Arsene’s tenure will be remembered for both the accolades and the style of football (a combination of monopolized possession and world-class combination play.) Here we break down 5 potential successors from a philosophical and tactical perspective:
Max Allegri – The Tactician
This appointment would reflect a cultural change. Allegri does follow a loose footballing philosophy however truly his strength sits with adopting his approach based on his opposition. Switching formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 is not uncommon whilst neither is deploying players in unnatural positions (see Mandzukic as a left winger.) In terms of general team traits, Allegri does like to dominate possession (including a defence that plays out from the back and steps into midfield as required), slow probing attacks and fast-paced counter-attacks (as opportunities present themselves.) Allegri is likely to still employ a creative talent like Mesut Ozil in a free role but without defensive responsibly, with strong foundations around him to offset the imbalance. As expected from an Italian Manager, we can expect an improved defensive structure with two banks of four employed deep, at least one ball-retrieval expert in midfield and a reversion to a defensive block and counter-attacking approach when defending a lead. Allegri is the first choice for a number of Arsenal supporters given his tactical acumen, however, supporters will need to accept a less defined philosophy with an approach that changes almost weekly dependent on the opposition.
Carlo Ancelotti – The Adaptor
Ancelotti’s brilliance is that he doesn’t commit to one footballing philosophy but instead evaluates the strengths of a squad and devises a strategy accordingly. Given the makeup of the current squad, we can, therefore, expect a similar attacking approach with minor tweaks to improve efficiency (such as a reduction in possession in favour of faster transitions between the lines so to get the ball forwards more quickly.) Other common traits include attacking full backs and the deployment of several playmakers across a midfield that also includes at least one deep-lying (which could be good news for Granit Xhaka.) Whilst Ancelotti is generally considered a direct and attacking manager, he is renowned for prioritizing pragmatism over flair meaning personnel will be measured on their attacking output (goals and assists) and/or defensive contribution in what will most likely be a 4-4-2 (diamond), 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation. Ancelotti’s real unique selling point is his excellent man-management and impressive good recruitment record rather than a particular philosophy or approach. It is worth nothing that Ancelotti only stays at club’s short-term, so a longer-term plan would need to be developed if he is appointed.
Joachim Loew – The All-Rounder
Joachim Loew has managed the German National Side since 2004 with limited club management experience in the year’s prior (apart from stints in Turkey, Austria and the German Lower Leagues), making him a gamble given his lack of experience in recruiting and a building a competitive club side. What is exciting is his belief that a team should contain a variety of qualities to create a well-balanced proposition rather than being restricted by one specific philosophy. This would mean an Arsenal team that contains Mesut Ozil type players with flair and creativity but also players of work-rate and discipline (Thomas Muller types) to balance the approach. Germany and Loew are well known for their high energy game which allows for an exciting high press to win the ball high (therefore the type of manager who would bring the best out of Aaron Ramsey), but also domination of possession and the ability to launch devastating counter attacks as opportunities present. Typical German efficiency dictates a strong defensive platform within his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, reverting into a compact 4-4-1-1 when defending deep (if the high press has failed), built around a well-formed centre-back partnership that contains both an aggressive commander and sweeper. Loew is likely to bring balance the balance to Arsenal that has been sorely lacking, however there is no doubting this represents a gamble given his lack of experience in club football.
Luis Enrique – The Individualist
A La Liga and Champions League winner achieved at a club renowned for playing the best football of its generation. Whilst that in itself appears compelling, the tactical approach involved a migration from Guardiolia’s tika taka football to a more direct style that relied on the individual brilliance of Messi, Suarez and Neymar. The philosophy transitioned from a systematic and collective attacking approach to one that focused on individual quality and improvision, the issue therefore being the lack of such elite quality at Arsenal. There are similarities to Arsenal’s current philosophy including a monopoly of possession (naturally occurring due to better quality players) and pacey counter attacks which naturally occur out of the directive to get the ball forwards quickly, however at present one would assume the system is likely to falter due to the difference in offensive quality and improved level of defending within the Premier League. Enrique could adapt his approach based on these mitigating factors but then we are moving into territory of the unknown rather than the approach that brought Enrique past success.
Diego Simeone – The Pragmatist
A Manager who has achieved European and Domestic success, competing against rival superpowers who hold a stronger financial advantage. Such success was achieved by creating one of the best defensive systems in Europe, involving a high press to disrupt the opposition playing from the back and then two deep compact banks of four should the ball transition into Atletico’s own half. This approach relies on a commitment to defensive excellence and therefore deployment of personnel with the required discipline and mindset, for example positionally aware central midfielders over flair players out wide. Goal scoring comes in the form of quick counter attacks or long balls (with expert hold up play) which relies on the opposition exposing themselves too high up the pitch or an individual piece of skill from a forward player, likely to be isolated without great levels of support. In fairness, recent times has seen Atletico begin to dominate possession against lesser sides however their defensive excellence is still the priority, foundation and platform of their success. Arsenal need to consider their willingness to adopt to a different style of play and their willingness to accept a transitional period to overhaul the current playing staff in order to adopt such a system (which likely to take a minimum of two years.)
These are five of the best Managers in world football, albeit with different philosophies and approaches, but all with proven success. Evaluating Arsenal’s current philosophy and considering the timescales each would need to execute their preferred strategy, Allegri, Ancelotti or Loew would appear to be the most logical candidates