When the Time Comes, Arsene Wenger Must Work Together with His Arsenal Successor

Janusz Michallik@@JanuszESPNFeatured ColumnistMarch 31, 2014

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Here we are again, with Arsenal fighting for fourth place in the Premier League, looking over their shoulders at Everton. So, how much has changed?

There's been more pressure on Arsenal and especially Arsene Wenger again this season, with some looking at his present contract situation as perhaps another reason for many to revisit the old question of whether Wenger should stay or go.

But we can also look on the positive side and say that Arsenal are only three points away from Manchester City in third—though City have two games in hand—five points away from Chelsea and seven points away from Liverpool.

So it's a glass-half-full, glass-half-empty situation.

Arsene Wenger's Arsenal were thumped 6-0 at Chelsea in Wenger's 1,000th game in charge.
Arsene Wenger's Arsenal were thumped 6-0 at Chelsea in Wenger's 1,000th game in charge.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Arsenal this season are a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde team. As we've seen recently, they have had problems competing with the best, but their position in the table shows that they have been in the race throughout the season, even despite having so many key injuries and bad results.

Yes, they seem to be in the same spot as they were last year, fighting for fourth. But yet they were nowhere near having a chance for the title last season, when they finished 16 points behind Manchester United and were never in the race.

There's no doubt in my mind that Arsenal have made progress. However unrealistic you think their title chances are now, at least they were in the conversation. But before you call me an Arsenal apologist, let's get something straight.

From a neutral point of view, Wenger was, is and will always be considered a great manager in Arsenal's history and for me personally. The highs of his reign far outweigh the lows, and I remember being present, working for ESPN, for the 2006 Champions League final in Paris, seeing Arsenal playing as well as—if not better for long periods of time than—Barcelona.

I enjoy beautiful football, and over the years, there haven't been too many teams that truly provide entertainment, enjoyment and quality of football like Arsenal. 

Wenger came close to winning the Champions League with Arsenal in 2006, losing to Barcelona in the final.
Wenger came close to winning the Champions League with Arsenal in 2006, losing to Barcelona in the final.LUCA BRUNO

Having said that, I would be remiss not to wonder whether now could be the right time for Arsenal and Wenger to think about a long-term replacement who would continue the excellence of the club.

I'm not necessarily saying that Wenger has to go, but I hope that the situation at Manchester United would serve as a lesson to Arsenal. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, Wenger has been the fabric of the team for so many years that he will be a tough act for anyone to follow.

The process of picking the right manager is not simple and can obviously mean success or failure in the years to come. If I were Wenger, I would go out of my way to make sure that my philosophy survives the the transition to a new manager, whenever that time comes. I would like to see Wenger, unlike Ferguson, not only helping to choose the next manager but also helping to mentor him in an active role.

Matt Dunham

For me, the only thing that's missing for Wenger and this Arsenal team is an open mind, a fresh look, as Wenger is set in his ways—and I'm not sure that he can change. Wenger is a lover and not a fighter, and that's why I think some of the gritty, physical and perhaps less technical players whom Arsenal need may not be available as long as he makes every decision in the club.

Change is difficult for most of us, as we are creatures of habit, and I'm pretty sure that Wenger sees what we all see and knows what type of players are needed, but is simply stubborn.

Jurgen Klopp led Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final last season.
Jurgen Klopp led Borussia Dortmund to the Champions League final last season.Matt Dunham

He's seen that style of play have success at Barcelona, and it's happened for him at times at Arsenal, but not enough in recent times to win trophies. With that in mind, maybe the time has come for Wenger to show that even he is not bigger than the club. I know that Wenger loves the club. He has been running the club the right way for more than 17 years and can continue doing that—but perhaps in a different role. 

But there's no reason to hide. Whenever Wenger decides the time is right to step down, I believe he should keep an active role with the club. I don't think that Wenger would cast a shadow on the next manager. In fact, I believe a smart manager would use Wenger and his vast knowledge and experience to help him in the transition. After that, then he could make a name for himself.

It's not easy to bring the best managers to your club, as it takes an unbelievable amount of work, the right timing and lots of money to make it happen, but it could be worth it in the long term. But Arsenal cannot get just anyone. It has to be someone who will build on many successful years and continue the philosophy that Wenger has established.

Roberto Martinez won the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic this season.
Roberto Martinez won the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic this season.Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Jurgen Klopp of Borussia Dortmund is an obvious choice, and I think he would be a correct one. Regardless of what his situation is or may be, if I were Wenger, I would be laying the groundwork as we speak to make sure that when the time comes, he's available and willing to come. It very well may be on his terms financially, and whatever those terms are, he would represent a very good investment.

Roberto Martinez is another one who would fit the footballing mentality of Arsenal, and although we may have had some doubts with him at Wigan, he has certainly dispelled them at Everton. It's probably no coincidence that when Liverpool were looking for a new manager, their last two choices were Brendan Rodgers and Martinez.

In the next seven weeks, this could turn into a very good season for Arsenal or one of huge disappointment. We can all see the problems and see that they need to be fixed. In seven weeks' time, will see if the glass is half-empty or half-full.