Recent weeks have been an absolute roller coaster ride for Arsenal fans. The highs of prominent new signings, re-signing Mesut Ozil while breaking our wage structure, and setting yet another transfer record have given way to the extreme lows of four straight losses for the first time since 2002 and a league position 33 points off the leaders. To me, our current woes conjure up a more damning realization: we are devoid of a footballing identity.
In an age where the majority of the footballing leaders are managers rather than boisterous on-field personalities, the game has gradually become more tactical. Preparation prior to games as well as adjusting to specific in-game scenarios is essential. On-field captains may be the ones that communicate and remonstrate with referees, but let’s get one thing straight: they are the mouths of their managerial counterparts, an embodiment of their character as well as philosophical footballing values.
I knew it was time to start thinking ahead to the next manager when a few seasons ago I struggled to answer the following:
- What type of football are we currently trying to play? I have no clue.
- What players have progressed as footballers recently in our current setup? Alexis, Monreal, and, maybe, Bellerin?
Consider Arsenal Football Club a blank canvas for the time being, given our apparent identity crisis. The next manager, in collaboration with Sven and Raul, will be free to place their stylistic imprint on Arsenal Football Club. Below are the four most important values I would like to see us adopt moving forward. These values don’t have to come to embody our ethos, but I would at least like to see a modicum of each in our new identity.
1. Off The Ball Comfort
The one glaring weakness of the Arsenal side over the last decade is an inability to hold a defensive shape for extended periods. I would argue the only time Wenger has decided to be defense-first for multiple games was during the tail end of the ‘12/’13 season. Recent years has seen us fail desperately to stay compact multiple times against each of Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Manchester City. Being able to sit in and quell passages of play with the opposition is in the ascendancy will be paramount moving forward.
Possible Candidates that Excel: Max Allegri at Juventus, Carlo Ancelotti (unemployed)
Below is an example of Allegri’s Juve against Barcelona at the Camp Nou last year in the Champions League. It’s so difficult to get players in between the lines against Juve due to their defensive angles and numbers behind the ball.
2. Commitment To Width
Our only viable, repeatable semblance of width in recent years has come from our fullback play. With our slow possessional build-up and poor defensive record we are given little space in the attacking third to exploit fullback width. Our next manager needs to cater to wide options, whether they be fullbacks or true wingers, creatively on touchlines in order to let the game breathe in the middle.
Possible Candidates that Excel: Leonardo Jardim at Monaco, Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, and the possibility of Arteta adopting this ideal
Here is Jardim’s Monaco overloading the right side with winger Adama Diakhaby and Stevan Jovetic against Angers earlier this season.
3. Coordinated Pressing
It’s been evident in the Wenger-era that there is a degree of commitment to pressing and winning the ball back quickly. I particularly remember the sides from ‘08 through ’12 being adept at quickly winning the ball back in advanced areas. While never overly devastating, the press has gradually become more and more disconnected as the seasons have progressed. Players seem to be closing down individually and unaware of opponents pressing triggers to exploit in unison.
Possible Candidates that Excel: Ralph Hasenhüttl at RB Leipzig and Heiko Herrlich at Bayer Leverkusen
Hasenhüttl’s aggressive pressing from the front is evident below. They dictate play wide and vacate the center of the pitch to control space in other areas. The defender has a decision to play a ball to the one teammate in the center and encourage further pressing or go direct and hope his team wins a 2nd ball.
4. In-Game Tactical Flexibility
In this ever-evolving game, the scenarios faced each game are plentiful. Having a team well-drilled and prepared to adapt seamlessly to a new approach mid-game is necessary. Change of defensive shape, personnel tasked with specific roles, and change of attacking focus are just a few of the many factors to consider. I want to be able to walk away from matches having known the clear tactical change to give Arsenal the upper hand in a match.
Possible Candidates that Excel: Domenico Tedesco at Schalke and Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim
Below is evidence of an in-game adjustment from Nagelsmann’s squad to counteract the high press by Leipzig. Hoffenheim get bodies forward in an effort to play behind the high defensive line and isolate 3 attackers on 3 defenders.
Systems and structures empower those within them, as long as the methodology is sound and personnel are invested in the cause. Recent events strongly suggest that the majority of the players no longer have faith in the methods of Arsene Wenger. As we wait for the dominos to fall and a new manager to take over, one can’t help but wonder if they can establish a successful framework and new identity for our beloved Arsenal.
Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.