Arsenal's next manager faces bigger issues than Man United after Ferguson
The Arsenal job should be one of the most attractive managerial positions in football. Instead, when Arsene Wenger walks away from the Emirates after this season ends, he'll bequeath a poisoned chalice to his successor.
The scale of the problems the new man will face were illustrated once again by Wednesday's 3-1 defeat away to Leicester City. Arsenal are the only Premier League team that have not taken a point on the road this year. The squad lacks fight and direction. Wenger's tenure has reached a painful end, yet the agony is unlikely to end with the manager's exit.
Wenger leaves behind an unbalanced squad whose star player, Mesut Ozil, seems incapable of living up to the money the club have invested in him. The new boss will have to galvanise the players and restore the confidence of an uncertain fan base. After all, the empty seats at the Emirates in the second half of the season helped seal Wenger's fate.
The 68-year-old's departure creates a vacuum at the club, and it is hard to predict how it will be filled. Power has been centred on Wenger for too long, though Arsenal have attempted to build a framework behind the scenes in recent months. Sven Mislintat arrived from Borussia Dortmund as head of recruitment at the end of last year. In February, Raul Sanllehi was appointed head of football relations after spending 14 years with Barcelona, yet it is too soon to assess whether the new setup will work. Both men come from clubs that have been lauded for producing players and success, but will the Gunners lean toward Dortmund's methods or those practised at the Nou Camp? And how will the next appointment fit into this untested structure?
There are too many questions hanging in the air in north London.
Arsenal's meltdown could be even worse than the problems Manchester United encountered after Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down on health grounds five years ago. Ferguson's sudden retirement was exacerbated by the departure of David Gill, the chief executive, who pursued a place on UEFA's executive committee. United had to cope without the two strongest leaders at the club and have arguably still not recovered their pre-eminent position in the Premier League.
David Moyes inherited a title-winning side from Ferguson. Old Trafford had not experienced the long, slow decline that Wenger has overseen at the Emirates, yet United are on their third post-Ferguson manager. If they slipped so badly from such an advantageous position, how far could Arsenal fall from sixth in 2017-18, especially with the manager, the head of football relations and the head of recruitment all trying to carve out a new infrastructure in the void left by Wenger?
Perhaps the only advantage that could have been gained by allowing Wenger to see out the final year of his contract would have been the opportunity to see whether Sanllehi and Mislintat would develop a constructive working relationship and how they will relate to the manager. This will have to be done under a new boss, given Wenger's exit, which creates a difficult dynamic.
It is also a concern that Arsenal do not appear to have a clear idea about what sort of manager they want. Julian Nagelsmann is highly respected at the Emirates and seems to fit the bill, but the 30-year-old is likely to remain at Hoffenheim, having turned down Bayern Munich's overtures. Some of the other youthful names being bandied around (Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, to name two) would be dangerous gambles because of their lack of experience. They are not being considered as serious contenders for the job.
Sanllehi has been in contact with Luis Enrique, which suggests that Arsenal could go down the Barcelona route, but the 48-year-old's wage demands are said to have been too high. Massimiliano Allegri is another big name with a winning pedigree, but luring the 50-year-old from Juventus would be expensive and difficult. Potential uncertainty about how the new regime will work could also overshadow negotiations.
It is a bad time to be looking for a manager. Chelsea are likely to be in the same market as they try to find a replacement for Antonio Conte. The World Cup also complicates the search. Some potential targets -- Germany's Joachim Low is a name that often crops up when big clubs have vacancies -- would be unable to start work until after the tournament.
A similar problem exists when refreshing the squad. Transfers are harder to complete if the player is on national duty. In ideal circumstances, clubs in Arsenal's position should have compiled a list of potential acquisitions by now and begun the process of finding out whether a player is amenable to a move. Mislintat will have his wish list, but will it meet with the new manager's approval?
All recruitment issues are compounded by the short transfer window. This year, dealing closes on Aug. 9, 22 days earlier than before. The idea is to get all transactions completed by the time the campaign begins. In situations such as this, clubs need to have clear objectives and ambitions. Arsenal have much work to do in the coming weeks.
Without Champions League football, the Gunners will find it harder to attract players to the Emirates, and money is tighter, too. The new manager might question the wisdom of the club's January transactions. Spending £60 million on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while committing £350,000 per week in wages for Ozil over the next three years was hailed as good business at the time, but perhaps it would have been better to keep the cash for the incoming manager to spend.
Ozil became a problem for Wenger. The German international's talent is the equal of any player in the Premier League, but his effectiveness does not equate to his ability. The next manager will have to wring more out of his prize asset.
All of the above adds up to a huge challenge. The fans have been conditioned to expect success, and little sympathy will be extended to Wenger's heir if things go wrong.
Arsenal are a club with massive possibilities, but there is also huge potential for disaster. Dangerous days lie ahead.
Tony Evans has been a sports journalist for more than 20 years. He writes for ESPN FC on the Premier League. Twitter: @tonyevans92a.