Gunners to begin hunt for Wenger successor
ARSENE WENGER has agreed in principle to extend his Arsenal contract beyond the end of this season but the club have now begun making contingency plans for when their longest-serving manager leaves.
The definite hope and expectation is that Wenger will stay but there is a growing sense that all sides may prefer two rather than the usual three-year deal and that a final decision on signing the contract should wait until the end of the season.
Wenger has told Arsenal that it is his intention to extend his deal but that he would want to stay only if he felt that he had performed well.
That would clearly be questioned, both by himself and the fans, if Arsenal fail to end their nine-year wait for a trophy, especially given that Hull City, Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic are the other FA Cup semi-finalists.
Wenger accepts that his future at Arsenal is now "short-term" and the club have already been giving thought to life after the 64-year-old, whenever that might be.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez and Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Klopp would be the leading candidates, while Brendan Rodgers' progress at Liverpool is much admired and Steve Bould would be regarded as a genuine internal option.
Despite the contingency thinking, all of the club's forward planning is being done on the understanding that Wenger will stay.
The Frenchman has been actively working with chief executive Ivan Gazidis and contract negotiator Dick Law on the club's summer transfer strategy. He has also been heavily involved in changes to the training ground and the appointment of a new academy director, as well as the club's summer training plans.
A holding midfielder and a striker have been identified by Wenger as the transfer priorities this summer and a renewed bid is expected for Bayer Leverkusen's Lars Bender.
Arsenal have been overly reliant again this season on Mikel Arteta in that position and their squad depth was exposed in the 6-0 defeat of Chelsea when, without Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott, they were overrun in midfield.
Arsenal suffered a further blow yesterday when Laurent Koscielny was ruled out of tonight's Premier League match against Swansea City with a calf injury that is also expected to sideline him for the fixtures against Manchester City and Everton. It leaves Wenger without five players who would usually be regular first-team starters.
Hector Bellerin, a 19-year-old who was recruited from the Barcelona academy, has come into the squad for tonight's match in place of Koscielny but Thomas Vermaelen will start alongside Per Mertesacker.
Wenger has demanded a response from his players following the shock of the 6-0 Chelsea defeat, although his demeanour was described as calm and considered during a team meeting on Sunday and then at training yesterday.
"At the moment there's no rational explanation for our defeat by Chelsea other than the quality of our opponents and that we were caught at the start of the game," he said.
"Why? We don't really know. You have to put it into perspective. You have to think that was an accident.
"How do you deal with the accident? You repair the damage and you go for the next one.
"An accident has happened, that doesn't mean that you're not a good driver. It's not what happened on Saturday that reflects the quality of this team. We have 62 points that we earned hard with quality games. It is a time to stick together." (© Daily Telegraph).