calls the shots about football at Arsenal Football Club. It is not the chairman, it is not the fans, it is Mr Arsene Wenger.”

The significant power and influence that Wenger holds at Arsenal, making him an omnipotent manager in the same mould as Ferguson, is hardly a secret. By bearing this in mind, a new era with a new manager at the helm may very well have a destabilising effect on the club. If Arsenal are so depedent on Wenger with regard to the running of the club, how will they cope when the new incumbent inevitably brings with him his own philosophies, his own methods and his own ideas, which may differ considerably to those of Wenger?

Many Arsenal fans will be hoping that there are some years yet before Wenger’s abdication of the Gunners throne becomes a reality. When this day eventually comes, however, there is cause for some concern. So integral to the running of the club has he been over the past eighteen years that such sudden change after such a long period of stability will be difficult for the club to deal with at first. That said, this is no reason to panic. As pointed out by Mr. Keswick, the club will have a long line of eligible suitors, and having the Frenchman on hand to aid with the selection process would help them choose the candidate best equipped to maintain Arsenal’s Wengerist principles, now firmly a part of the club’s DNA.

Even so, such a process is rarely straightforward, as Manchester United discovered last season. Although it remains to be seen how Arsenal will cope with Wenger’s departure, what is for certain is that the whole football world will be watching.