Time isn’t on Freddie Ljungberg’s side. Those hoping the removal of Emery and appointment of an interim manager would lead to a “bounce” were sorely mistaken as Arsenal fell to another draw.
While the blame isn’t on Freddie, the match continued to show that at its core the issues at Arsenal are more than just replacing a bad head coach. The problems are ingrained in the club. The defensive and mental frailties are institutional and are going to require more than a managerial change, they will require a seismic shift in everything Arsenal does.
The “Arsenal Way” is A Fallacy
When people talk of managerial candidates, they talk of coaches who can return Arsenal to the swashbuckling attractive football that was prevalent under the Wenger years. But that is just the problem – that was the way of playing under Arsene Wenger.
Under George Graham, the back four of Winterburn, Dixon, Adams and Bould won titles and matches with 1-0 score lines that were never in doubt because of their defensive strength.
Each is a vastly different version of the “Arsenal way.” The “Arsenal way” manifests itself in two ways. First, it’s the ethos of the club as set down from the club hierarchy and leadership. To define it under KSE it’s safe to say that the “Arsenal way” is mediocrity is okay.
The second way it manifests itself is obviously on the pitch. Right now the “Arsenal way” is we play as a team without any offensive pressing energy, that plays with slow vulnerable and weak defenders and we play systems that are not becoming of a big club.
From top to bottom everything is a mess and the “Arsenal way” is shambolic. That’s why the next coach that comes in has to be transformational. It can’t be just about tactics. It has to be about exciting the fans, changing the mentality of the club from top to bottom – in essence changing everything about Arsenal
Klopp’s Liverpool Model
Think about Liverpool pre-Klopp and post-Rafa. Years out in the wilderness away from the top of the league and missing out on Europe. One glance with glory that slipped away. They were more Tottenham than Liverpool.
Then came the appointment of Jürgen Klopp. And from the first match when he demanded that Adam Lallana fight for the ball, its been an upward trajectory. The revitalization of the team wasn’t just tactical it was mental.
He made the players believe, the fans believe and he got the board dreaming and committing to investing (soundly) and look where they are now. They are on the precipice of their first league title since the 80s and they have a 6th Champion’s League title to boot.
It’s affected how they do transfers as players are more attracted to Klopp’s Liverpool even more than they were with Brendan Rodgers squad. He’s changed Liverpool so much in that regard that Virgil Van Dyke was willing to wait 6 months for that transfer to plan out.
Players want to play for Liverpool because they feel “why wouldn’t you want to play for that side.”
It was as monumental a transformation as there has ever been in the top division.
This is what Arsenal need.
If you accept the premise that Arsenal need an institutional transformation the question then becomes who is the coach to do that?
Looking across the supposed shortlist of candidates, look at the candidates and ask if what they bring to Arsenal will bring the fundamental change we require.
Some will likely point to Brendan Rodgers and his short tenure at Leicester as an example. Except fundamental change wasn’t needed nor did Rodgers institute any. And given how players felt about him at Liverpool its fair to say he doesn’t elicit the willingness to run through a wall we need from a manager.
That’s not to say he’s not a good manager. However, Arsenal need more than tweaking as has been pointed out previously.
So, if not Rodgers or anyone on the “shortlist” then who?
For that answer look no further than one of Klopp’s own proteges, Borussia Mochengladbach’s Marco Rose
Who is Marco Rose
Rose is a former defender having spent his playing career with VfB Leipzig, Hannover and Mainz 05 (when Klopp was their coach). After playing for the 05ers for eight years, Rose went on to manage their reserves. But it was at Red Bull Salzburg where he’d make his name.
After impressing in the trenches at both Mainz and then Salzburg, he was appointed manager of Salzburg’s senior side. There he won the Austrian Bundesliga back to back and reached the semi-finals of the Europa League. That European run would fall short of the final but showed what Rose could do against some of the big names. It featured wins against Real Sociedad, Dortmund (at the Westfalen Stadion no less) and a miraculous come from behind win vs Lazio.
They would fall short of the final in AET when Marseille’s Rolando would score in the 116th minute ending the Austrian side’s dreams. It drew more attention to the manager and began opening doors for him to move out of Austria and on to bigger things
In April of 2019, Borussia Monchengladbach announced they would not extend current manager, Dieter Hecking’s contract and appointed Rose as his replacement beginning at the start of the new season.
And in the early season so far Rose has taken the side to the top of the Bundesliga 1 point clear of RB Leipzig, 3 points clear of Schalke and 4 clear of perennial winners Bayern Munich.
It may or may not hold but the results have been astounding as Rose has transformed the fortunes of the club.
Is it Really Transformational Change?
If you are a casual Bundesliga follower, you may not know that from 1968 to 1977 Gladbach and Bayern traded the title back and forth between each other. Those heydays of the 70s also featured success in Europe for the Foals. However, the era would end in the 80s as they would find themselves unable to compete with Bayern either financially or competitively.
From that time on the club have teetered from the challenge for a domestic cup to the Zwei Bundesliga title and yo-yo-ing between Germany’s top two leagues. Last season just outside of Germany’s top 4 the club went on a run of being winless in 8 games before the board decided to replace Hecking.
To say what Rose has brought to Gladbach is transformational would be an understatement.
His focus off the pitch is getting the team to come together as a team and not a collective of individuals. He focused on his team’s mental strength and he’s getting players and fans believing in the team again.
Gladbach Forward Marcus Thuram said it more succinctly:
“He gives you confidence. He’s a coach you want to fight for.”
Talking Tactics – Offensively Speaking
Of course, what most people want to know about any managerial candidate is how would he set up a team to play. Interestingly for Rose there is enough evidence to draw some conclusions.
At both RB Salzburg and Gladbach Rose has opted to use the 4-3-1-2 otherwise called the 4-diamond-2. While has stuck with his favoured option at Gladbach Rose has also begun to use a traditional 4-3-3 in order to get more from his front 3.
However, it is the 4-diamond-2 that is Roses’s bread and butter.
Lineup wise Rose believes in having a consistent back 4 with change only necessitated by injury and suspension. The front two is pretty consistent with subtle changes as needed. It is in the midfield that Rose remains his most flexible and likes to have players who can play multiple roles.
In possession, you will typically see Rose’s teams play through the back with the CBs moving the ball in order to find and exploit gaps in the opposition blocks. Ideally play will go through the central areas of the pitch avoiding width as a first option. Rose also gives his CBs the flexibility to be a little more direct and bypass the midfield with a long penetrative pass to one of the two forwards who Rose wants to drop deep and open space behind. The idea is to get the ball and then lay it off to the attacking midfielder who will play a through-ball to the other forward who is expected to run against the line into the open space the other forward’s movement created leaving them in 1v1s with a single defender or with the opposition goalkeeper.
In either system of play Rose expects his midfield to stay compact using lots of 1-touch passes, along with wall passes, layoffs and through balls to exploit opponents as quickly as possible. Rose wants his team possessing the ball higher up the pitch so that transitions to goal are shorter and create numerical advantages as soon as possible.
Should the opposition have a blocking system that restricts some of Rose’s team midfield play, they do have the option to use wide play as a plan B using the fullbacks as the primary source of width. Usually, in this scenario, the first pass is a diagonal pass from the centre back to the full-back who attacks the space but who is always looking for a first pass option behind the opposition midfield line to one of the central forwards or the attacking the midfielder.
Its important to note that Rose does not like his team to cross the ball into the box, so if a fullback manages to get that far forward and finds themselves in position to cross the ball, Rose wants the fullback to play the ball across the 18 or get deep enough towards the end line for a cut-back to one of the attackers coming into the box.
When Rose has opted for 4-3-3 not much changes in the fundamental principles of what he is looking for. He still wants his team to be dynamic and fast but he is also looking to see his front three become more dynamic. In that set up and much like the 4-diamond-2 Rose wants the forwards to come short looking to open space that the other forward can move through.
Regardless of the shape, Rose wants his team’s ultimate goal to be the creation of quality chances by quickly playing through the lines of pressure.
His attacking set up has seen immediate dividends. Gladbach have experienced a 100% increase in clear cut chances created and made them among the league leaders in terms of goals scored (28), shots taken (191) and even efforts hitting the post/bar (6).
Talking Tactics – Defensively Speaking
Typically Roses defensive set up is designed to negate the strength of his opposition. For instance, in the Europa League he set his team up in a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas Tree” to negate Lazio’s ball movement. In the same year, he opted for a traditional 4-4-2 for Dortmund. Every time its a tactical decision designed to take the game away from his opponent.
Regardless of the setup Rose still wants his teams to be dynamic and fast and defensively he expects them to be aggressive. An additional reason for his use of a compact midfield is that it also allows him to employ a counter-press designed to force mistakes high up the field
In his pressing system, Rose likes to limit the number of opposition passes made before a successful defensive action takes place. At RB Salzburg his team’s average was 6.6 passes before a defensive action occurred. That rate made them the best in Europe, ahead of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Typically, off the ball, you will see Rose’s teams hunting usually in packs of 3. Much like Klopp’s gegenpress they look to set traps for the opposition, trying to isolate a player and force them into a higher risk offensive action.
The results have been astounding – under Hecking Gladbach contested the least number of duels in the league. Rose has turned that around where they now contest the most. Under Rose Gladbach has seen their challenge success increase by 20%
Additionally, those contested duels have resulted in Gladbach winning 743 challenges for the season (106 per game average for the league).
If there is a weakness in Roses’ defensive set up its with fullbacks used as the primary source of width. An opponent with a fast attack who can take advantage of the space behind the fullbacks and put the centre backs under pressure can expect to create chances against Rose’s teams
As is also the case with teams that employ an energetic press, there is also the threat of a long ball over the top to bypass the press and isolate the centre backs against a pacy striker.
With any manager or head coach the tactics are viewed as the most important part of the hire. But so too are some of the intangibles. One of Unai Emery’s biggest criticisms was being able to communicate what he wanted from his players clearly. To the casual observer and based on some stories after he was sacked, there was an inability to motivate and get the best out of his players.
Denis Zakaria, the Gladbach midfielder had this to say about Marco Rose;
“He came in with a new system, new determination. It’s not that we didn’t have a lack of desire before, but I don’t think we were at it enough.”
“Now, with this new system, this new playing style, which is based more on pressing more, we have to be at it.”
“It’s always important your coach has faith in you. I’ve played all the games since the start of the season. I’ve been in the team. As a player, that always helps you. I think he’s a great coach, I learn from him, and I’m really very happy to improve with him.”
The Gladbach fans have been devoid of anything to celebrate but now with Rose at the helm, regardless of where they wind up, they are enjoying what he has brought to the team and by extension to them.
Arsenal supporters haven’t had much to cheer about recently and while our time in the wilderness is shorter than others it would be an added plus to have a coach who understands and appreciates the passions of our fans and works to give them an on the field product we can be proud of.
Rose is a student of the game and along with his tactical nous and seemingly excellent man-management skills is someone who blends it with passion for understanding the details behind the game – in other words he’s a data geek.
All that combined together with his own continual development and improvement makes him the ideal candidate to help restore Arsenal to where we want it to be.
Arsenal are in need of a drastic change. Institutionally this club is not the club we all hope it would be. However, it can be it just needs the right appointment at the head coach to begin that process of change. Marco Rose represents the blueprint for just that type of transformative force. He is young, tactically aware, fantastic with his players and a coach who has inspired each of his teams to rise to new heights, bringing the fans and the organization along for the ride.
That being said it is unlikely that Marco Rose is a candidate Raul would consider. It’s more than likely that the super agents whom Raul has in his Rolodex will drive him to the bigger names that are supposedly on the shortlist.
In 1996 Arsenal took a highly regarded but little known Frenchman and made him a footballing institution. A fundamental change in how Arsenal approach things was at the core of the Wenger revolution in ’96. Arsenal are in need of that again, and taking a chance on a highly regarded little known German coach could have a similar effect. If not him, then someone like him.