View From the 4th Tier

When Ivan Gazidis stood in front of the assembled media on Friday April 20, he told the world how Arsenal Football Club would be handling their first search for a new manager in over 2 decades.  The values that have long been the bedrock of Arsenal, and were reinforced by the ever-conscious Arsene Wenger, will be carried on by whomever is chosen to Frenchman’s successor, Gazidis claimed. The Gunners will still be known for their attractive brand of football, and the next manager in will augment the foundation Wenger has built rather than demolish the whole lot to start from scratch. Most importantly, however, Gazidis was adamant that the process will remain under wraps inside the club, and details will be kept secret from the wider world until the season is over and the time is right. So naturally, every football publication, blog and television programme claims to have the scoop.

The media has taken full advantage of the blank slate Arsenal have given them to work with, and the Gunners have consequently been linked to nearly every manager in Europe with any sort of a reputation for winning football matches. Given the club’s history of successfully keeping their business out of the public eye in the past, it should safely be assumed at this point that most of the links are more fanciful than factual, but the sheer variety of managers being seen as candidates for the job is staggering. As the club proceeds to narrow their search into a shortlist, supporters will better be able to see what path the club plans to take for the future. For now, however, the future possibilities are almost as varied as the candidates themselves. Here, I will break down some of the different types of managers that could become the next man in charge for the Gunners, and what that could mean for the future of the team on the pitch.

The Established Name

Best Example: Carlo Ancelotti

First up on our list of possible Arsenal managers is the ‘Established Name’ this category is saved those managers that have already succeeded at the highest level in Europe, and have the CV to prove it. The two most obvious names in this group are Carlo Ancelotti and Luis Enrique. Pursuing a proven Champions League winner like either of these managers would signal that the club believe they are ready to challenge for major silverware in the very near future. Both managers have won trophies domestically and in Europe, and they would come to the club with the expectation of a large transfer budget and total control of the team on the pitch. 

Hiring a manager of this ilk would likely make Raul Sanllehi’s role in player acquisition more important, as each would likely prefer the club to sign ready-made stars as opposed to the young, high-potential signings favoured by Sven Mislintat. These managers come with plenty of experience in dealing with powerful club figures off the pitch, and their role would likely be restricted to focusing on the on-pitch product. Ancelotti in particular would be a shorter-term hire, as the 58 year old has already accomplished all a manager can do in Europe, and is likely not looking for a project. Eleven years his junior, Enrique could certainly stick around for a multi-year project, but likely be anxious to challenge for silverware right away. Far from the worst options the club can take, these managers would represent a commitment to competing right away, and the long-term plan might be sacrificed slightly to bring happiness and major silverware back to the club’s glory-starved fan base.

The Modern Tactician

Best Example: Massimiliano Allegri

As is the near constant trend in all sports, footballers have continued to get bigger, stronger and faster over the last decade. Never before have their been so many top conditioned athletes in Europe’s top 5 leagues. However, the players aren’t the only ones to make significant strides in recent years, as football has seen a renaissance of the tactical mastermind type manager. From the pragmatism of Chelsea’s Antonio Conte and Juventus’ Massimiliano Allegri to the uncompromising philosophies of Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola, football is flush with intellectual managers whose teams reflect their mentality through their play on the pitch.

The Gunners have been linked to several managers that could fall into this category, ranging from the relative unknown quantity of Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann to the man who seems to be many supporters’ first choice, Max Allegri. Should Arsenal go this route, a change of the team’s inherent structure and philosophy could be in for a makeover. Unlike Ancelotti and Enrique, these managers will not need to rely as heavily on massive transfer budgets and winning through sheer star power, so long as they have players capable of performing in the roles they are prescribed. Sarri would likely provide the more recognisable style of play, as his Napoli side play some of the most attractive football in Europe, but Allegri would be the more adaptable to both the players available to the opponent. 

A modern, tactically focused manager would likely work closely with both Mislintat and Sanllehi to build a squad with a mix of youth and experience. Under Allegri, the Gunners would almost certainly improve defensively and would take a more pragmatic and balanced approach into rivalry and away matches. Given the variety of styles being practised around Europe, this category is broader than most, but man supporters are anxious to see an improvement in tactical organisation in this Arsenal team. As Borussia Dortmund found out last season with Thomas Tuchel, the match between the personality of the club and the manager is important, but given Arsenal’s prestige and attractiveness as a destination, they should have little problem finding a tactical thinker who fits in at the club. 

The Philosphical Successor

Best Example: Leonardo Jardim

If Gazidis was being honest during his post-announcement press conference, and the club are truly interested in building on the foundation left behind by Arsene Wenger, they could do a lot worse than current Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim, The Portuguese manager saw his stock take off last season as he guided a young and extremely talented Monaco team to the Ligue 1 title, beating the bottomless pockets of PSG in the process. Jardim was able to do so while aligning his team in a 4-4-2 that bore more than a passing resemblance to Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ side from more than a decade ago. 

Jardim’s teams are known for playing interesting attacking football, capable of passing it around or striking quickly on the counter with equal effectiveness. As Monaco are one of the wealthiest clubs in France, Jardim has experience constructing a team out of a combination of youth and experience, and he has proven capable of winning without having the best team on the pitch. He is a manager that seems to relish a multi-year project, and he has rightly been linked frequently with the job since Wenger’s departure was announced. Though he is not fluent in English, his stewardship would perhaps be one of the easiest for the current team to adjust to. Given his success managing both youth and experience, his appointment would allow Mislintat and Sanllehi to work together to craft a layered and talented squad to compete for years to come. 

Arsene Who? Part 2

Best Example: Zeljko Buvac

Ah yes, who can forget the infamous greeting Arsene Wenger received upon arriving in England, only to make all of those people who questioned his hiring quickly eat there words. For Ivan Gazidis, it isn’t hard to see why this route would be appealing. After all, he has long had his importance with the club called into question. What better way to prove that he is, in fact, a football savvy figure than to pull the next Arsene Wenger into the fold at Arsenal?

The media seems to think this is a likely path for the Arsenal CEO to take, and recently, Liverpool Asssistant Manager Zeljko Buvac has been repeatedly linked to the North London club. A familiar face to those that have followed the managerial career of Jurgen Klopp, Buvac has long been touted as the brains behind the disarming charisma of the German manager. Buvac is known for his tactical nous, and he has been a huge influence of the development of Klopp’s gegenpressing defensive strategy to win the ball back high up the pitch. He has been by the German’s side since he was at Mainz, and he has recently left Liverpool for personal reasons just as the Merseyside outfit prepare for the Champions League Final. 

In many ways, a manager like Buvac would make a lot of sense, but there remains a question as to whether or not he can function as the main man in charge. Being a number 2 to such a popular figure has allowed Buvac to work in relative obscurity, focusing on his craft. As promising as his tactical mind sounds, taking his first managerial role at a club as big as Arsenal, with expectations routinely surpassing reality in the minds of supporters, it could be a big risk for the club to take. Not much is currently known about how Buvac would want to run his own team, but on the off chance that Arsenal cannot resist defiantly hiring another little-known manager like him (or even Paulo Fonseca of Shakhtar Donetsk) he would likely get a few seasons to prove the decision was a good one.