Arsene Wenger may be riding a wave of approval ratings in the wake of his club-record, £42.5 million acquisition of Mesut Ozil, but the fact remains the Arsenal manager will be out of contract at the end of the season, and should the Gunners’ go a ninth year without silverware, his future at Emirates Stadium will be far from certain.
Already it has been suggested the 63-year-old may join Paris Saint-Germain next summer, and given the school of thought that has current PSG boss Laurent Blanc essentially keeping the seat warm for his countryman in the French capital, it would hardly be surprising if—in the event Wenger isn’t offered or doesn’t accept a new contract at Arsenal—he would at least consider the move.
But who would replace him?
A Tuesday report in Italian outlet Sport Mediaset (h/t Football-Italia) has claimed Antonio Conte will be targeted in the event Arsenal find themselves without a manager in June.
At first glance the idea of the stern, former midfielder patrolling the technical area at Emirates Stadium is ridiculous, almost comical, but a closer look at the 44-year-old reveals why he might just fit at the North London club.
It goes without saying that Arsenal will not truly replace Wenger with their next managerial appointment. But the hiring process will also give the board a chance to explore their options—to approach a candidate who offers a little bit of what Wenger brought to the club while also providing some elements they lacked under the longtime boss.
One thing they’d get in Conte is a useful touch of favouritism.
The current Juventus manager will not suffer a player he doesn’t trust. As a result, his match-to-match squad changes over the course of a season are minimal when compared against his peers. So far this term he has started an identical lineup in all three of his side’s Serie A matches; against Inter Milan last weekend he withdrew Stephan Lichtsteiner at the break because he couldn’t trust the wing-back to not get himself sent off.
Arsenal could do with a bit of severity when it comes to squad selection. Conte would quickly determine his favourites, and those left outside his circle of trust simply wouldn’t play.
He would also bring some tactical flexibility to a side that can sometimes be rather predictable.
An adherent to the typical four-man defensive set earlier in his career (he managed Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena before arriving at Juventus), Conte’s preferences have evolved to the point where he now uses a three-man setup whenever Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci are healthy.
He’d be unlikely to use a three-man defense at Arsenal, but at least the option would be there—as would be the ability to press fiercely from midfield for a time before changing tact and shifting the attention to the flanks. Conte is an expert at determining an opponent’s weaknesses, and he isn’t afraid to make the adjustments necessary to exploit them.
Finally, the Italian would tighten things up in defense.
Under Wenger Arsenal have developed a reputation for playing eye-catching, attractive football, but nearly a decade without a trophy has proved the necessity for a back line as capable at their jobs as the playmakers are at theirs.
The defensive third has become an adventure zone with Wenger’s teams, and that simply would be the case under Conte.
Once again the former Italy international would quickly determine which players he could trust and which he couldn’t, and his favourites would get the majority of the playing time. Better on-field relationships between teammates would form as a result, and Arsenal would be a tighter, more seamless and unyielding outfit as a result.
The Wenger era might not be over, but it will end at some point. And when it does, the club could do worse than to target Antonio Conte as his replacement.