All good things must come to an end. In modern football most managers are lucky to get two years with a club, let alone 20, but Arsene Wenger has seen them all come and go during his time with Arsenal.
He revolutionised Arsenal and massively influenced the Premier League, from the moment he joined in 1996 to peaking with the 2003-4 season’s Invincibles. In recent years, though, increasing sections of the support have been on his back and, after much resistance, it looks more likely than ever that he might leave the club, as his contract is just months away from expiration and there is no renewal in sight.
That brings us to the successor - and there’s no outright favourite at the moment. Manchester United are still coming to terms with the end of a dynasty and it’s something Arsenal’s board will want to make sure they get right. And we’re here to help.
In partnership with Football Manager, we are running a four-part series simulating what life without Wenger would be like and in part three, we’ve handed the reins to Diego Simeone.
Having been a divisive character as a player, he embarked upon a rather nomadic managerial career upon hanging up his boots back in 2006.
Spells with the likes of Racing Club, Estudiantes, River Plate and San Lorenzo in his native Argentina, and Catania in Italy never truly alluded to the successful tactician he’d become at Atletico Madrid when he took over in 2011.
And since pitching up in the Spanish capital, he’s revolutionised the club and made them a true force in Europe in ways they’ve never experienced before.
His high intensity pressing style of play has won him many admirers and the thought of seeing him manage in the Premier League is certainly a mouth-watering prospect.
So how did he do…
Diamond in the rough
Simeone opted for a 4-4-2 in a diamond formation, which allowed him to utilise the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Olivier Giroud and Lucas Perez in the same side. Not as much flair as we’re used to seeing in a Simeone side - but he’s at Arsenal now, after all...
His most common starting XI was Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Cazorla, Ozil, Sanchez; Giroud, Lucas.
He stuck to Wenger’s possession philosophy - again, differing from his style at Atletico - and his choice to put two up front also proved a smart move, as Arsenal ended the campaign as the league’s top goal scorers with 74.
A transfer market flop
Simeone refused to make any changes during the summer transfer window and didn’t dip into the transfer market.
However, in January he splashed £20 million on Udinese youngster Silvan Widmer.
But the right-back failed to impress and made just five appearances across the rest of the campaign, and could only earn himself a rating of 6.23, which was the worst in the squad.
Still all about Ozil
True to real life, Ozil ended the campaign as the club’s best player - playing as the number 10 behind the two strikers. He scored seven goals and recorded 17 assists to give himself an average rating of 7.78.
Sanchez didn’t finish too far behind the German international either. His haul of 15 goals and nine assists - primarily playing on the left of the diamond midfield - saw him record a rating of 7.56.
Simeone also managed - as you might expect - to get the best out of Giroud, who ended the campaign as the club’s top scorer with a fantastic 28 in all competitions (21 in the league), but his efforts, strangely, only earned him a score of 7.04.
Despite at times looking like one of Arsenal’s more promising players, Aaron Ramsey struggled under Simeone and could only manage a 6.74 average rating - one of the worst of a regular in the side.
Midfielder Mohammed Elneny finished with a worse rating of just 6.32, though he played only 11 games.
The two of them could struggle to retain their places in the side next season.
And finally, despite his regular run in the side, Lucas struggled to have much impact on games (despite scoring 16 goals) and saw his rating peak at 6.90.
So close yet so far
Simeone managed to guide Arsenal to second in the table, but couldn’t keep up with a rejuvenated Chelsea, who finished the season top, ten points ahead of the Gunners.
A strong start to the season was undone by two barren spells in October and March, where a series of poor results ultimately cost them the title. Defeats to Swansea and Middlesbrough in the latter stages of the campaign put Chelsea out of sight.
However, throughout the season Simeone stayed true to his Atletico form and recorded some great results in the big games.
Away wins against Man City (2-0), Chelsea (2-1) and Liverpool (2-1) all proved that he was capable of mixing it with the best, but perhaps his finest hour came against rivals Tottenham, where an inspired Giroud fired a hat-trick against Spurs in a 5-0 win at the Emirates in April.
In the EFL Cup, Simeone made it to the fourth round but was knocked out by Manchester City (2-1) after taking them to extra time.
However, there was joy (and revenge) in the FA Cup as Simeone got his hands on his first piece of silverware.
They beat Swansea 3-0 in the quarter-final before having to squeeze past Newcastle United in extra time in the semis. Having done that, they met Manchester city again in the final and produced a satisfying 3-1 win that earned them their revenge over the EFL Cup result, with a Giroud brace either side of an Alex Iwobi strike giving them the trophy.
Familiar foe in Europe
The fairytale for Gooners would have been if Simeone’s big-game pedigree brought home the big one in his debut season but, despite topping a Champions League group including Bayern Munich and doing so while maintaining their rampant scoring streak in the Premier League (16 goals in six games including back-to-back 4-0 wins), Simeone met his end in all too familiar fashion.
After seeing off Besiktas in the round of 16, winning 4-1 on aggregate, Arsenal came undone against Simeone's former rivals Real Madrid in the quarter final, losing 3-1 over the two legs. That’s four consecutive seasons in a row that Simeone has been knocked out of the Champions League by Madrid, including two finals!
The verdict: Promising signs
While Simeone didn't deliver a league title or the big one in Europe, there was a lot there for fans to get excited about.
Lifting the FA Cup in such a convincing manner meant that he didn't finish the season empty handed, allowing him to build on that early foundation of success.
The club's free-scoring antics in the league and in Europe meant that they were at least entertaining and his efforts in getting the best out of Giroud adds another dimension to the way the side can play.
However, going forward, he will need to prove himself in the transfer market. He'd shown that he could spend wisely at Atleti, but had he brought in a stronger defensive midfielder he may have given himself a greater chance of success across all competitions.