It seems like Arsene Wenger’s position at Arsenal has become untenable. And with the list of potential successors growing by the day, the candidate fitting in as the most natural heir to the Emirates throne could be Everton boss Ronald Koeman.
It’s difficult to conceive that a man of Wenger’s stature has seen his legendary reign at the club become almost indefensible. But at least among the majority of fans, whose wishes and beliefs should never be underappreciated, it seems that has become the case.
A common complaint about modern day football is that managers don’t get enough time. Wenger has had two decades in north London and what he achieved in that first decade will go down as the club’s greatest ever period.
Those feats earned him the right to be the man to take Arsenal into that second decade. But now that period has ended he must be judged on the following ten-year period, and unfortunately it’s difficult to make a case that he’s still the man to bring the club forward.
Competing in the Champions League every year while making the transition from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium is another incredible achievement. But that era has now passed and the fans are expecting results on promises made that they would be competing with the best in Europe both on and off the pitch.
There have been a wide range of managers touted as Wenger’s successor. A variety of individuals at different stages of their respected managerial careers. But one in particular ticks the boxes when it comes to assessing the qualities needed to take on a job like Arsenal in the helter-skelter madness of the Premier League.
Koeman, first and foremost, is no stranger to the league having enjoyed a relatively successful debut period at Southampton before moving to his current club, Everton. His Toffees side are currently performing well, not without a couple of bumps here and there, and are just outside the European places.
Upon his arrival at Southampton he was faced with the tough challenge of improving on what previous manager Mauricio Pochettino had built. The 45-year-old was a fan favourite and had led the Saints to an impressive eighth in the Premier League, playing attractive football along the way.
Koeman’s Dutch style of play fitted right in. And despite losing key players such as Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, he led the St. Mary’s club to an improved seventh, thus making the reign of Pochettino a distant memory among the Saints faithful.
The following season (2015/16), the 53-year-old managed to pull off another improved sixth place finish in the league. An impressive feat given he lost more star players in Morgan Schneiderlin and Nathaniel Clyne, along with the increased demands of Europa League football now added into the mix.
Progression into the top six at a club like Southampton in a league as competitive as the Premier League is an incredible feat. This earned him a move to Everton – a club which expects a top six finish, but also sees themselves as dark horses for a coveted top four spot.
It will be a long shot to break into the top four now as they’re currently eight points behind Merseyside rivals Liverpool in fourth. But another top six finish for Koeman would be an admiral achievement this season, again demonstrating progression – taking Everton to a new level considering their bottom half finish in 2015/16.
Progression – that’s all Arsenal supporters are asking for as there doesn’t seem to have been any over the past decade. As perennial performers providing us with a groundhog season year after year the message to Koeman would be simple: mount a serious title challenge that goes beyond April and reach at least a quarter-final of the Champions League.
The Zaandam native is a winner. He has won league titles as a player with Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Barcelona. As a manager he’s lifted league titles at Ajax and PSV, not to mention cup success at Valencia and Benfica.
It’s his links with Ajax and Barcelona that add another string to his bow when analysing potential Wenger successors. That Johan Cruyff total football philosophy is a style of play Arsenal have become accustomed to. It’s something they are renowned for, and they should continue on in this vein post-Wenger.
Bearing in mind the aforementioned links to the famous Ajax, there’s a certain Dennis Bergkamp plying his trade there currently as assistant manager. If Koeman was to get the job and could lure the 47-year-old back to London, who is adored unconditionally by the Arsenal faithful, what a morale booster that would be around the Emirates Stadium.
As mentioned, the former Barca player has had to deal with losing top players upon his arrival at both Southampton and Everton. Arsenal may be no different, with Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez rumoured as two of the club’s stars that may leave. Previously he has dealt with these issues very impressively, as he was responsible for bringing stars such as Virgil van Dijk and Sadio Mane to the league.
The funds will certainly be available for whoever is in charge at Arsenal next season, but the quality of player the club will be able to attract will depend hugely on whether or not the club have Champions League football or not.
Regardless, it’s difficult to make a realistic argument against Koeman being the best equipped for the job should the great Wenger decide to say goodbye.
But make no mistake about it, his legacy and loyalty will never be forgotten as the club’s greatest ever servant.
Neál Martin, Pundit Arena
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