As pressure grows, again, on Arsene Wenger to call it a day on Arsenal, the Arsenal manager represents the last of his kind – a long-term club man in a world that has moved on without him.
In the history of Arsenal Football Club, the Gunners have had three main managerial eras, under Herbert Chapman, George Graham and Arsène Wenger. Looking at the way football is going today, is it likely that we’ll ever see another like those three?
Although managers like Bertie Mee also managed a large number of games and won trophies with the Gunners, Chapman, Graham and Wenger have been the most successful over an extended period of time. They’re the three with the highest win rate of any manager who has overseen more than 250 games with Arsenal, and they all had a major impact on the club.
First Herbert Chapman, who ushered in the first ever period of success on the trophy front for the team. When he joined Arsenal in 1925, he’d already led Huddersfield Town to two league titles and an FA Cup trophy, but the Gunners had never won a major trophy. By the time of his death in 1934, Arsenal had won two league titles and an FA Cup of their own.
But Chapman didn’t just revolutionise the club on the pitch. He’s also been credited with a number of steps forward in football, including installing the first floodlights at Highbury, building a new stand in the stadium, renaming tube station “Gillespie Road” to “Arsenal”, bringing in white footballs and numbered shirts, and adding the white sleeves to Arsenal’s kit. The Gunners unveiled a statue of the manager in 2011, outside the Emirates Stadium.
Meanwhile, George Graham helped the club out of the longest league title drought they’d been in since that first win under Herbert Chapman. Arsenal only won one league title between 1953 and 1988, but Graham reorganised the team to lead them to their first title in 18 years.
George won the league again two years later, and combined that with three domestic cup successes and a rare European trophy for the Gunners, all in the space of a nine year spell that put Arsenal back among the top teams in the country. He also oversaw the introduction of influential club captain Tony Adams, making Adams a regular in 1986/87 and giving him the captaincy in 1988.
Arsène Wenger then joined, a year after Graham’s departure, and brought the third major transformation for the club. Winning three league titles in his first eight years, despite having Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United for competition, Wenger then implemented one of the biggest off-field changes in Arsenal’s history, by leading the club as they moved stadium to the Emirates. The move allowed a further 22,000 fans to turn up to watch their team every week, although the initial costs of the new stadium led to financial restrictions and a trophy drought lasting almost nine years.
But Wenger stuck around, won three more FA Cups to become the most successful FA Cup manager in the history of English football and has now managed more than twice the number of matches as any other Arsenal manager. Not only that, but he was also responsible for buying and developing Arsenal’s record goalscorer, Thierry Henry. Henry is widely considered one of the greatest players of the Premier League era, and Wenger has to take some credit for that.
But when Wenger does eventually leave, will there ever be another managerial era like we’ve had previously?
Looking around the league at the current state of managerial appointments, it doesn’t seem likely. The two longest serving Premier League managers after Arsène Wenger are Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche, at the time of writing. Both have only just passed the five year mark for Burnley and Bournemouth repectively, meaning they have another four years to go until they catch Chapman or Graham, let alone Wenger.
As I said, those are the longest serving managers in the whole league, and they still aren’t even close. Then you look at other clubs in the top six, and the picture gets even bleaker. Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho are all yet to reach two years, and Jürgen Klopp has only just passed that milestone. Mauricio Pochettino is only slightly further ahead, but even he hasn’t made it to four years yet.
If anything, right now we’re in a rare period of stability. Conte, Guardiola and Mourinho were all appointed in the same summer, which tells you how things went for big-six managers the previous season.
However, Arsenal have tended to be a bit more stable with their appointments. Bertie Mee lasted 10 years after he took charge in 1966, then Terry Neill lasted another seven after that, Don Howe only managed three but then Graham came in for nine.
So the only permanent managers who haven’t lasted seven years or more for Arsenal, since 1966, are Don Howe and Bruce Rioch (who managed the Gunners for a year between Graham and Wenger). If you exclude caretaker managers, that gives you an average of just under eight-and-a-half years for permanent Arsenal managers in the last five decades.
Perhaps we should expect more of the same after Wenger, then?
Again, when you look at other clubs with extended appointments, it doesn’t seem to follow that they’re more likely to hang onto their new managers after they get rid of the long-serving one.
Everton employed David Moyes for over eleven years, only losing him when Moyes himself decided to leave for Manchester United. But Roberto Martinez only lasted three seasons after that, and Ronald Koeman did even worse, being let go after one.
Sir Alex Ferguson is the other obvious example, spending almost 27 years at Manchester United. That was followed by less than a season under Moyes, two seasons under Louis van Gaal, and one and a half so far under Mourinho.
There’s obviously limited evidence available here, considering so few clubs actually hang onto their managers nowadays. But the impression you get from those that did is you can’t expect long-term appointments one after another, and things have simply changed too much for a Premier League manager to last for more than a decade in today’s game.
In addition, my personal sense is that the Gunners will look to avoid the possibility of a Manchester United-style roller coaster, by bringing in a safer choice. I expect the board to look for someone who already has lots of experience at the very top level, rather than bringing in someone who would be making a step up, like United did with Moyes.
For example, Carlo Ancelotti has managed six of Europe’s biggest clubs, and won trophies with them all. He wouldn’t be new to the league, or the expectation, and for him it’d be just another job. I can see the board going for someone like that. But anyone with that sort of experience is likely to be a bit older; Ancelotti will be 59 by next summer.
Unless Carlo plans to manage until he’s 80, he probably wouldn’t stick around with Arsenal for anywhere near as long as Wenger. Even 10 years would probably be a bit of a stretch. So if my hunch is right and the Gunners opt for experience, to transition away from the longest managerial era in their history, we probably won’t see the next big one for a while at least.
With the amount of hiring and firing that goes on in football at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if managers don’t expect to stick around with one club for very long anyway. Earlier this year, Pep Guardiola told reporters: “I will be at Manchester for the next three seasons, maybe more. I will not be on the bench until I am 60 or 65 years old. I feel the process of my goodbye has already started.”
“I am arriving at the end of my coaching career, of this I am sure.”
Guardiola is 46 years old, and despite a trophyless season in 2016/17, he is consistently regarded as one of the top coaches in the world. Yet, he doesn’t expect to last another 14 years, let alone longer. “Three seasons, maybe more” is all he’ll commit to, and again maybe that’s a sign that it’s not just clubs who expect shorter stays nowadays.
Ultimately, we won’t know what will happen next until we see it. It’s perfectly possible that the Gunners sign up a new young manager with big ideas who totally revolutionises certain aspects of the club and leaves their mark in the same way as Chapman, Graham and Wenger did.
Arsenal have still never won the Champions League, and I imagine whichever manager eventually comes along and achieves that will be remembered in a similar way to those three. So there’s still potential there.
The way things are going, it might be a while until it happens. But I think it’s way too soon to say there will never be another managerial era like theirs.
After Chapman, I bet people thought there would never be another manager who could even be worthy of comparison in terms of on and off pitch revolutions. After Graham, it must’ve been hard to imagine that someone else could come in and match George’s trophy haul.
So whilst I’m hesitant to say there will be another era on that sort of level after Wenger, I’m not going to rule it out.