The majority of Arsenal fans were sorry to see Liverpool dismiss Brendan Rodgers last weekend. The reasons for their disappointment were three-fold: firstly, it nudged the Gunners’ 3-0 thrashing of Manchester United down the news agenda. Secondly, the Arsenal support were largely quite pleased with the job ‘Agent Brendan’ was doing. Under his reign, Liverpool didn’t seem likely to pose a major threat this season.
The third and final explanation for the tinge of regret Arsenal fans felt at Rodgers’ sacking was the identity of his likely replacement. In the next 48 hours or so, Jurgen Klopp will begin his career as a Premier League manager. There are certainly many among the Gunners supporters who hoped that would be in north London rather than at Liverpool.
Klopp’s admiration for Arsenal and Arsene Wenger is on record. The two sides have met fairly regularly in the Champions League, and on each occasion the German has expressed his respect for the way the Gunners do things both on and off the pitch.
His time with Dortmund seemed to make him an ideal candidate for the Emirates dugout: having fought with the juggernaut that is Bayern Munich, he is used to competing with teams with absurdly deep pockets. Although Arsenal are a wealthy club, they are relative underdogs against the financial might of Manchester City.
He has huge commitment to playing exciting football, which would have suited an Arsenal crowd spoilt by Wenger’s obsession with aesthetics. However, he is no clone of the Frenchman: his presence would have brought a youthful energy to the training ground. He also has the ego required to cope with the pressure of succeeding an icon like Wenger.
However, timing is everything in these matters. When Klopp decided to take his sabbatical last summer, Wenger was 12 months into a three-year contract, with two consecutive FA Cups under his belt. There was neither a need nor really a case to replace him.
It was unrealistic to expect Klopp to wait a further 18 month—and even if he had, there’s no guarantee the opportunity at Arsenal would have come his way. At the present time, those close to the club still believe Wenger could sign another deal come the summer of 2017.
Klopp may also feel that Anfield is a more natural fit. The man who fell in love with the ‘Yellow Wall’ of Dortmund’s iconic Die Südtribüne will feel right at home in front of the Kop. It will hurt Arsenal fans to admit it, but Arsenal’s ground has become a somewhat corporate and sanitised environment. If the Westfelanstadion has the raw energy of one of Klopp’s beloved heavy metal gigs, the Emirates Stadium is more akin to an opera house.
Klopp might have been the man to ignite the atmosphere at Arsenal. He has spoken glowingly in the past about the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck — players who suit his vision of fast transition-based football. Instead, he’ll now employ those methods with Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho and company.
Perhaps his reputation will take a dent at Anfield, and Arsenal will reflect on a bullet dodged. His final year at Dortmund shows he’s far from infallible.
What’s certain is that, having taken the Liverpool job, Klopp is unlikely to ever end up in the home dugout at Arsenal. Either he’ll prove too successful to be prised away, or be too damaged to be considered a viable candidate. Both Klopp and Arsenal will simply have to reflect on what might have been.