LONDON - Arsenal will review Arsene Wenger’s position this summer, with the prospect of ending the Frenchman’s 22-year reign now emerging as a genuine option.
The Gunners have already started compiling a list of potential candidates to replace Wenger if time is called on his tenure at the end of the season.
Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim, Germany manager Joachim Low, Celtic head coach Brendan Rodgers and Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta are among the early contenders.
Sources insist Wenger, whose position is under more scrutiny following Sunday’s feeble Carabao Cup final defeat by Manchester City, will fight to see out the final 12 months of his contract at the very least. But Sportsmail understands there is growing support among Arsenal’s power-brokers for Wenger to leave north London at the end of this season.
The end-of-season review will be key as to whether Wenger is given the chance to stay for another campaign. This leaves him facing serious questions about what has so far been a below-par season.
Much will depend on whether Wenger can lead the club back into the Champions League, although achieving that feat will not be the only factor. A route back into Europe’s elite looks unlikely through the Premier League as the Gunners are currently 10 points adrift of fourth-placed Tottenham. So Arsenal’s most likely way back is by winning the Europa League, although they face a daunting, two-legged clash against AC Milan in the next round.
Qualifying for the Champions League next season would provide Wenger with a bargaining tool in his attempts to stay. At the moment, however, he is facing the virtually impossible task of arguing that the team has improved after he was awarded a two-year extension last summer - particularly after they broke their transfer record twice in the space of seven months.
The club’s hierarchy has changed significantly this season with chief executive Ivan Gazidis appointing head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, head of football relations Raul Sanllehi and contract negotiatior Huss Fahmy.
These new faces have reduced Wenger’s control at the club, particularly with regard to recruitment. And they will have an influence during the summer review and the appointment of Wenger’s eventual successor.
However, majority shareholder Stan Kroenke (above) will still have the final say on whether Wenger leaves. The Arsenal manager has enjoyed the staunch backing of the US tycoon since Kroenke first got involved at the club in 2007.
Kroenke played a pivotal role in Wenger signing a two-year extension last summer. But questions are being raised over whether his support of the Frenchman remains as strong, given the club’s difficult season. Another year out of the Champions League would be detrimental to the club’s finances, which may force Kroenke into a change of heart.
Indeed, the fact Kroenke’s son Josh - who sits on the Arsenal board and was at Wembley on Sunday - has moved to London to gain a greater understanding of the club is significant.
The Kroenke family have a reputation for being distant but Josh’s decision to take a more hands-on role indicates the club are considering a change.
It is understood there is a feeling among Arsenal’s squad that Wenger is no longer the man to take the team forward. There is a growing fear the club will continue to fall behind while the Frenchman is at the helm.
Some players are seeking routes out of the club, with the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin linked with potential moves away. The club’s all-time leading goalscorer Thierry Henry has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Wenger.
"Who wouldn’t like to be the Arsenal coach?" Henry told Sky Sports on Monday. "I’m an Arsenal fan but that doesn’t mean that is what’s going to happen. I don’t know what’s happening behind closed doors, but who wouldn’t be interested in that job?"