Arsenal working on shortlist for Wenger's successor
Arsene Wenger's position as Arsenal manager will be reviewed at the end of the season but succession planning has already begun and Monaco manager Leonardo Jardim and former captain Mikel Arteta are among those being considered.
Wenger has ended all his previous 21 seasons as manager with either a top-four finish or a trophy, but the manner of Sunday's 3-0 League Cup final defeat against Manchester City, coupled with the lack of any Premier League title challenge, has caused concern among the club's hierarchy.
With Arsenal sixth in the table, preserving that record is now likely to hinge on winning the Europa League, which would also offer a path into the Champions League.
A second successive season outside the Champions League, especially after a series of club-record signings, would put Wenger's position under severe scrutiny and create pressure for him to leave midway through his two-year contract.
Arsenal, though, will consider all aspects of the season and regard all options as open.
Although majority owner Stan Kroenke has always been unequivocal in his backing of Wenger, he has also facilitated chief executive Ivan Gazidis's off-field "catalyst for change" in a series of appointments around Wenger and the club would feel much better equipped to move on without their 68-year-old manager.
Kroenke's son, Josh, has been in London recently and is spending time at the club's Highbury House administrative base to learn more about the club. His view is likely to be critical. Arsenal will not make decisions about Wenger at a point in the season where there is still much to play for, and how they finish the season will heavily shape the decision.
Wenger is adamant that Arsenal can rally to challenge for a top-four place, even if the gap now is 10 points and his team's form has been the worst of any of the "big six" clubs. He has always said that he intends to see out his contract, although all sides will be determined to avoid a repeat of last season when uncertainty over his future appeared to damage performances.
Alternative potential managers are being constantly assessed and the work of Jardim who, like Wenger, has led Monaco to the French league title, as well as a Champions League semi-final, with a vibrant young team, has impressed.
His team knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League three years ago but he has a contract until 2020 and Monaco would be determined to keep him.
Arteta is working as an assistant to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and, while he has no managerial experience and would represent a gamble, he is well regarded at Arsenal following five years there as a player, including two as club captain, between 2011 and 2016. He is well known to Raul Sanllehi, Arsenal's new head of football relations, as well as to Gazidis.
There is also a feeling that Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers' methods and experience would be suited to Arsenal, although selling his appointment to supporters may be tricky at a time when the club want to unify the fan-base following the intense and often angry debate that has surrounded Wenger.
Club record-scorer Thierry Henry has said that he would interested in what he calls a potential "dream" job and has been gaining coaching experience as Roberto Martinez's assistant with the Belgium national team.
Henry would be hugely popular among fans but there are understood to be reservations from some senior figures.
Germany's World Cup-winning manager Joachim Low, and Paulo Fonseca at Shakhtar Donetsk, are others being monitored.
Whether or not Wenger leaves this season, Arsenal's preference would be to make a clean break before inviting him back in some role in the future. A manager who can work within their new structure is another priority and, while Carlo Ancelotti is available and would be interested, they are more likely to target someone younger.
Arsenal also face big transfer decisions this year with Jack Wilshere out of contract in the summer, Aaron Ramsey yet to extend a deal that expires in 2019 and Hector Bellerin having wanted to return to Barcelona last summer.
Leading former players were damning yesterday of Sunday's performance. "You can lose finals - I lost finals - but it's how you lose them," said Henry.
Paul Merson has often criticised Wenger but aimed his anger at the players.
"One team was playing in a cup final, the other team looked like they were playing a testimonial," he said. "I know people say the manager is responsible, but the players have got to take part of the blame now, it's not always Arsene Wenger's fault." (© Daily Telegraph, London)