Sunday, 29 April 2018

Goodbye, Arsene – But Who’s Next?

by Alex Gibson

After 22 years as the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger has decided (after enormous amounts

of pressure over recent years) to step down from his role. His legacy will remain for decades to come - having won 17 trophies, including three Premier League titles and taking charge of the legendary ‘Invincibles’ in the 2003-2004 season - he is the most successful Arsenal manager. However, his reputation has been tainted in recent years due to increased disruption amongst the fans (especially through social media), a lack of investment in players (despite this perhaps being the fault of the owners) and an inability to seriously mount a title challenge. Speaking to Arsenal fans and looking at the response across social media, the hope is to bring in a younger, hungrier manage who will reinvigorate the team and hopefully lead them to more success. This has led to several candidates emerging and, in this article, I profile some of the more desired figures.

1. Diego Simeone

Now in his seventh season as the manager of Atlético Madrid, Diego Simeone has an impressive record in a league dominated by the powerhouses of Real Madrid and Barcelona, winning both the La Liga title and the domestic trophy - the Copa Del Rey. However, what has really made the Argentinian stand out is his form in European competitions: winning the Europa League and reaching two finals in the Champions League. This is surely something Arsenal must be looking at for all potential candidates as their success in Europe has been non-existent recently and experience in the competition is a must, one would feel.

What would he bring?

Passion - so much passion. Simeone has to be one of the most entertaining managers to watch in Europe, whether it be his animated debates with officials or jubilant celebrations when his team scores - both seen in the first leg of the Europa League game between Arsenal and Atlético where he was sent to the stands early on and reacted brilliantly to Griezmann's late equaliser. I think this emotion is vital for Arsenal at the moment to help lift the atmosphere inside the Emirates and ensure full capacities as many boycotted Premier League games this season in protest of the manager and poor performances.

In addition to this, his style of play is extraordinarily unique. Defensively, Atlético Madrid are one of the best in Europe, conceding only four times at home in the league and having the overall best defence in the Spanish top-flight. However, this is where my issue lies. Arsenal’s backline has come under criticism for many years now (with the latest example of why being in the game against Atlético where some would say the goal could have been prevented) and so, with the players they have in that position, I don’t think it is right that the Gunners (if they appointed Simeone) adopt this backs-to-the-wall defending that we’ve seen from the Argentinian’s side, as it will most likely prove to be ineffective due to the lack of quality seen this season. This is especially the case when looking at the attackers at the manager’s disposal. With the likes of Ӧzil, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette and Aubameyang, surely the best course of action is just focus on going forward and try to outscore the opponent?

2. Carlo Ancelotti

Dismissed early on in the season by Bayern Munich after a Champions League defeat to PSG, Carlo Ancelotti has to be considered in the running for the Arsenal job. One of the most successful managers of recent times, the Italian has won the domestic league in England, Italy, Spain and France as well as three Champions League trophies and so is no stranger to victory.

What would he bring?

Experience. As mentioned previously, he has won different competitions in different countries but most importantly, he has won trophies in England with Chelsea. Although the game has developed in recent years, one would assume Ancelotti would quickly adapt back  into the Premier League and be able to win games with his side. As a man-manager, personally I think he is terrific: he has managed players with huge personalities (such as Ibrahimović and Ronaldo) and often helped players find their best positions, thus interacting with the likes of Ӧzil would not be alien to him (especially as the two have had dealings before at Real Madrid). Unlike Simeone, the Italian does not have a specific style of play, one could say it is more pragmatic and focuses on attack, which may suit the London side best. 

3. Luis Enrique

Another heavyweight when it comes to European experience and managing a big team, Luis Enrique is someone who can be seen as a good fit for the vacant role of Arsenal manager, winning nine trophies in his three year spell at Barcelona. Managers and plays alike (including Arsene Wenger himself ) have revealed their admiration for the Spaniard, who was instantly one of the favourites to take over at the Emirates after Wenger announced that he would step down.

What would he bring?

According to the Spanish football expert, Guillem Balague, ‘mental strength and decisiveness.’ This is probably not as convincing as some of the reasons for other managers taking the job, but I think Balague has a point here - Enrique will just try to win and doesn’t necessarily care how. This was seen in his time with Barcelona as, although he won 138 games out of 181, which included several trophies, he came under fire for the way in which the team played; he was seen to abandon the glamorous football developed by Pep Guardiola that was often a result of magnificent build-up play by legendary midfielders such as Xavi and Iniesta. Instead, Enrique isolated the midfield and tried to get the ball to his attack of Messi, Suarez and Neymar who were seen to work miracles. This shows that Enrique is not bound by a strict system of tactics, but instead relies on individuals to win him games. Admittedly, this is a risky system but it could work for Arsenal with the players they have in forward positions.

4. Massimiliano Allegri
Heavily suggesting that his next job will be outside of Italy, the Juventus manager is, for most, the frontrunner to succeed Arsene Wenger. Winning the title in Italy for a third successive year with the possibility of doing so again in 2018 (even though the title race is much closer than usual) as well as reaching two Champions League finals means that the Italian is another manager with impressive credentials to take over at the helm of the North London side.

What would he bring?

Versatility. Taking over from Antonio Conte, Allegri continued to play the three at the back system (often in a 3-5-2) yet was often willing to change his formations to help suit his players - in the 2015 Champions League final, for example, he played with four in defence. This adaptability in style has helped the squad in terms of rotation and has benefitted some of his players, such as Gonzalo Higuain playing as a lone striker, or Paulo Dybala supporting in the No. 10 role. Allegri could be perfect for the Arsenal role as he will, in my view, help find the balance between defence and attack as experience with world class defenders (such as Chiellini) as well as lethal attackers (Higuain), has surely given him the knowledge of what to do and how to change the team throughout the game. Furthermore, the systems used by the Italian are not a million miles away from what has been adopted by Wenger, who has played with both three and four at the back this season. Therefore, the players may have a brief understanding of how Allegri wants to play, meaning that if he is appointed as the Arsenal manager, he will not have to face an early uphill struggle.

Of course, there are many other possible candidates for the role - any manager who has won anything of note has been linked with the job, as you would expect in the world of football and so this article could be completely void in a couple of weeks’ time. However, despite not being an Arsenal fan, I would like to see either Allegri or Ancelotti take over from Arsene Wenger as I think they could be exciting appointments and reinvigorate a club that has fallen somewhat flat in recent years. It will be interesting to see if Arsenal stick with their policy of giving managers plenty of time or falling into a situation similar to that of Manchester United post- Sir Alex Ferguson, that left a great deal of uncertainty around the club that is just being resolved now. Either way, there is change on the horizon.

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