Welcome to the first article of the new and exclusive 90MAAT series ‘The Lowdown’, where we delve deeper into the topical debates surrounding the beautiful game.
In this first instalment, we will analyse the credentials of the bookies’ favourites (at time of writing) to replace Arsene Wenger as manager of Arsenal Football Club. After 22 seasons at the helm, Arsene Wenger is finally stepping down from the helm of the North-London club. Whether you were #WengerIN or #WengerOUT, it is undeniable that the Gunners have regressed over the past few seasons, and a change was necessary. Despite his incredible early achievements in charge of Arsenal, his reputation has been tarnished in recent years, with there being much unrest at the club. With his upcoming departure confirmed, we look at the most likely candidates to replace the Frenchman, and how they can bring success back to Arsenal Football Club.
The Favourite: Massimiliano Allegri
Credentials: Currently the manager of Italian giants, Juventus, Allegri is into his fourth season in Turin. He has completed the league and cup double in each of his previous three seasons, and with Juventus in the final of the Coppa Italia and leading Serie A, you wouldn’t bet against him achieving it for the fourth time. Allegri has also taken Juventus to two Champions League finals, in 2015 and 2017, as the Old Lady continue their complete dominance over Italian football.
Tactics: Traditionally adopting a three-at-the-back formation, Juventus are known for their defensive stability. Allegri likes his teams to dominate possession – just like the great Arsenal teams under Wenger – whilst playing with great fluidity in his formation when Juventus have the ball. It is this fluidity that gives freedom to Juventus’ attacking players such as Paolo Dybala to weave their magic.
Suitability to Arsenal: Wenger has often used a three centre back formation in the past 12 months, meaning it might not take too long for the incumbent Arsenal players to adapt to Allegri’s style of play. The freedom he gives to Juventus’ attacking players could be replicated at Arsenal, and be beneficial to players like Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Another point of interest is that there are a group of Juventus stalwarts who are out of contract this summer. Should Allegri be tempted by a move to the Emirates, he could bring players like Giorgio Chiellini with him – the outstanding centre back who Allegri built his defence around. The Gunners’ defensive problems are evident for all to see, and bringing in a player like Chiellini could prove to be a huge coup for this Arsenal team.
The next Guardiola: Luis Enrique
Credentials: When comparisons are made with Pep Guardiola, you know this man is the real deal. Having won the treble with his Barcelona in his first season in charge, Enrique also added another league title and two more Copa Del Rey victories, as well as winning the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de España. The man won it all, before taking a sabbatical in 2017.
Tactics: Whilst Guardiola was and still is renowned for his tiki-taka football, Enrique is slightly more direct. Instead of playing everything through the middle like Guardiola did, Enrique preferred to spread the ball quickly to the wings, with Lionel Messi and Neymar either side of Luis Suarez, with two of the best attacking full backs around in Jordi Alba and Dani Alves overlapping. With players like Neymar and Messi at your disposal, it seems kind of obvious to give them the ball more often than not. And that’s exactly what Barcelona did, with that front three scoring an unprecedented 122 goals in his first season of the Catalan giants.
Suitability: Spanish football expert, Guillem Ballague, thinks Enrique would be a certain success at Arsenal. His ideology of moving the fall forward quickly could benefit Arsenal, who are a very top-heavy team with some outstanding attacking talent in their ranks. If players like Ozil and Mkhitaryan could get on the ball more and exert their influence, Arsenal will be a very exciting team to watch. Whilst the Gunners lack out-and-out wingers, should Ozil and Mkhitaryan operate in inside forward positions either side of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, this would allow Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to bomb forward, taking defenders away from the Arsenal’s attacking players and giving them more space to work in.
The ‘been there, done that, won the trophy’ option: Carlo Ancelotti
Credentials: Where to start? This man has won it all. His AC Milan side of the noughties were the best team in Europe – winning the Champions League in 2003 and 2007, before going on to win it again with Real Madrid in 2014. He has won league titles in England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy. Enough said.
Tactics: Not known for his tactical acumen, Ancelotti is better renowned for his excellent man-management skills. Thiago Alcantara of Bayern Munich said that he instilled the players with immense confidence and self-belief, and praises the Italian for his role in helping him grow from a Barca reject to a world class central midfielder. He is sometimes criticised for being a lazy tactician however, and that is why he rarely stays at a club for more than a few seasons, with his tenure at AC Milan the anomaly.
Suitability: If he is appointed, it is very plausible he could finally get the very best out of Arsenal’s b extremely talented, yet inconsistent, squad. Arsenal are a very streaky team; when they are hot, they’re almost unstoppable, but when they’re not… well not winning a single point away from in the Premier League in 2018 tells you everything you need to know. Ancelotti has tasted success with Chelsea, and could be a very viable short-term solution to Arsenal’s problems. The question remains as to how well he would match-up tactically to the likes of Guardiola, Pochettino, Klopp and Mourinho.
The Gamble: Zeljko Buvac
Credentials: Far from a household name, the Bosnian coach has been working as Jürgen Klopp’s assistant as Mainz, Dortmund and at Liverpool, where he has tasted varied amounts of success, the highlight being the back-to-back Bundesliga titles with Dortmund in 2011 and 2012. He has come from nowhere to emerge as a potential frontrunner to become Wenger’s successor.
Tactics: As he has never managed a top division club before, it is difficult to know exactly how he would play. Klopp refers to him as “the Brain” behind his operations, and Buvac is thought to have inspired the attacking football at Dortmund that resulted in tremendous success for the German club.
Suitability: It would be a huge risk to employ Buvac, who has very little managing experience. However, Liverpool fans’ immense disappointment at his recent departure tells you everything about how highly he is regarded on Merseyside. Perhaps a fresh outlook is exactly what Arsenal need. Furthermore, a Buvac vs Klopp encounter would make for very tasty viewing.
It will be very interesting to see who Arsenal choose to replace Wenger with, in what is English football’s biggest managerial changeover since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United in 2013. One thing for sure is that his replacement will need to be able to withstand the intense scrutiny that will be placed upon him. He will need to be adaptable to the Premier League, and look to make the best of this Arsenal side that is currently lacking in confidence.
For me, the right man for the job is Massimiliano Allegri. His recent track record is unparalleled, even if the Italian league is known for being one-sided. But he has helped to turn Juventus into a major European force again, something he could well achieve at Arsenal, given the opportunity. His style of play could really suit the Gunners: rock solid at the back, with freedom for the creative players up front to work their magic. Nevertheless, regardless of who the Arsenal board appoint, it will be fascinating to see whether or not Arsene Wenger is missed by Arsenal fans, or if the new manager can have an instant impact on the struggling North London side.
Written by Dan Walker.