Should Arsène Wenger take the England job?

Agree to Disagree – where the argument you had at the pub last Thursday becomes a well mannered discussion.

WANTED – England manager to last more than 67 days. Gareth Southgate has recently taken over England duties and whilst he looks to be a safe pair of hands whispers of Wenger have surfaced stronger than ever. Is he the best choice for England? Is England a good move for him?

Sam Simmons argues…

Yes – The ideal manager of  the England team ideally possesses experience managing in the top-flight; knowledge of the English game; big game know-how; integrity and honesty.Crucially the above description bears no reference to the nationality of this person.

The events of the last week have seen the resurrection of an old question – should a foreign manager be in charge of the England team? It is a difficult discussion to have with patriotic supporters. The heart almost certainly says no. However, decisions made by the heart are often idealist, ill-advised, impulsive and frequently bad. Just ask poor Sam Allardyce. The England job is the biggest job in English football. It eclipses the jobs at Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and, dare I say it, Arsenal.

Arsène Wenger stands out as the outstanding candidate.That statement alone is likely to incense a large portion of England’s loyal following. Realistically though, Wenger has to be the FA’s no.1 target. If measuring it against the criteria listed at the beginning of this article, then there can be little doubt that the Arsenal manager is the best suited for the role.

For all of his faults, of which there are many, the Arsenal boss is undoubtedly a great manager. His arrival in north London two-decades ago heralded a footballing revolution. Whether he could have the same effect on the England team now is questionable, however, there is little doubt that he is the most qualified for the job.

Wenger is at the right age for the role. At 66 he it at the end of his career. Taking the England job is not a risk for him in the same way it would be for say, Eddie Howe. Why would the Bournemouth boss walk away from a stable job to take up a position that seems almost cursed?If Howe were to fail, then his career would be forever tarnished. If Wenger were to fail his legacy would still stand. If people insist upon the England football manager being English, then the pool from which to choose from is automatically narrowed. Whether we like it or not that pool lacks both depth and quality.

Whilst football romanticists may envisage a true and proper Englishmen, whatever that may be, lifting a World Cup or European Championship, the hard facts are that there aren’t any suitable candidates.

If people were to look beyond the rather jingoistic and prehistoric opinions of so called experts, then they would realise that the nationality of a manager means little if he is the best man for the job. Wenger certainly is the best man for the job. With 20 years’ experience managing in the Premier League, there is no man, English or otherwise, better suited for the role.

Wenger’s future is entirely in his own hands, He, and he alone, will decide when time is up at The Emirates. The sad truth is that Wenger has probably outstayed his welcome. The last few years have not gone the way we he would’ve liked.
Sometimes he has looked aged, downtrodden, and dishevelled.

Let’s be clear, the England job is not easier than the Arsenal job. Far from it in fact. But as a foreigner, Wenger would almost be detached from that pressure. Eriksson and Capello both failed, but neither felt the wrath of the British media like McClaren, Hodgson or even Allardyce. Both have managed to move back home or abroad and resume their careers elsewhere.

Wenger loves Arsenal, but the notoriously stubborn Frenchmen must realise that enough is enough. Longevity is only good if there is an evidential progression. For Wenger and Arsenal there hasn’t been; in fact, they’ve been stagnant for the best part of a decade.

For Wenger the time has come. With his contract up at the end of the season he will have a decision to make. His legacy at Arsenal will stand for an eternity. But now his adopted country needs him.

For England fans there has to be some realism. Whilst having a foreign manager in charge is not ideal, insisting upon having an Englishmen at the expense of the success of the national team would just be absurd.

Mike Franchetti argues…

No – Should Arsène Wenger take the England job? Erm, no – definitely not. I’m sure his appointment would reinvigorate the bumbling England fanbase – I’d certainly love it – but should Wenger walk away from this current Arsenal team to join the mess that is the national set-up? No way.

Let’s first mention the timing of the whole thing. Wenger’s in the ‘last year’ of his seemingly never-ending contract. This could be the perfect time for Le Professeur to cast a look beyond the Emirates and take the reins of the national side. However, on closer inspection, it’s the worst possible time for him to do anything of the sort.

Wenger survived Sir Alex’s supremacy and clawed his way through more than a couple of seasons of Chelsea dominance. Right now, his Arsenal side are better than both of those clubs. They’ve just comprehensively swept aside Chelsea whilst Manchester United, though finally improving, haven’t looked convincing since 2013.

Don’t be fooled by the accent (which gets more French when answering difficult questions), Wenger is a lover of the English game. It’s for this reason that his name and the England job continue to be mentioned in the same sentence. But would the F.A really appoint a man so ingrained in the history of one club? Would England’s Spurs contingent thrive under the man who spent twenty seasons keeping north London red? It seems unlikely a man of Wenger’s professionalism would do anything other than select and nurture the best players, but it’s difficult to picture him with an arm around Kyle Walker.

In truth, the players would probably be fine – but how about the fans? It seems unfair for this to be a factor, but it’s exactly the sort of nonsense the F.A will be thinking about. Look at the recent England managers with their passive personalities and non-reputations; McClaren, Hodgson, Southgate, to some extent even Capello.

But back to the point at hand – why would Wenger do it?! He already cops enough flak from his own supporters; does he really need to be thrown in front of the entire nation? He has a strong reputation and the England job is poison. Even the hardiest of his detractors start their complaining with ‘he’s done well but…’ and there’s no denying his impact on club football.

Even if you are of the mindset that the England situation can’t get any worse, the job remains a gamble. Wenger won’t be able to freely overhaul a national system which is altered only slightly with every appointment. In the mid-90s Arsenal football club was ripe for change and Wenger was revolutionary. England’s needs are far messier. Wenger may still have a few tricks up his sleeve but what will he get out of the England job? Two years of mediocrity and a World Cup quarter-final? Anything longer or more successful than that is hard to imagine.

He’s 66 now and the current England team needs more than a quick fix. The idea of Wenger’s England is exciting to players, fans and probably the man himself – but the same could be said of Pep Guardiola’s Aston Villa. Even with Sam Allardyce doing his best to make it happen, the perfect storm needed to bring Wenger to our national side will pass by as a near-miss. Arsenal are too strong right now, Wenger too old, the risk too great.

Even if you don’t believe in Arsenal’s thirteenth straight attempt to recapture the Premier League, Wenger does – and that’s all that matters. Everything he does – the way he acts, the decisions he makes – reeks of commitment, calculation and maintaining his reputation. If he has one eye on another job, he’s doing a masterful job of disguising it.

There have been no ‘do-or-die’ purchases, no signs of player unhappiness and no interviews conducted in any way other than classic Arsène. If he does eventually take the England job it will have been triggered by a break in the status quo; he’d have just won the League or Champions League, or bombed to fifth and got sacked. It’s autumn now and he’ll be pairing that knitted navy V-neck jumper with a bright red tie long into 2017. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Why I still believe in Theo Walcott

Help! I still believe in Theo Walcott. I can’t be the only one.

The Google search ‘Is Walcott any good?’ brings up three separate Guardian articles ranging from April 2015 to February of this year. The fourth suggestion is a Telegraph piece headlined ‘Theo Walcott remains the great Arsenal mystery’. The Walcott wrangle has been ambling along for the best part of five years but has come to head – along with many Gunners’ frustrations – in the last eighteen months. The guy was adored by Arsenal supporters for gesturing a 2-0 scoreline to Tottenham fans when stretchered off in 2014, but is now the target of consistent lambasting.

Walcott’s one of those players whose bad games are really obvious. I’m sure Alexis Sanchez has bad games – likewise playmakers Ozil, Cazorla and Ramsey –  but it’s hard to remember what they look like. By contrast, we all know exactly what a Walcott bad game looks like; he’ll run into defenders and fluff one-on-ones by firing tamely at the goalkeepers’ legs. He’s done the latter enough times to at least deserve a little criticism.

He’s not alone with this trait of having really obvious bad games. It’s not uncommon in centre forwards – along with centre halves – and I can recall the likes of Christian Benteke, Andy Carroll and post-prime Fernando Torres having genuine nightmares.

Walcott is a player who’s good in patches of form and there are plenty of contributing factors; he’s been on and off the treatment table, in and out the England squad and up and down the touchline waiting for substitute appearances. The injuries have taken their toll – not least on his frightening pace – and he’s struggled to reinvent himself stuck between a forward and a winger.

For whatever reason, he’s now under the microscope. But, hey, Gooners, what about the good times?

One of my favourite – but simultaneously least favourite – Walcott moments came against my precious Liverpool in 2008. In what was a memorable all-English Champions League quarter-final, Walcott broke on the counter following a Liverpool cross. I remember spotting the danger but what Theo did next was superb. He carried the ball at speed the full length of the pitch before laying on Emmanuel Adebayor for a crucial equalizer.

A few years in the first team followed – Walcott’s not Jack Wilshere, he has racked up 240 league appearances – before he seemed to hit his stride in 2012. He played 32 Premier League games finding the net 14 times. Additionally, he picked up 12 assists to total a contribution in 26 Arsenal goals. He bagged a hatrick in a 7-3 win over Newcastle and scored a great third goal. Drifting in menacingly from the left wing, Walcott darted between two defenders and was cut off by a reckless Gael Obertan leg – a clear penalty. The referee delayed the call and Walcott floated through the challenge, bounced up off the ground, and then, just metres from the near post, beat Tim Krul with a clever chip.

There was also that hatrick vs. Croatia in 2008 – the most obvious explosion of potential in Walcott’s career. His England calling seems to have been put on hold for now with new options, new Walcotts, preferred for the time being.

Walcott’s preference for the central striker role has being a sticking point over the last few years. Much of this is to do with his size and physical presence. The little, quick centre forward is dead in the water. Would Michael Owen make it through the Liverpool academy today? No chance. He’d be shifted out wide in a 4-3-3/4-5-1 and called a ‘left winger’ or ‘inside forward’. The little man down the middle doesn’t exist in England. Javier Hernandez never stood a chance of earning a starting place at Manchester United. Jermaine Defoe is still making it work, but perhaps he is the last flag-bearer for speedy goal-getters. The trend is for big, effective ‘number 9s’ or, if you’re a radical thinker, no out-and-out centre forward at all.

I like Walcott and his playing style. His technical progression has been slower than most expected but, on occasion, you’d be forgiven for thinking he is a natural finisher. It’s unfair to chalk Walcott up as another player mishandled by Arsene Wenger but a move away would likely do him good.

He won’t leave though. He likes Arsenal and wants to be successful. He also has a ridiculous paycheck which, unfortunately, is a sure fire way to irritate the Emirates regulars.

Nevertheless, he seems like a good guy and is more level-headed than some players thrown into the media eye in their teenage years. I don’t like scapegoating and I’m going to continue celebrating Walcott goals. I hope he scores the winner at White Hart Lane and runs down the touchline shushing the stands with a finger on his lips. This time his target won’t be the Spurs fans. He’ll be silencing the red and white boo-boys.

Mike Franchetti