It was never going to be easy, this. Just ask Manchester United how hard replacing a totemic figure who led an entire football club from top to bottom for more than two decades can be. United are still reeling from Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit, yet to fully find their standing among Europe’s elite. Ferguson left them Premier League champions; the closest they’ve been to English football’s highest honour since then was to finish 19 points behind Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City side. Arsenal are about to go on their own uncertain experience, and there is no blueprint to follow.
That Arsene Wenger should have left a few years before he finally obliged (or pushed, depending on whom you believe) is a moot point now. The greatest Arsenal manager ever has now left the building; it’s up to the club to chart a fruitful path forward. The early signs have been good. When Wenger and Ferguson are talked about, it’s often mentioned how much of the club was built in their own image, particularly for the Arsenal man who was involved in a variety of things from dietary requirements to stadium planning with the architects. Both of these men are the last of a dying breed: the all-powerful, alpha male English boss.
Arsenal have taken the sensible route to ape the more expansive continental style where the head coach is assisted by various people in different roles. With the appointment of Raul Sanllehi from Barcelona as head of football operations (Director of Football in all but name) and Sven Mislintat from Borussia Dortmund as head of recruitment, Arsenal now have a panel of executives working harmoniously on the football side. There is a structure in place where the manager’s job is to coach the players at his disposal while those around him figure out the boring details of scouting, recruitment, and player contracts. Of course the manager has a major say on who joins the club, this structure ensures there’s no dependency on the whims and wants of just one man. The system is king.
The signings Arsenal have made this summer point to the value of joined up thinking. Veteran defender Stephan Lichsteiner brings a wealth of experience from Juventus on a free; Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a capable defender with title-winning experience from Dortmund; Bernd Leno solves a problem in goal with Petr Cech ageing and David Ospina unfit for purpose. Lucas Torreira is Arsenal’s first true defensive midfielder in ages, a mid-sized pint of Uruguayan terror and Matteo Guendouzi, 19, is one for the future. These are all sensible signings, and in a season of transition, Arsenal have given themselves a shot of a reasonably successful season. The Post-Wenger Years will bring their own fears and tears but Arsenal look to be in good shape to weather the considerable storm ahead.