Arsenal: Why Newcastle boss Benitez would be ideal replacement for Wenger

(Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald)

The assumption is that Arsenal, after a campaign beset by apathy and regression, must appoint a high profile manager to replace Arsene Wenger. Or, alternatively, they could turn to a young up-and-comer: one who is less illustrious but has fresh ideas and a plan to reinvigorate a team that has slipped into a worrying inertia.

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Few, though, have mentioned a man who fits into neither category: Rafael Benitez. On Sunday, he led his Newcastle team to a 2-1 victory over Wenger's Arsenal, and by the end it was comfortable. Tactically, Benitez was superior; his side were more organised, more disciplined, more cohesive, all things Arsenal have patently lacked this season.


Nailing his audition

It was perhaps an example of what the Gunners could have if they turned to the Spaniard. For years the club's fans have bemoaned the naivety and fragility of Wenger's sides. With Benitez at the helm that would not be an issue.

Newcastle this season have conceded 42 Premier League goals, three fewer than Arsenal. They are, of course, a more defensive side, but it is a clear indication that Benitez could address Arsenal's most pressing issue: a tendency to concede and concede a lot, certainly in comparison to their competitors at the top of the division. 

Too obvious to hire?

Why, then, has the former Liverpool coach not been considered? Perhaps the most likely reason is that he is not suitably glamorous: he is not a coach who insists upon playing aesthetic, attacking football, nor is he considered on the same level as other candidates, the likes of Max Allegri of Juventus or the unemployed Carlo Ancelotti.

He is not young, Benitez is 58, and his reputation may have declined somewhat having dropped down to the Championship last season. That he has arrested Newcastle's seemingly inexorable regression and looks on course to guide them to a top half finish in the Premier League this season will not be enough for some.

It is easy to forget that, only months before he arrived on Tyneside, Benitez was in charge of Real Madrid. Newcastle are an anomaly in a career of coaching clubs at the top of their respective leagues. He would not be overawed by the pressure and expectation at Arsenal.

Benitez, then, has the suitable experience and perhaps the ideal approach to guide Arsenal through what will inevitably be a period of transition. The Spaniard's pragmatism, his dependability and unflappable demeanour, could be exactly what's needed.


Short-term solution provides long-term platform

Appointing a young coach with innovative ideas could, at this stage, and given the apparent fragility of this Arsenal team, lead to further tumult. Benitez, even if he is appointed as a short-term solution, would provide a sense of assurance and security.

There are few available coaches, too, who know the Premier League like he does. There would be no period of adjustment. Benitez would likely slot in seamlessly and get to work, as he does, with minimal fuss.

And his football need not necessarily be inherently defensive. It has not always been. Benitez adapts his approach depending on the team, the club and the situation. Part of being pragmatic is a willingness to play both attacking and defensive football, and to adjust when required.

A glittering CV

He has demonstrated this ability at a number of top European clubs: Valencia, Liverpool, Inter, Chelsea, Napoli and Real Madrid. Of course Benitez's highest achievement is lifting the Champions League with Liverpool, but it easy to forget he led Valencia to back-to-back UCL finals, as well as claiming two La Liga titles and a Spanish Cup. With the players potentially at his disposal at Arsenal, Benitez could create a team with both functionality and flair.

This is, of course, all hypothetical. Benitez is not amongst the favourites to replace Wenger and Newcastle will not want him to depart. But he has repeatedly suggested that his future with the Magpies depends on the backing of Mike Ashley. Arsenal should capitalise on that uncertainty before the chance to appoint one of Europe's best coaches passes them by.


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