The Next Arsenal Manager; A Case For Luis Enrique

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Luis Enrique
MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 27: Coach Luis Enrique Martinez Garcia of FC Barcelona during the Copa Del Rey Final between FC Barcelona and Deportivo Alaves at Vicente Calderon Stadium on May 27, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Power Sport Images/Getty Images)

Arsene Wenger’s time with Arsenal may be running out, with a plethora of top managers, including Luis Enrique, linked with the North London outfit. Performances like the one at Swansea are becoming commonplace, while Wenger’s authority at the club is being slowly dismantled by the arrivals of Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi.

Will Luis Enrique Replace Arsene Wenger?

Background

Enrique spent three seasons at the helm of Barcelona. During those years, he helped the Catalonians to three Copa Del Rey trophies, two La Ligas and one Champions League. Despite this success, many fans of the Blaugrana were happy to see Enrique leave after his three-year contract expired.

Life at the Camp Nou was never easy for the manager, who was more or less living in the shadow of Pep Guardiola from the time or appointment.

The current Manchester City boss had left Barcelona just twelve months earlier, with former assistant Tito Vilanova taking charge. However, due to an unfortunate cancer diagnosis, Vilanova had to step down after just one season.

In the wake of the tiki-taka revolution, during which Barca won every trophy in sight, Enrique was expected to deliver great things almost right away. While the trophies were won, life was not always easy.

For example, he had a training ground argument with Lionel Messi in 2015, less than a year after his appointment. The treble win in later that year, however, assured the manager kept his post.

As time went on, though, results worsened. Barcelona won a league and cup double the following year, but only one trophy in his final year in charge.

His final season at Barca also included an infamous 4-0 loss at the hands of PSG. The Blaugrana managed to turn the score around in the return leg, going through 6-5 on aggregate, however, the damage was done with the fans.

Citing fatigue, Luis Enrique left Barcelona in the summer of 2017. Just like Guardiola, he opted for a one-year sabbatical before working again.

The Arsenal Connection

As mentioned earlier, Raul Sanllehi has joined Arsenal as Head of Football Relations. He formerly worked at Barcelona as Sporting Director, where he stayed for 14 years. Sanllehi and Enrique will undoubtedly know each other well due to their Barca connection.

While the manager’s time in Catalonia was turbulent, that was more down to his relationship with fans and the media, not the club itself. Therefore, there is no reason to think the duo could not operate together again.

In fact, it is known that Barca wanted to keep Enrique at the club, offering him an extension multiple times.

Then, of course, there is the manner in which Arsenal conduct themselves. The Gunners are often compared to Barcelona, on and off the field.

Both clubs have a wonderful history of winning, albeit infrequently in North London. Each are considered classy outfits as well, conducting business in the way they feel is right. Also, the two teams are well-known for promoting youth players through their ranks.

Probably the major difference between the two posts is expectation. Barca do not tolerate anything but success, while Arsenal seem far more patient with their manager.

Luis Enrique is no doubt a Barcelona man through and through. He’s both played and managed the club, including a stint as manager of Barcelona B. If there is one other club on the planet that would feel familiar from the start, it would be Arsenal.

Playing Style

The tiki-taka style which brought Barca and Spain glory for nearly a generation is simply not Luis Enrique’s game. More than anything else, that was likely the reason Catalonian fans never warmed to their former boss.

The Blaugrana employed a much more direct style under Enrique, sacrificing some possession in the process. Defenders such as Samuel Umtiti were given a much more pronounced passing role, instead of midfielders such as Xavi.

This directness allowed the attacking trio of Suarez, Messi and Neymar to hit opponents hard on the counter-attack. With fewer passes through the midfield, they got the ball quicker and were better able to exploit space and defensive unpreparedness.

While Arsenal have played a style similar to tiki-taka, the famous Wenger-ball fans know so well, the current squad is not quite built for such tactics. Also, with the advent of gegenpressing, perhaps the Premiership as a whole is less forgiving of that style of play.

The Gunners’ current squad is heavy on attacking talent, yet without the same number of creative players they used to have. Maybe a more direct style would allow for better results.

Conclusion

If there is a Barcelona in the world of football outside of Spain, it is in North London. The clubs share a certain style of attacking bravado on the pitch and a way of developing talent off of it.

Where the two differ is mainly in the end product. Barca have a penchant for winning silverware year in and year out and hold higher managerial standards because of it.

Meanwhile, the Arsenal job is less pressurized, which may be very appealing for Enrique.

While there may be more tempting, or possibly more lucrative destinations, Luis Enrique makes sense as a successor to Wenger.

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