Following on from my last piece about Nuno Espirito Santo potentially taking the Arsenal reigns, a more favourable figure has come to the forefront in the shape of Brendan Rodgers.
The former Watford, Reading, Swansea, Liverpool, and Celtic boss is most Arsenal fans’ preferred choice for the job and is certainly mine. Whilst his CV doesn’t boast too many accolades, unlike that of Max Allegri, he does have a track record of building exciting young teams and leading them with passion and energy.
This report will analyse what style of football Rodgers would bring to Arsenal, the positions he may need to strengthen in the team and how he would set up the current Arsenal team.
Many comparisons can be drawn between Leicester and Manchester City, regarding style and certain key characteristics. One of the most prevalent is Leicester’s defensive shape when they drop to a low or medium block. Leicester fall back to a 4-1-4-1 aiming to frustrate and deny any central space their opponents may seek to exploit. Instead, they look to channel their opponents out wide. They then pin them with their fullback, defensive midfielder and winger once they get halfway into Leicester’s half. This either yields a turnover in possession or a throw-in for either team. Most importantly, it kills momentum and suffocates the opposition, by killing their passing options. Leicester have also played a 4-3-3 with more emphasis on attacking teams who may look to press onto them.
When Leicester look to transition out of defence into attack, whether that be for a counter-attack or for a spell of possession, they look to form two main structures depending on the positioning of their players. If they’re attacking out wide, then both the wingers expand out touchline tight and the two “loose eights” of Maddison and Tielemans attack the half-spaces. These half-spaces come from the width offered by the wingers stretching the play. The full-backs, both very good in possession, tuck in alongside Wilfred Ndidi and provide support and a passing option for their teammates should they need them. If a defence is particularly well set up and Leicester are struggling to break them down, then the full-backs my look to make underlapping runs aiming to drag players away, so that the Tielemans or Maddison can drop in the space and help distribute the ball through the team.
The second structure is a for the fullbacks to occupy the wide positions and the wingers to invert and get closer to Jamie Vardy and occupy the half spaces previously taken up by Maddison and Tielemans. This allows for both Tielemans and Maddison to get on the ball deeper and use their passing range and vision to fashion opportunities for well-timed runs from the narrow forwards. If Leicester are playing against teams with a high defensive line, then this structure can be deadly with the pinpoint accuracy of passes and the timing of runs the forwards like to make. Rodgers’ often usees this structure when building up from the back. They want to stretch the opposition and give time and space to their defenders to help construct play.
Style of play
At Leicester and Celtic, Rodgers has been accustomed to playing a rather possession-based style. They aim to play out from the back and progress the ball through midfield. Once they reach the final third of the pitch, the team morphs into whichever attacking structure fits with the player on the ball. One of the most impressive facets of the team is their ability to mix up their play. Whilst for the majority of the game, they look to pass the ball up the pitch, they are also adept at going long to one of their pacey forwards, who look to make in from out runs, breaking the defensive line.
The importance of Wilfred Ndidi
Wilfred Ndidi is as important to Leicester as Vardy, Maddison, Tielemans and Schmeichel are. He allows for Leicester to progress the ball out of defence and through the team, in the process maintaining defensive stability and awareness. His athleticism coupled with intelligence and work ethic make him indispensable to Leicester. At Arsenal, we only really have Lucas Torreira who could play this position. Torreira who had fallen out of favour under Unai Emery and seemingly isn’t in Freddie Ljungberg’s initial line-up could fit the bill should Rodgers take over. His dogged determination in the tackle and intelligence as to where to be in relation to the ball, is comparable to Wilfred Ndidi. Emery was almost deploying Torreira as a number 10, and this isn’t really his game. Torreira at his prime at Sampdoria had played as a six and sat in front of the back line.
How Ndidi helps Leicester distribute the ball
Aside from the defensive responsibilities Rodgers places on Ndidi, he also requires for his defensive midfielder to be able to help the team move up the pitch. Ndidi is responsible for finding angles. This is to help the team play through tight and compact defensive blocks and unlock free space. This is both in his own half and the oppositions. The one concern I would have for Torreira in this position would be exactly this: does he have the ability to pick the ball up off a defender or goalkeeper with his back to play under pressure? Ndidi himself has had problems with this. I think in this specific role for the defensive midfielder, Guendouzi may be a better fit. He has the ability and temperament to continually do this, regardless of mistakes. Over time he will develop and become more astute at this facet of play.
How Rodgers could set Arsenal up
Whoever the manager will be, Arsenal must invest in new centre backs as soon as possible. This is a given, however where Brendan Rodgers will defiantly also look to strengthen is the midfield positions. I’ve already highlighted that I think Torreira could fill the Ndidi role and to a certain extent maybe Guendouzi could as well, however Arsenal have few midfielders who could do the jobs of Tielemans and Maddison with similar diligence. The only exception being Willock, Arsenal have few midfielders who could play a more box to box role well. Xhaka seems more comfortable in a double pivot position, being able to see the full picture ahead of him. Reiss Nelson and Ozil prefer a number 10 role and don’t have the discipline for a deeper midfield role.
In conclusion, Brendan Rodgers would bring a possession-based style which would focus on pre-engineered moves and structures. His Leicester team operates like a well-oiled machine. If he gets the backing from the board, then Brendan could build a strong progressive side. Rodgers is at a stage in his career whereby he needs success soon to fulfil his managerial potential and status. At Arsenal, he can fulfil this potential – a big club with a rich history where he could build a dynasty. Vardy and Schmeichel are ageing and constant rumours about Maddison, Tielemans and Ndidi moving to other clubs circulate. These departures could well damage Brendan’s ambitions. Arsenal, on the other hand, could offer talents such as Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang, Saka, and Willock. Truly mouth-watering to think of the potential he could unleash on the Premier League.