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​Tactical view of Arsenal candidates: The four types of manager to choose from

It's been almost a fortnight since Unai Emery was sacked and Arsenal are no closer to deciding where to go next.

A reported boardroom split regarding the club's long-term direction is to blame for the paralysis as their shortlist gets longer, not shorter. It is an apt symbol of the chaos and internal power struggles that have undermined Arsenal ever since Arsene Wenger left the club.

Arsenal clearly weren't prepared for this, hence a shortlist that darts across the spectrum of styles and personalities from charismatic defensive leaders to introverted aesthetes. If there is such a thing as an 'Arsenal DNA' then the board clearly have no idea what it is.

Over 100 managers have reportedly applied for the post. It feels like any one of them could get the gig, but here we focus on just four names – each the best example from four tactical styles that broadly capture the range of approaches available to the Arsenal board.



Possession approach: Mikel Arteta

If Arsenal wish to base their identity on Wenger's 22 years at Arsenal then the priority should be low-tempo and patient possession football with measured pressing and an emphasis on promoting youth. Wenger's 21st century teams were defined by a mix of rotational passing and maverick creativity, a style that remains relatively contemporary in today's Premier League.

Mikel Arteta, whose calm passing controlled the game from the base of midfield in the late Wenger years, is the obvious choice to recapture the Frenchman's spirit. Arteta is untested as a manager and yet he is highly regarded within the game and seen as a natural successor to Pep Guardiola at Man City. That's some recommendation – and from a possession-centric genius of the modern game, no less.

In-depth details of his tactical preferences elude us at this stage, although Guardiola's succession plan hints at high pressing, fluid possession, and complex positional interchanges that swarm and suffocate deep in the opposition half. Arsenal's fans would certainly take to the approach, but with Mesut Ozil arguably the only player left at the club in that mould, is this really the way forward?

Besides, that link to Pep could be what scuppers a deal. Guardiola's time in Manchester appears to be drawing to a close. Arteta may choose to wait for the biggest job in England to fall into his lap.

Alternative option: Patrick Vieira. With ties to the Wenger era and club-legend status, Vieira's swashbuckling possession football at New York City caught the eye. Subsequent difficulties at Nice have taken the sheen off.



Counter-press approach: Marcelo Gallardo

Another Guardiola-approved nomination - considered among the 'best coaches in the world' by the Catalan – is River Plate's Marcelo Gallardo. The 41-year-old is statistically the most successful manager in the club's history having won 10 titles, including two Copa Libertadores in 2015 and 2018, and is widely tipped to be the next Barcelona manager.

Gallardo's tactics are from the Marco Bielsa school of thought. He preaches quick verticality and constant attempts to break opposition lines via aggressive high pressing and sharp forward passes into space. That's just the sort of football Emery wanted to play, only to be foiled by his own anxieties and contradictions. The Arsenal board may look to build on what they started with the Spaniard in the hope Emery's signings will also be well-suited to Gallardo.

The Argentine will certainly look to funnel attacks through the middle, exploit the pace of a rapid front three, and counter-press aggressively like Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool. It is a frantic and complex attacking system that flies in the face of prosaic possession. It is also extremely demanding, which may not be suited to Arsenal's inclination for passivity, not to mention their slow defenders.

Alternative option: Mauricio Pochettino. Also inspired by Bielsa, Pochettino's high press and vertical attacking lines make him more desirable than Gallardo. Unfortunately, his link to Tottenham makes this a non-starter despite competitive odds.



Defence-first approach: Max Allegri

Critics of Max Allegri point to his tactical variations at Juventus that sometimes made them a little incoherent in attack, and certainly it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what his team were trying to do with the ball. But his fans would argue it is precisely this variety – or adaptability - that made him such a success in Turin, where Allegri guided the club to two Champions League finals.

Arsenal supporters might be a little less enthused about having another reactive manager – a tinkerer changing his tactics depending on the opposition – in the dugout so soon after Emery. Many would argue the club needs a firm identity and consistent plans moving forward.

But Allegri can offer precisely that in defence. He never presses, instead dropping deep into compressed banks of four to squeeze out space in the final third and patiently await the opportunity to win the ball back. Defensive resilience, disciplined work in a small area of the pitch, and a proper end to expansive high-pressing defending could be exactly what the Gunners need.

Alternative option: Marcelino. The Valencia manager has finished fourth in consecutive seasons in La Liga and attracted attention across the continent for his counter-attacking approach. Marcelino also favours sitting back and absorbing pressure, but unlike Allegri he then looks to spring forward on the break. It's a style that would suit the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubayemang and Nicolas Pepe, although it isn't the most entertaining of systems.



Hands-off, continuity approach: Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti's dismissal from Napoli on Tuesday means the door is open for a cheap, high-profile option for an Arsenal board regularly accused of frugality.

And Ancelotti would, on paper, look like an astute signing. The 60-year-old has won the title in England, Germany, France, and Italy, as well as two Champions Leagues with AC Milan.

Those were some time ago, mind, and a more recent critique of Ancelotti suggests he is a laissez-faire manager who does little more than steady a ship and give talented players the confidence to live up to their natural superiority. He is very flexible tactically, tending to continue with the patterns set by his predecessors.

A continuity approach is exactly what Arsenal don't need. Emery was considered a disaster by the end, and the tepid response to Freddie Ljungberg's interim management tells us their dressing room lacks character. Arsenal need someone to whip them into shape, not languidly allow their collective passivity to grow unchecked.

Alternative Option: Freddie Ljungberg. If it's laid-back and uninspiring you're after, then why not stick with the man who has changed nothing since Emery's departure? Arsenal have been woeful in his three games in charge, save for a ten-minute blitz at West ham on Monday. If the board want quiet continuity Ljungberg is as good (bad) a fit as any.

Alex Keble
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Alex Keble

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