Antonio Conte has Chelsea atop the Premier League and in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup in his first season in charge of the Blues.
Another weekend of FA Cup shocks saw Lincoln City become the first non-league side to reach the quarterfinal for 103 years after beating Premier League side Burnley 1-0 Saturday. It made front-page news in the British press. Meriting less mention as another win for Chelsea, 2-0 at Liverpool’s conqueror Wolverhampton. Pedro and Diego Costa were the scorers, and coach Antonio Conte, despite making seven changes, was clearly taking the cup match seriously, keeping Eden Hazard and Costa in his starting lineup. Chelsea, eight points clear in the league, remains on course for a league and Cup double.
“It is too early to talk about this,” a wary Conte said.
Conte’s seamless integration to English football is worth considering when it comes to one of Chelsea’s would-be rivals in the top four, Arsenal. After the club suffered a shattering 5-1 Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich, the decision over Arsene Wenger’s future was brought into sharp focus: Will he stay or will he go? The problem, as has been mentioned in this space before, is that the decision at the moment belongs to Wenger, who has a two-year contract offer on the table.
“Part of a successful life is to basically deal with disappointments and focus 100% on what is in front of you and show you can deal with that,” Wenger said. “I would say it’s more about character and being united because it’s important you do not get in a blame culture and [instead] focus on being united to respond well.”
When talk turns to the options to replace Wenger, the example of Manchester United is seen as a cautionary tale of succession planning. Lesson one: don’t let the current coach choose his successor. Lesson two: don’t be fooled by the concept of "Premier League experience." Potential candidates Thomas Tuchel, Max Allegri, Diego Simeone don’t have it; Ronald Koeman and Eddie Howe do. But how does that give them an advantage? Neither had it before they coached in the Premier League and it didn't stop them doing well.
Conte has exposed the myth of requiring Premier League experience in order to do well in England. The Arsenal board has many attributes to consider when it comes to choosing the club's next coach–for what it's worth, I believe Wenger will stay beyond this season–but that is certainly not one of them.