This might sound strange at first, but hear me out.
Arsene Wenger – barring a few notable switches to a back three – has by and large played the same formation for the majority of his time at Arsenal.
His 4-2-3-1 is, essentially, a variation on the 4-4-2 of the late 1990s. The Gunners boss has usually employed two nominally defensive midfielders in behind a pacey striker, whose job it is to stretch the play. In the space left in between, a number 10 is supposed to have the space to roam.
That’s more or less been a formula Wenger has stuck to.
He’s had some success, even in recent years, with it. When he’s on form, there are few better playmakers than Mesut Ozil in world football, and having the space to work gives him a great advantage. But as the years roll on, it becomes clear that Wenger is a man out of time.
And whilst the identity of the new Arsenal boss has been the subject of intense speculation, it feels as though people are a little less bothered about second guessing where Wenger is going to end up.
There is some sort of vague acceptance that he’ll take a job in France. Maybe as Paris Saint-Germain’s technical director or some sort of job upstairs. Or else, perhaps, we think he’ll become the manager of the French national team if Didier Deschamps doesn’t survive the World Cup in his current role.
Few are speculating about another club job Wenger might take.
Perhaps that’s because no club immediately stands out, or maybe it’s because we simply can’t imagine a man who’s name is (almost literally) synonymous with Arsenal on the bench of another club. But it could also be because we implicitly think that Wenger is simply done as a top level club manager.
The game has certainly moved on, even if Wenger hasn’t. The soon-to-be-departing Arsenal boss has talked about how hard he works for the club and how much time he gives to his job. I don’t doubt for a second that he has given his best years to Arsenal Football Club, I am certain of his sincerity and his selflessness and I admire his sacrifice to a cause he seems to see as greater than himself.
But looking at the modern world, where football managers like Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte meticulously and obsessively pick over the opposition’s tactics, the system they’re going to get their own team to play, and even the exact blade of grass upon which each player should stand when attacking from the left wing with an overlapping full-back making a 3v2 situation. It’s simply astonishing the detail that goes into football management these days.
It’s not new to say that Wenger has been overtaken by the others. It’s not adding anything to the debate by pointing it out. But when Wenger comes to take another job, no clubs jump out as an immediate destination. Sadly, that’s not because people don’t think he’ll work hard enough.