Everton boss tops list of potential replacements for Arsene Wenger

Koeman is favoured to replace Wenger
Koeman is favoured to replace Wenger

RONALD KOEMAN has been identified by Arsenal as a potential successor to Arsene Wenger.

And even if Wenger decides to stay next summer the Dutchman will still top of a list of candidates to eventually take the reigns.

Koeman, 53, is only just getting his feet under the Goodison Park table after signing a three-year contract to replace sacked Roberto Martinez at Everton.

But the Emirates hierarchy had him pencilled in as a possible target even before he left Southampton, having made a dynamic impact in his first two years as a Premier League boss.

They are understood to be highly impressed not only with the fact that he took the Saints into this season’s Europa League but also that he underlines his impressive playing credentials  – as a Champions League winner with Barcelona with 78 Dutch caps –  with three Eredivisie titles as a manager.

Arsenal bosses have also noted how he has shown himself to be extremely astute in the transfer market – an ability long considered within the Gunners’ boardroom as one of Wenger’s great strengths.

Koeman lost stars Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren before a ball was kicked in his first season after arriving from Feynoord.

But he brought in Sadio Mane – who was subsequently sold this summer to Liverpool for £34m – as well as Graziano Pelle and Fraser Forster.

Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin left at the start of last season yet before he headed to Merseyside he still took Saints to a highest ever Premier League finish of sixth.

How Koeman fares at Goodison after such a bright start in English football will determine what happens next.

But as he starts preparing this week for his first clash in England with Pep Guardiola on Saturday he has already shown that he is growing as a manager.

Everton’s last two results have been disappointing – a loss at Bournemouth followed by a frustrating draw at home to Crystal Palace.

Yet while he does not have the huge amounts of money at the disposal of Guardiola, he has bought wisely in players such as Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie – both of whom have given steel to a side that had gone soft under predecessor Martinez.

If he continues to build his reputation – with his stated aim to take Everton into Europe – then his star will only rise higher as Arsenal look to the future.

Wenger is now in the last season of his contract, having this week celebrated 20 years in charge.

The 66-year-old has  yet to announce if he intends to seek a new deal having hinted that he could be interested in taking control of the Three Lions.

The fact that former 15 per cent Gunners shareholder Farhad Moshiri now holds a 49.9 per cent stake in Everton could lead to complications if the London giants come calling for Koeman next summer.

Any decision on that will have to wait on what Wenger decides to do.

But Arsenal are watching with keen interest how former Ajax boss Koeman handles himself in his next challenge.

He has already been in charge of Ajax, Benfica, PSV, Valencia, AZ and Feynoord before deciding to further his education in England.

Koeman’s success as a player, his 15 years of experience as a manager, his modern approach to tactics and his standing in the game tick all the boxes in the Gunners board room.

Twenty years ago they took a gamble by employing the then relatively obscure figure of Wenger.

But if ambitious Koeman enjoys any sort of success at Goodison he will be rated a safe bet to succeed the Frenchman.

And victory over mega -spenders City at the Etihad would do him no harm at all while Guardiola will have to be on guard after going into the international window on the back of defeat at Tottenham.

Everything looked to be going swimmingly for the Spaniard until his 100 per cent Premier League record was ruined by Mauricio Pochettino’s impressive side.

Koeman has shown that he is very astute tactically, forcing his new side to drop the cavalier methods employed under Martinez.

He is a tough cookie, too, having already told Ross Barkley – a £28m target of City under Manuel Pellegrini only 18 months ago – that he has to start showing more discipline in terms of possession and work rate.

It is possession and work rate that form Guardiola’s main mantra and having come undone against another side in Tottenham with exactly the same traits, he will be cautious indeed of Everton and Koeman, who is proving that Arsenal may indeed be justified in tracking his progress.