Brendan Rodgers should be a serious candidate to replace Arsene Wenger

Words By Blair Newman Illustration by Philippe Fenner
March 8, 2018

It appears increasingly likely that Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal is coming to a close. It’s disconcerting to imagine the team dugout without him in it, typically hunched over, anxiety strewn across his face. But things change, and, as far as his legacy with the club is concerned, the sooner he moves on the better.

Year after year of failing to deliver, the eternal unfulfilled potential of next season, has led to a dangerous stagnation at the Emirates Stadium. Having missed out on the top four last term, a top-six spot looks under threat this season. With uncertainty in the air, shortlists of potential Wenger successors have been drawn up. On many of them is a familiar name, that of Brendan Rodgers.

The former Liverpool boss isn’t an obvious contender, and the rumours linking him to the Arsenal job drew sniggers of derision from some quarters. Yet, while he may not have the appeal of a more experienced option, such as Carlo Ancelotti, or the renown of one of the esteemed up-and-coming tacticians from abroad, such as Leonardo Jardim, he does tick a lot of important boxes.

One aspect of Wenger’s current side that most fans would prefer to keep is their commitment to entertainment. Throughout his 22 years in charge, the Frenchman has imbued the side with attacking stardust. Whether it be the cutting runs of Thierry Henry, the subtle flicks of Dennis Bergkamp, the passing excellence of Cesc Fabregas or the high energy of Alexis Sanchez, Wenger sides have always been watchable. That remains true today, what with the sheer quantity of creative and incisive offensive players at the manager’s disposal.

Rodgers has a similarly attractive vision of how football should be played. With Swansea City, he built on the crisp passing template laid down before him by Roberto Martinez and Paulo Sousa. At Liverpool he constructed one of the most effective attacking teams ever seen in the English game – his 2013/14 side’s 101 goals was just two fewer than the highest scoring team in Premier League history: Chelsea of 2009/10. And, last season, he guided Celtic to their highest goals scored tally since the Scottish Premiership expanded to include 12 teams back in 2000/01.

Underpinning those numbers is a progressive tactical outlook. Rodgers has never been afraid to innovate. He utilised the 3-4-2-1 system long before Antonio Conte led Chelsea to the title in the same shape, and is always open to varying his team’s shape to open up different opposition. The Northern Irishman’s ideals would sit well with the Arsenal faithful – he places emphasis on building possession from the back, establishing control and playing through the thirds, as well as aggressive pressing in the defensive phase.

He also develops players, which is something Arsenal need. Wenger’s ability to spot talent has forever been undermined by his inability to improve it, but Rodgers consistently maximises the playing resources available to him. Perhaps his greatest recent achievement in this area is the re-deployment of Celtic captain Scott Brown as a deep-lying playmaker.

Formerly a battling ball-winner renowned for his ferocious tackling, the Scotsman has enjoyed the surprisingly successful change of role at a late stage. Speaking last May, the 32-year-old suggested the switch could extend his career. “I spoke to the gaffer when he first came and he asked how long he thought I could keep playing,” he said. “I thought, ‘great question’, and I was thinking maybe two years at the highest level. Now I’m thinking I can go three, four years easily.”

So, Rodgers is able to implement fun and effective attack-minded football. He is also able to develop talent from within. But none of that matters if he doesn’t get results. Arsenal need someone who can take them to new heights, not continue on what Wenger is achieving now. However, Rodgers’ results are worthy of praise.

Not only did he lead Swansea to promotion from the Championship, but he established them in the English top flight. Furthermore, the tally of 47 points his team garnered in 2011/12, his final campaign with the club, has only been bettered once in the six seasons since. Speaking of points tallies, the 84 his 2013/14 Liverpool outfit won was the second most the Merseyside giants have obtained in the Premier League era.

Some will argue managing Celtic is an easy job considering their main rivals Rangers have been on the ropes for the best part of the last decade, but Rodgers somehow managed to overachieve during his time in Glasgow. Last season he led the club to 34 wins and four draws from 38 league games, while he has won every domestic trophy on offer so far. He also made history by going undefeated for 63 domestic games, breaking a British record that had stood since 1917.

The only valid question mark over Rodgers’ management concerns his work in the transfer market, where some of his purchases have underperformed. But, having appointed former Barcelona director of football Raul Sanllehi and hired former Borussia Dortmund scout Sven Mislintat as head of recruitment, Arsenal will be looking for a head coach to specialise in tactics and training, not an all-powerful manager, when they do eventually decide to replace Wenger.

When it comes to style of football, player development and results, Rodgers appears well-suited to Arsenal. He may not be their first choice candidate post-Wenger, but he deserves to be taken more seriously.

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