It’s not a nice thing to be speculating about the future of a manager who is still currently employed – but that, as we all know, is the nature of the football beast.
Looking at Arsene Wenger, we are not dealing with an ordinary case. His 20 years in charge of Arsenal have been a huge success, even if some feel this past, trophy-less decade (at least in the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League) has sullied his legacy.
But after another season without success at home or in Europe, and with Wenger set to turn 68 before the end of the year, it seems his marvellous tenure is coming to an end.
The jungle drums aren’t just beating, they’re being pounded from all sides: fans, the media, pundits and ex-players.
Transitioning to a new manager will be incredibly difficult, however, as Manchester United found out when they parted company with Sir Alex Ferguson. Arguably, they have only found their way in recent months under Jose Mourinho.
The critical decision for the Arsenal board will be identifying the right man for the job, and with the five of the biggest names in management currently tied up with Premier League rivals (Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino), options are limited.
However, it is a decision the Gunners can’t afford to get wrong, and when the time for Wenger to depart finally arrives, they’ll need to have a plan in place.
Here’s the five men the Arsenal board will have on their chalkboard – and one a few fans might be hoping gets added to the mix.
1. Thomas Tuchel
Current club: Dortmund
Why: A brilliant guardian of Dortmund’s permanent revolution
Roundly suggested as the obvious successor to Wenger, Tuchel is a manager that would seem to tick all the boxes the Arsenal hierarchy are looking towards. First and foremost, he already fits the Arsenal mould of playing - committing to a style that is both energetic and pleasing on the eye. However, it’s true that under his reign, Dortmund hasn’t threatened Bayern Munich yet, and are already teetering on elimination from the Champions League by Benfica (down 1-0 after the first leg in Lisbon).
2. Massimiliano Allegri
Current club: Juventus
Why: Antonio Conte’s heir has kept Juventus purring
Quizzed about Arsenal’s interest after Juventus’ 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday night, Allegri replied: “How’s my English?”. He’s proved himself as tactically astute rather than innovative, showing himself as a flexible, adaptive manager who tweaks his system according to what is required rather than a dogma. The bookies have him marked as favourite, which can’t be much of a surprise given he’s won three Serie A titles with two different clubs. However, with such a great job already in his possession, and a Scudetto virtually assured every year, does he really need to look elsewhere?
3. Eddie Howe
Current club: Bournemouth
Why: A winner against all odds
Linked with the England job twice in the past seven months, Howe is considered the biggest managerial talent in the Home Nations. His work with Bournemouth is already the stuff of legend, and at just 39, he has plenty of time to carve his niche at the elite end of management – although Harry Redknapp did admit this week that Howe isn’t his choice. “Eddie has done a fantastic job at Bournemouth but he has worked with young players. [At Arsenal] you're dealing with big stars. You're dealing with the Sanchez’s and Ozils. It's a different level. Is he ready to step in at Arsenal now? I've got to be honest, I don't think he is.” Then again, nobody knew Wenger when he arrived in England in 1996.
4. Diego Simeone
Current club: Atletico Madrid
Why: Would surely find a way to make Arsenal title contenders
The Che Guevara of the dugout, “Cholo” is about as far away from Arsene Wenger as Arsenal could get. A fiercely passionate, seat-of-the-pants manager, Simeone has proven himself as a mercurial managerial talent, winning the seemingly un-winnable La Liga in 2013-14, then taking Atletico Madrid to within a whisker of Champions League glory twice in the past three years. However, two questions remain: would he ever leave Atletico Madrid, a club now totally formed in his own image? And is he filled with too much Latin flair for a club that still prides itself on the genteel, Marble Halls-mentality?
5. Niko Kovač
Current club: Eintracht Frankfurt
Why: The left-field option if Arsenal wants to recover its bite.
An icon of Croatian football during his 12-year stint with the national team, Kovač’s entry into management in 2009 has brought a mixture of experiences. He began life as in the academy and then as an assistant at Red Bull Leipzig, before switching out to the Croatian under-21 national team, then moving to the senior team between 2013 and 2015. But it’s at Eintracht Frankfurt that Kovač’s methods have sprung incredible results. Three times relegated since 2002, and only just surviving in the Bundesliga in recent years, Kovač has used his old-school methods to huge effect, driving the club into Champions League contention. Despite given virtually no money to work with (which may impress Stan Kroenke), Kovač has Frankfurt in fifth, just two points behind Tuchel’s third-placed Dortmund.
And just for a left-field option...
Current position: Second assistant manager, Belgium.
Why: It worked for Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid, didn’t it?
Officially the greatest Gooner of all time, Henry is held above all others in North London for his extraordinary playing deeds at the beginning of the Millennium. If his playing career inspired many books, his coaching career is barely a page long, having spent six months working with Roberto Martinez as the second assistant manager for the Belgian national team. But Zidane’s instant success at Real Madrid – with roughly the same CV before taking the head job – is already whetting the appetite of a certain section of the Emirates. One day, he’ll probably get handed the reigns at Arsenal but could it be sooner than we think?