If you aren’t an Arsenal fan, the annual talk about the club needing to get rid of their long-standing French manager Arsene Wenger can get a little tiresome. Each season his side show great potential, each season they then fade away as the home straight approaches.
The title optimism gets replaced by frustration and despair fuelled by a sense of underachievement. Then, inevitably, the criticisms of Wenger and claims that it is time for him and the club to move on begin in earnest and stain the final months of the Gunners' campaign.
An argument for keeping Wenger, for now, is that there is no obvious replacement. Two former candidates, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, have already been snapped up by rivals. Yet there is an alternative and he has taken eight points off Wenger over the last two seasons – Southampton’s Ronald Koeman.
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If Wenger does decide that it is time to step away from a club he has led for almost 20 years, the Dutchman would be one of the bookies' favourites to fill a hole almost as large and ominous as the one Sir Alex Ferguson left at Old Trafford when he retired.
The pedigree and the experience are certainly there. Not just as a former player who won 78 caps for his country and played almost 200 times for Barcelona, but as a manager who looks well equipped to take on the challenge of managing at Emirates Stadium.
At the age of 53 he has already been at the helm of Ajax, Benfica, Valencia and now Southampton to name but a few, as well as having learnt the trade through assistant positions with Barcelona and the Netherlands.
Titles have been won too, eight in fact, including three Dutch Eredivisie's, a Portuguese Super Cup and a Spanish Copa Del Rey. If Arsenal fans are concerned about having a replacement without experience or an understanding of what it takes to be successful as a player and coach then they need not worry if that alternative is Koeman.
Unsurprisingly for a man who played under the late Johan Cruyff, Koeman is a disciple of the innovative way of playing that the legendary Cruyff espoused so fervently. As such, the attacking and passing traditions of Arsenal that the fans demand would not fade away if he were to take the reins from Wenger. The focus on ball retention, expression and forward intensity would remain.
If anything, Koeman could be exactly what Arsenal need if they are to lose the stereotype of being a side with great technical skill but little tactical and defensive solidity. Indeed it was at Emirates Stadium recently where his Southampton team put in the kind of disciplined, organised performance to gain an impressive 0-0 draw that has too often deserted Wenger’s Arsenal. He has shown on many occasions that he can adapt his tactics and formation to suit and exploit a given situation.
The way Southampton have been able to maintain their position as strong Europa League challengers makes it is easy to forget just how many quality players they have lost over the past two seasons. It is a credit to Koeman that he has not once, but twice been able to re-build the squad after bigger fish had swooped to poach the club’s prized assets.
He is a shrewd player in the transfer market, with terrific judgement in getting the right players to fit his system and extracting every ounce of potential from his squad. With no disrespect to Southampton, imagine what he could do with Arsenal’s playing resources, appeal and financial muscle?
Since he arrived at St Mary’s, Koeman has seen Luke Shaw, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin leave. All were key players. All have been adequately replaced by the likes of Ryan Bertrand, Virgil van Dijk, Graziano Pelle, Saido Mane and Shane Long to name but a few. The signings of Fraser Forster and Charlie Austin were two other superb acquisitions.
How long have the fans of Arsenal been craving for a manager who can consistently spot and acquire the right players at the right time? Bringing in world-class individuals like Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech and Mesut Ozil cannot disguise Wenger’s failings in the market, such as not even attempting to sign an outfield player last summer when a world-class defensive midfielder and centre forward were clearly needed.
The final box that Koeman ticks is that he would be in it for the long-term. He wouldn’t want to be a short-term fix, to keep the seat warm for someone else down the line. Wenger has provided Arsenal with a stability that the fans will not truly appreciate until he is gone.
They will not want a similar debacle to the one at Old Trafford. Such a scenario would, in principle be avoided with Koeman – it would be by far his biggest managerial role to date and one he would surely want to maximise to the full. A man of great ambition, the chance to replace Wenger will be difficult for Koeman to turn down if Arsenal come calling this summer.
The day Wenger leaves Arsenal will be a sad one for the club. The gloom would lift that little bit faster if Koeman was put into the hot seat. They may look further afield to perhaps a bigger name at a bigger club but the answer to Arsenal's managerial conundrum could well be found far closer to home. On the English south coast to be exact.
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