As Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign as Arsenal manager comes to an end this week, there is a real sense of the end of an era at the Emirates.
Wenger’s reign has defined almost every aspect of Arsenal Football Club over the past two decades. The image of the club, the global appeal, the philosophies and traditions and, above all, the style of Arsenal, have largely been a reflection of their manager.
Of course, Arsenal enjoyed many successes before the Frenchman arrived as an unknown maverick from Japan in 1996. But there is no doubting that Wenger has taken the Gunners to another level during his time in charge.
The 1998 league and cup double. The Invincibles season of 03/04. The move from the legendary Highbury to the spectacularly modern and state of the art Emirates Stadium. The unearthing of players such as Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Cesc Fabregas. An unmatched record of seven FA Cup wins. Wenger’s achievements have elevated the stature of Arsenal as a footballing institution.
Whilst indulging in tributes to the iconic Frenchman will rightfully continue in the weeks to come, having culminated fittingly in the post-match celebrations following Arsenal’s 5-0 victory over Burnley in Wenger’s final home game in charge, it is crucial to consider how the club moves forward beyond arguably the most defining period in Arsenal’s history.
This is not just the end of an era, but the beginning of a new dawn. The changes and building towards the post-Wenger times have already begun to take shape this season.
Wenger insisted in his pre-Leicester press conference ahead of his penultimate match in charge, that Arsenal need just ‘two or three’ additions to the squad which he has rebuilt to challenge for the Premier League next season, under the guidance of his successor.
Off the field, Wenger’s replacement remains unchosen, or at least unnamed. Beyond the next manager, the new-look Gunners hierarchy – led by CEO Ivan Gazidis – appears to offer a strong and high-calibre setup to lead the club forward.
It has been widely suggested that a transfer budget in the region £200m is required to overhaul the Gunners’ squad in order to mount a serious title challenge and return to the heights not seen in north London for more than a decade since Arsenal’s last title success.
However, Wenger’s recent assertion that his current squad is not in need of major surgery, but simply ‘two or three’ additions to what is already in place, poses clear opposition to what may be a more widespread belief among pundits and Arsenal fans alike.
When assessing Arsenal’s current squad, though, Wenger’s belief in his players and the makeup of his team is not unwarranted. The team which beat Burnley was very much glimpse into the future, and one which provides great cause for optimism.
Any manager who demands a large-scale overhaul of this Arsenal squad and huge investment in new recruits simply should not be considered for the job. If they do not possess the coaching skills to get the best out of the quality and potential which is already in place in abundance, they are not competent enough to manage Arsenal.
The inconsistencies and ageing of Petr Cech and the uncertainties over the future over David Ospina makes the goalkeeping position one which is clearly in need of investment this summer. A younger, high-quality, long-term no 1 must be a priority signing ahead of next season.
Likewise, the retirement of Per Mertesacker at the end of the current campaign and the confirmation that Laurent Koscielny will be out of action until December following surgery on his Achilles injury makes the centre of defence a priority area for reinforcements. The loss of the experience and leadership of the two long-serving defenders will be an issue which must be addressed, and the addition of a top centre-half will be vital this summer.
Beyond those two areas, any major reinvestment in this current squad would be at great expense to the existing quality and promise in the squad.
What has fittingly prevailed during Wenger’s final season in charge this term is the emergence of a core group of young players staking their claim in the first team.
The Frenchman has a great reputation for nurturing and developing the raw potential in young talent, and this has proved to be the case again this season.
Jack Wilshere and Alex Iwobi have been the most recent examples of players given the opportunity to break through the club’s academy and become first team regulars in previous seasons.
This term, the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and, most recently, Konstantinos Mavropanos, have grasped the opportunities given to them by their manager to give Arsenal fans an exciting insight into the future.
Further to these younger names, the continued developments of the likes of Iwobi, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding in the first team all suggests that, rather than spend hundreds of million to reinvigorate a fresh impetus into this Arsenal squad, the new manager should instead look to continue the developments of these young players to form the core of the Gunners’ squad for the years to come.
Arsenal do not have disposable money to spend. Whilst Pep Guardiola can splash £50m on a full-back at Manchester City, that is simply not in the Gunners’ makeup, nor is it aligned with the club’s philosophy.
Any manager of top quality should be able to take on the current Arsenal setup, develop the talent which is already there, and with a few more additions this summer to shore up the defensive issues, lead this side back to the top.
The quality and potential are already in place. A manager of top credentials should have no issue with galvanising this current squad, coaching the players to maximise their abilities, and guiding this side back to the glories of the past.
If they are unable to, they do not belong at Arsenal.