Four Managers Who Could Replace Mikel Arteta
Current club/International team: Spain national team
What he would bring: “Lucho” as he is affectionately known has had a mixed managerial career up to date. Following in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola at the beginning of his coaching career and taking charge of the Barcelona B team in the aftermath of Pep’s promotion to the first team. Underwhelming spells in charge of Roma and Celta Vigo lead to questions over his pedigree at the top level as a coach. However that all changed, as Barcelona became the first team to win the continental treble twice in the 2014-2015 season under Enrique’s watch.
The Gijon native prefers an attacking brand of football, he wears his influences on his sleeve and this is in the form of adherence to the principle of “juego de posición” (an innate understanding of positional play). Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Do we really need another coach obsessed with positional play? What is special about Enrique? Vitally, Lucho favours a mix of transitional and vertical play that adds thrust to the succinct and surgical style favoured by Barcelona during Guardiola’s management.
The famous “MSN” (Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez) trio famously had free reign to come really narrow in the final third and combine to make goal creating actions happen, this caused havoc with deep-lying defences as there was confusion as to how to deal with this. This way of attacking could really benefit Arsenal’s current front three of Bukayo Saka, Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe. It would allow Aubameyang to have more decisive touches near the goal and would allow Smith-Rowe and Saka to come inside and create overloads for the Gabonese frontman to benefit from.
This thirst for transitional football would see a coordinated press that would mean that the ball was recovered closer to the opposition goal more often than not, which would benefit individuals like the much-maligned Nicolas Pepe. The £72 million pound man can sometimes look isolated and too far away from goal to be effective at times but giving him possession closer to goal could see him return to his Ligue 1 form.
Likelihood: Unlikely. Enrique is in the midst of a busy schedule as head coach of Spain and will not want to leave the job unfinished. He is contracted until after the World cup in 2022 and has not given any indication he is going to continue beyond that timeframe. The former Barcelona manager’s wage demands reportedly led to him not being offered the Arsenal job after Arsene Wenger stepped down, this is unlikely to have changed. The only thing that raises the possibility of Luis Enrique taking the Arsenal job is the itch to get back into club football, which Enrique is likely to have after recovering from a few tumultuous years in his personal life.
Current club/International team: Italy national team
What he would bring: Ok I know he manages Italy and was the mastermind behind probably the biggest heartbreak for many a generation of England supporters at the European Championships in the summer just gone. There has to be an admittance that Roberto Mancini’s Italy showed a flair and front footedness that you do not usually associate with Italy, let alone the former Manchester City manager’s sides. Wherever Roberto Mancini goes he has won. Perhaps unfairly labelled a “cup specialist”, the Sampdoria legend has won the league with Inter Milan as well as Manchester City, and in addition to this, he has a domestic cup medal from every country he has coached in.
Interestingly, since shedding the more defensive style honed earlier in his career, Mancini now plays 4-3-3 with Italy. This is a more fluid, attractive brand of football, It is safe to say that the influence of Maurizio Sarri and Gian Piero Gasperini is indelible on Italian football and credit to Roberto Mancini, he has built on those foundations. Italy are a furious pressing and counter-pressing team, so teams tend not to rack up shots on their goal. Their last loss was to Portugal in September 2018 to Portugal.
So what would “Bobby Manc” bring to Arsenal? An identity, a platform to go and play but be equally as aggressive in transitions and getting the ball back, and not giving the opposition time and space near your goal. If we’re going for players he may take a liking to, he has shown a propensity towards ballplayers that progress the ball through the first third via deliberate and accurate passing. That would suggest that Xhaka but more likely Lokonga or an even younger player (Miguel Azeez etc) may have a part to play as a deep-lying playmaker if Mancini was to arrive. the energetic third man in that midfield could be anyone, Ainsley Maitland Niles or we could quietly rue the Joe Willock sale and lament the fact we don’t have him for a system like this. It must be said, however, Odegaard is a reliable, underrated presser of the ball with a final pass.
The former Lazio man’s other string in his bow is his development of elite talent. Nicolo Barella, Moise Kean, Federico Chiesa were all called up to the Italy squad by Mancini and although we know they are all at different stages of their development, they have all been useful when called upon. If Arsenal were to pursue Mancini, the progress of youngsters such as Saka, ESR and Odegaard would be protected and the growth tactically would be apparent. It would be possible for Mancini to use the younger players but he is also wily enough to know that will require seasoned professionals to see them through their growth and would adjust accordingly.
Likelihood: Once upon a time, Roberto Mancini, while coaching Galatasaray, let it be known that he “dreams of managing Arsenal” I do not believe this will happen anytime soon as he has just signed a new contract with the Italian football federation until after 2026. But one can dream.
Current club: Unemployed
What he would bring: To put it simply, Antonio Conte is a winner. The Italian manager has five league titles to his name, including three consecutive Serie A championships. He has preached in the past the importance of being “good at everything” as a manager, as well as his aim to always help players understand the tactics he employs.
On the pitch, Conte famously employs a 3-5-2 formation. This suits Arsenal very well, as they now have Ben White, Gabriel, William Saliba (hopefully), Takehiro Tomiyasu, and even Kieran Tierney, who are all players who can function in a back three (although Tierney would be likely to serve as the left wing-back in this setup). The back three would provide security behind a potential midfield trio of Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard, and Emile Smith Rowe, and Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would likely be allowed to more suitably play off each other as the front two.
Conte’s sides can play both a possession-based offense and a more direct attacking style that uses only a few touches to get up the pitch and threaten the opponents’ goal. Historically, the Italian has been able to implement defensive solidity that creates a foundation for counterattacking football. He also emphasizes high and intense pressing, which would be a boon to the likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka. Essentially, Conte’s principles align well enough with Arsenal’s current squad that he could probably maximize the attributes of most of the squad. Conte could very well be one of the best choices the club could make in replacing Mikel Arteta.
Likelihood: That’s the problem. Conte doesn’t do projects. He wants to walk into ready-made teams that he can turn into title contenders. Arsenal are simply not at that point and are therefore not an attractive destination for the Italian. It is highly unlikely the club could talk Conte into taking what is an immensely difficult rebuilding job.
Current club: Brighton
What he would bring: Graham Potter has the makings of a truly brilliant manager. Now in his third season at Brighton, the Englishman has made the team a relatively interesting spectacle in the Premier League, although they have yet to finish above 15th since returning to the top flight.
One of the more progressive-minded coaches around, Potter would bring to Arsenal the modern approach to football that Arteta promised, but never really made good on. The man himself has described his teams as “tactically flexible, attacking, [and] possession-based”. He deployed a 3-5-2 at Ostersunds and typically fields a 3-4-3 at Brighton. But that isn’t where the versatility of his sides ends. While managing Swansea, Potter used ten different formations in a single season, and he is well-known for cycling through multiple formations throughout a match.
Potter also likes his sides to engage in intense pressing, which as stated before is a function that several Arsenal players could readily adapt to. Through a commitment to periodisation, a type of planned conditioning that aims to have athletes peak in fitness at times coinciding with competitions, Potter is likely able to consistently field high-pressing sides during the season.
With the array of young talent Arsenal have assembled, Potter looks an excellent fit for the project the club have embarked on. While he is also a relatively young manager, he already has a decade of experience and therefore is unlikely to be prone to the disappointing missteps made by Arteta. There is a good chance he would be able to achieve the same level of tactical fluidity with this squad that he has with less talented outfits. His principles, also inspired by Pep Guardiola’s, align quite nicely with the kind of football Arsenal wish to play.
Likelihood: As great a team to watch as they are, Brighton are still a lower midtable Premier League club. That makes Arsenal a straightforward step up for Potter, who emerged as a leading candidate this past summer to take over at Spurs. It’s hard to imagine Potter turning down the prospect of taking on a bigger challenge at Arsenal, but with a bigger budget for acquisitions and more high-ceiling talent surrounding him than he has on the southern coast of England. If Arteta does get the sack, Potter is both a smart and achievable option for the club.