As another season with the familiar hollow ring of no silverware lags to a close at Arsenal, the question of what’s to be done after Arsene Wenger eventually retires needs to be asked; driven largely by unrealistic whispers of Arsenal’s board showing him the door on the summers dawn. The odds of Wenger being sacked by Arsenal are remote. However one day he will need to be replaced and there is little doubt that the longer his team (and more importantly the structure it rests upon) fails to deliver results, the question becomes more complicated for Arsenal.
The greatest problem presented to Arsenal is that the Premier League’s landscape has altered so dramatically since Wenger created his template for Arsenal’s future. The unforeseen scale of outside investment at Chelsea and Manchester City, added to the already competitive structures at Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham has meant that Arsenal are not able to attract or retain the level of player they once could in a more financially competitive marketplace. Regardless of stadium repayments etc with Chelsea and Manchester City’s endless wealth added to the larger fan base and stronger international branding of Manchester United, can Arsenal’s model now ever reap the successes it could have a decade earlier?
Arsenal’s fertile youth system, rapid player development and extensive global scouting network is almost removed from criticism. However with rival clubs now regularly taking advantage of Arsenal’s lack of spending power and success, taking their best players before they have peaked or before they reach their peak value could become a permanent theme in this new atmosphere. With a recruitment policy based on showing patience in youth and playing a heavily technical style that demands a high level of player ability, Arsenal’s model clearly resembles that of Barcelona and Ajax, clubs that enjoy a historical domestic dominance not shared or realistically obtainable for Arsenal, within a more competitive climate where they now struggle to attract/keep hold of their major assets. Can this vision of the future succeed?
Would Arsenal’s board be wiser to consider a future after Wenger driven by a transfer guru in charge of player recruitment in the manner of many of Europe’s top clubs? Working on a more short-term view building successful teams for 3-year cycles, complete with a manager willing to amend his tactics to suit the opposition and the squad at his disposal to maximise results. The utopian possibilities of Arsenal as a perpetual force would be unlikely with this model, but with the correct people in position, the club could achieve a sporadic success seemingly out of the current team’s reach.
Alternatively with the onset of financial fair play and safe in the knowledge of their large income and strong youth development record, will Arsenal look for a manager to carry on working within the parameters of Wenger’s plan? Sure that despite sacrificing short term success, in the long term Arsenal have a structure to climb to the top of the English game in future years and stay there. It’s a big question for Arsenal; one that all their fans will hope is answered correctly when the time arrives.