With it now a virtual certainty that Arsenal will endure a sixth consecutive season without winning any silverware, speculation about the future of long time manager Arsene Wenger is reaching a deafening crescendo.
Some want him gone at once, while others say he should stay. Whatever your personal opinion is, the one thing that is certain that he won't stay at the Emirates forever, and when he leaves, the shoes left to fill will be big ones.
In its first 92 years of existence, Arsenal finished in the top four 23 times. Arsene Wenger came to London as an unknown back in 1996 after a David Dein jaunt to Japan, and was greeted with the headline "Arsene Who?" in the Evening Standard.
14 years later, and the French tactician has authored 14 consecutive European qualifications. He has created the greatest team that ever toed a blade of grass in England, and kept Arsenal one of the world's top clubs.
His acumen in selecting young players has become legendary, and the Gunners have remained in contention year in and year out without breaking the bank.
Supporters of Middlesborough, Coventry and Leeds United will surely appreciate that last statement.
Nonetheless, the calls for The Professor's ouster are growing louder following the Gunners miserable form over the past few weeks that has seen the team fall from the race in ignominious fashion.
With a new owner running the show at the Emirates, and no one really sure how he will proceed, the time seems right to stoke the speculative fires some more.
That being said, I am in favor of Wenger being given funds to work with by Stan Kroenke, the amount being made public, and letting the Frenchman continue building this team. Anyone who doesn't realize what a special group of players currently ply their trade at the Emirates needs their head examined.
But just for the sake of some speculative argument, here are 10 managers that could conceivably replace Wenger as Arsenal's skipper.
What better place to start than the man who Arsene Wenger himself has tipped as his preferred successor?
Stojkovic has been in charge of Japanese J-League outfit Nagoya Grampus for the past three seasons, and led them to a J-League title in 2010.
The Gunners boss told a Serbian newspaper earlier in the year that he sees "Piksi" as an ideal successor because of the similar approach the two men take to the game.
"I would love Stojkovic to be my successor, there are a hundred reasons for that," Wenger told Serbian paper Vecernje Novosti. ''Our ideas are the same and we both strive for perfect football. I knew he was going to have teams playing attacking football with many passes.
''He has done that, showing he will be a great coach. I told him that if he could transmit his football imagination to his players he would fly high."
Wenger was the man responsible for bringing the Serb to Japan in the first place, signing him in 1994 when the Frenchman was the manager at Nagoya.
It would seem Stojkovic is a very plausible name to replace Wenger's on the door of the manager's door at the Emirates, but it should be noted that, to me, the Serb only remains a candidate, as the break between Wenger and Arsenal remains amicable. That is to say, unforced.
Should the man behind "The Invincibles" be shown the door, that would signal a break with prior philosophy, and the longtime Yugoslavian international would likely fall out of view as a replacement.
Let me just say: I do not want to see Jose Mourinho replace Arsene Wenger at the Emirates.
Yes, he's a great manager. That is, if you're into a guy who still seems to think it's all about him, despite the fact that he no longer plays. He is the polar opposite of Wenger. Hiring Mourinho would look a lot like a total indictment of the French tactician's methods.
I strongly doubt that Mourinho would even consider coming to the Emirates without some guarantee of having a sizable transfer kitty to play with, and he's not going to be too high on the concept of having to sell one of the world's great midfield talents to get it.
Simply put, this move is as likely as "The Special One" suddenly learning a lesson in humility.
Honestly, I can't understand what the appeal of this man is. His style is totally unsuited to life in the Premiership unless he has a Russian billionaire to bankroll his whims, and, in my opinion, bringing him to the Emirates would reek of desperation. It's just not worth it.
Mourinho is just as subject to the fickle mercies of luck as Wenger is. There is no guarantee the Portuguese boss would win trophies, but he is likely to come and go in the space of three seasons, and would probably leave the club in serious financial trouble when he left.
So sure. Let's bring him in and go all out for a trophy. What could wrong?
Ask any supporters of Middlesborough, Leeds United or Coventry.
But Mourinho would certainly bring some excitement. The problem is, he would probably take it with him when he leaves. He is a walking media circus; which would be fine if the Gunners are winning, but at the first sign of a breach in the walls, UK media will eviscerate Mourinho.
Do any of us want to see the final days of Mourinho's tenure at Stamford Bridge visited upon the Emirates?
I didn't think so.
His trophy cabinet is nearly as full as the Portuguese skipper is of himself. So what?
He's not an Arsenal man.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown
If it's experience you covet in a new gaffer at the Emirates, Guus Hiddink certainly brings plenty of it to the table.
The current manager of the Turkish national team has been prowling the touchline since the early 80's. His resume is lengthy; he has hoisted silverware in the EPL, Eredivisie and La Liga, and piloted Russia to the semifinals of the European Club Championship in 2008.
Hiddink also guided his native Holland into the semis at the 1998 World Cup, where the Oranje played some of the best and most attractive football of the tournament.
Granted, that last statement will mean little to Gunners fans who have been traumatized by six seasons of scintillating, beautiful football resulting only in a new layer of dust being added to the trophy case at the Emirates.
The Dutchman has won numerous trophies however, and his last spell in the EPL, as caretaker boss at Stamford Bridge following Avram Grant's departure in 2009, yielded a tremendous 15-5-1 mark and victory in the FA Cup final.
If Wenger were to be sacked, or was to leave before Dragan Stojkovic was ready to assume the reins, Hiddink would be a very viable possibility for the coveted post in North London.
What if a funny thing happened on the way to the most coveted managerial gig in all of English football? What if Stan Kroenke could convince the genie of Goodison Park to forego waiting it out to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and join Arsenal?
Who could argue with the decision to install the talented Scot at the controls of Arsenal?
Moyes has worked wonders with the perpetually young Everton squad, and kept the club upper mid-table throughout his tenure.
Moyes was always going to be a manager. Throughout his mediocre career as a player, he kept copious notes on all the different bosses he played under, their techniques and tactics, and when the clock ran out on his time on the pitch, he moved directly to the touchline, taking the reins of Preston North End in 1998.
Since taking over at Everton, the former Celtic player has worked wonders with the Merseysiders, leading to fellow Scot Ferguson to tap Moyes as his eventual successor when he retires.
Moyes guided the Toffees to the 2009 FA Cup Final, where they were defeated by Guus Hiddink's Chelsea side.
Honestly, if this possibility doesn't get a rise out of you, check your pulse.
Any Gooner who can look me in the eyes and tell me they wouldn't relish the prospect of "The Non-Flying Dutchman" returning to North London—presumably by car, boat, or some combination of the two—surely has his scarf on too tight.
After a playing career that defies the word "legendary" to summarize, Bergkamp has honed his coaching chops under no less authorities then Marco van Basten and Johann Neeskens at Ajax and with the newly-minted Netherlands B side.
Whether or not he's ready for the big stage now, or if some time on Wenger's staff would be the way to go, Bergkamp's return to Arsenal would be enough to stir the heart of even the most cynical of Gunners fans.
Already the only Dutch-born player in the English Football Hall of Fame, Bergkamp would clearly relish a move back to the club which adores him still to this day. He has said as much, stating that he wouldn't turn down a coaching post under Wenger.
Sure, his lack of experience in the big job makes this an unlikely scenario at present, but a few years down the road, who knows?
What is it about the Netherlands? The tiny nation across the North Sea from England seems to have an abundance of two kinds of people: Successful football managers and world-renowned artists. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Van Gogh may not be the man to lead the Gunners—although he would have an easy time ignoring criticism, what with the ear and all—and Frank Rijkaard probably wouldn't have much success as an impressionist. But as far as getting teams to play artful football, Rijkaard's pedigree speaks for itself.
The Dutchman has led Turkish giants Galatasaray since 2009, and prior to that, he helmed Barcelona to the Champions League crown in 2005 and 2006.
His philosophy of fluid, attacking football is enjoyable to watch and produces results, and it would be right at home in North London, where Arsenal have the horses to implement this style.
Implement is probably the wrong word. Arsenal have the horses to continue to play in that style should Rijkaard find himself in a position to lead the Gunners.
One thing I like about Rijkaard is his tendency to reject the "star system" in favor of the notion that all his players are equally valuable members of the squad. He rarely singles out individual players for praise, unless it is in the context of a team performance.
Here's your wild card.
Jean Fernandez has been leading French clubs since the mid 80's, with a spell in Saudi Arabia that saw him skipper three different sides before returning to France with Sochaux in 1999.
Another pleasing aspect of Fernandez as a potential manager at the Emirates is his resume with young players. While he was at Olympique Marseille, he leant guidance to a young midfielder by the name of Franck Ribery. The French international superstar has credited Fernandez with influencing his career and cited him as a mentor.
Fernandez was named Ligue 1 Manager of the Year in 2009-10.
Another slide, another Dutchman.
Louis van Gaal is one of Europe's most accomplished managers. While he was the boss at Ajax, the Dutch side was one of the best on the continent. Three league titles, the UEFA Cup and the 1994-95 Champions League crown are ample testimony to that fact.
An avid proponent of the attacking mentality, schooled in the legendary "Total Football" of Ajax and Holland in the 1970's, van Gaal's teams do not show up to park the bus in front of the goal. That alone would qualify him to lead a team like Arsenal, but the former boss of Bayern Munich also boasts manager of the year awards in two countries.
Van Gaal's philosophy is attack-minded, but not rigid. He routinely switches his formations as dictated by the situation, something that Gunners fans would surely appreciate.
The downside is that his teams have historically taken a few seasons to adjust to his style, and typically yield results two or three seasons into his tenure. It is doubtful that Arsenal fans will be ready to wait for success any longer, that's why we're having this discussion, isn't it?
Another caveat is the reputation the longtime Sparta Rotterdam player has for being abrasive towards the media. He is known to be quite upfront with reporters whom he thinks are asking stupid questions. He would most likely wilt under the ridiculous glare of the British media.
But then again, he has won all those trophies.
It took no less than perhaps one of the best World Cup sides ever fielded to deny Bert van Marwijk and The Oranje their glory in 2010 at South Africa. Falling to Spain in the final can hardly be seen as a black mark on the former Feyenoord manager's resume.
With a UEFA Cup win and a KNVB Cup under his belt, van Marwijk has, surprisingly enough, never won the Eredivisie title. Being the runner-up at the World Cup smoothes over a lot of rough edges, however, and the Dutchman was created a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau in 2010.
After succeeding Marco van Basten as the Dutch skipper in 2008, van Marwijk does know a little something about following a legend.
He is the father in-law of AC Milan midfielder Mark van Bommel, so it's not inconceivable that he may have some leverage in a potential swoop for the player, but one must be careful not to place too much stock in the in-law loyalty, as anyone who has a mother in-law will readily attest.
Okay, now that I have proposed two-thirds of Holland as Arsenal's new manager, I promise, this is the last one. Hey, it's not my fault the Dutch make such fine football men.
Truth be told, van Marwijk is one of the weaker candidates on this list. For all his successes, he really doesn't have the domestic pedigree that I'd like to see in a replacement for Arsene Wenger.
That being said, by my own criteria, Wenger would have himself been a weak candidate, had anyone known who he was to speculate, back in 1996.
Here's your Englishman. Why go anywhere else?
Neil Banfield has been with Arsenal since 1997, serving as coach of the youth team and moving on to the reserves in 2004. During his time at the Emirates, Banfield has proven himself as an astute judge of a young player's readiness to make the big jump to the first team.
With so much youth on the Gunners roster, Banfield would have strong extant relationships with many of the young stars of tomorrow, as he does with those of today. This is valuable, as it's hard enough making one's way in the best league on the planet as a young man as it is.
Being comfortable with the man at the helm could go a long way in helping Arsenal's young guns settle in and contribute.
He has shown himself as a loyal devotee of the Arsenal style of play, as his youth and reserve sides mirror the approach of Arsene Wenger's first team. All this could make the transition into the big chair in the meeting room a smooth one if the club opted to go this route.
Sure, it's a hell of a curveball. But who knows, it could happen.
He's certainly a well respected coach, and one day will probably stalk the touchline somewhere, so why not at the Emirates? I'm not saying he should replace Wenger now, but a couple of years down the road, especially if Dragan Stojkovic ends up staying put in Japan to the completion of his new contract, I could see this happening.