Sooner or later, Arsenal will have to face up to the prospect of losing Arsene Wenger. No manager can continue indefinitely. Whether it's this season or in a couple of years' time, Arsenal will have to deal with the fallout of the loss of a legend.
A cautionary tale is unfolding at the other end of the M6. According to Mark Ogden of the Telegraph, David Moyes is on the verge of being sacked as the manager of Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson himself anointed Moyes as "The Chosen One" to replace him at Old Trafford. However, the chair in the dugout was simply too big for Moyes, and he is about to be unceremoniously dethroned.
Replacing an iconic manager is never easy. When Wenger goes, Arsenal's board will face a difficult decision. United turned to Ferguson for counsel, but Wenger has long insisted he would not choose his successor. Speaking in March of this year, he told SkySports:
I always said, and you can check that, everybody has his job [at the club]. My job is to do well for the team, not to do anything else.
The concern for Arsenal fans is that there is no-one on the current board with experience of overseeing a managerial appointment. One of the key factors in Moyes' failure has been the lack of knowhow exhibited by his chief executive Ed Woodward. Arsenal arguably share a similarly troubling executive vacuum.
At present, Wenger's influence extends into that vacuum, partially occupying it. The Frenchman is nigh on omnipotent at Arsenal. He oversees every aspect of the club's operation. He has a hand in youth development, manages the transfer budget, and he even helped design elements of the Emirates Stadium.
The club is constructed in his vision—almost literally.
It's unlikely Arsenal would hand a new man that kind of power. With that in mind, Wenger's departure could well provoke structural reform in North London. Arsenal could look to bring in an experienced football man to oversee sporting matters at the club and operate as the link between the manager and the owner.
David Dein's bridges appear to be burnt to a crisp, so the Gunners would have to look elsewhere for an alternative. A man such as Dan Ashworth, who performed superbly as sporting and technical director at West Brom before moving to Soho Square to head up Elite Development at the FA, would certainly fit the bill.
Appointing a Director of Football would help mitigate against a situation like the one at Manchester United. In January, Moyes spent £37 million on Juan Mata. However, the manager is now out the door. There's no guarantee Mata will fit into the new man's plans.
A director of football would ensure a degree of continuity in transfer plans regardless of who is coaching the side. They could help make certain that money is spent in an intelligent and strategic manner.
There would surely be plenty of money to spend. Although Wenger's penny-pinching can resemble that of a man who has mistaken the club's bank balance with his own, the truth is that he will leave behind quite the horde.
There is a theory among the Arsenal fans that Wenger's prudence has been a strategy designed to ensure a sizeable transfer fund for his successor. With Wenger gone, the shackles could well come off the fabled war chest.
Arsenal's renewed financial firepower should enable them to attract some top players. However, a certain calibre of talent might become unavailable to them. After Mesut Ozil moved from Real Madrid to London, he made clear to the Daily Mail that a brief chat with Wenger was a key factor in his decision:
In some way, that conversation flicked a switch in me and made me realise what I had lost at Madrid—transparency, trust, respect.
He told me exactly how he saw me, how he wanted to use me and what he expected of me. I would have even joined Arsenal for free.
How would Arsenal fare without Arsene Wenger?
Wenger's reputation makes him an enormous draw for any footballer. He ensnared Ozil at a time when Arsenal were not regarded as serious title challengers. Without Wenger, Arsenal may need trophies to lure talent from Europe's elite clubs.
The players assembled would come under the command of a new head coach. The likelihood is that the majority of Wenger's staff would leave with him. It's hard to see the likes of Boro Primorac being retained by any new man. Arsenal's current staff would be swept away by the proverbial new broom.
Fresh coaching ideas could be just what Arsenal need. No-one can criticise Wenger's legacy, but in recent years his tactics have appeared a little outdated. Arsenal's players might benefit from a modern approach.
However, improvement is not a certainty. Although Wenger is a humble man, unlikely to seek the limelight after leaving his post, he would nevertheless cast a huge shadow over the Emirates pitch.
When Kenny Dalglish was ousted at Anfield, Liverpool managed to replace a weary legend with a progressive coach who could inject new life into the club. However, for every Brendan Rodgers, there is a David Moyes.
The one thing Wenger guarantees is a measure of consistency. When he steps out of the Emirates for the last time, Arsenal will be forced to take a step into the unknown.