I’ve never blogged about a Football Manager series before. In truth I’m not even a massively experienced FM player. But never has a Football Manager campaign for Arsenal been so appealing. Arsène Wenger is leaving, Arsenal have just finished in their lowest league position for 23 years, and are left with a squad that is, while not completely devoid of talented players, badly unbalanced, lacking in key areas, and ageing. Arsenal are about to embark on a new era with me at the helm.
I didn’t want to start at the beginning of the 17/18 season. While you can argue that would’ve been the ideal time for Arsenal to get a new manager and begin to rebuild the squad, one can not change the past, and it’s more fun to go from this point onwards than it is to rectify the mistakes of the last 12 months with hindsight vision.
I found a downloadable custom start date, which allowed me to start my reign in May 2018 with the league season accurately simulated. What I didn’t anticipate was that the results of the cup competitions wouldn’t be accurate and when I loaded my first save, I had the Europa League final to contend with in two days (the 14th of May was the latest I could drop in). It took me until my sixth created save for Arsenal to finally lose in the Europa League semi finals, to Lyon, which was both inconvenient and a sobering reminder of what could’ve been this season.
I contemplated quite literally designing my manager as Mikel Arteta, but given there’s actually a Mikel Arteta in the Manchester City coaching staff in the database, I thought it might create a weird duplication that could become strange further down the line. Instead I created myself as a 36 year old former international footballer with a Continental A Licence, who is a great attacking coach, good at working with youngsters, a strong tactician and a good man manager. In other words, the calibre, experience levels and qualities that Arsenal are seemingly going for in real life.
I think the first goal for a new Arsenal manager has to be to re-establish the club in the top four, with a view to challenging for titles further down the line. Expecting anything more of a side that finished 37 points behind a dominant Manchester City side this season is simply unrealistic, especially given Arsenal don’t exactly have big financial advantages on their rivals.
My goal will be to do that while rebuilding the squad and reducing it’s average age. Younger players will be targeted and I’ll look to give opportunities to the likes of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson where possible. The other aim is, of course, to try and play football The Arsenal Way with attacking game plans, dominance of the ball and a lot of attacking firepower. Both things are of course, mentioned by Ivan Gazidis as part of the club’s philosophies.
Squad overview and early formation ideas
The first job for any football manager is to assess the squad they’ve got. To identify who the key players are, who you will look to sell, which are the combinations you’ll look to build around, and so on. The undoubted strength of the current Arsenal squad lies in the attack. In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal have two high quality strikers with fairly different skill sets. It makes a lot of sense to try and incorporate both of them into the starting lineup, and I’m curious to see if they can build a quality strike partnership. Just behind them is Mesut Özil, one of the best playmakers in the world. After his new contract in February, he will be one of the key players in the project going forward. His touch, passing, technique, vision and decision making are elite and he’s the perfect creative playmaker in both the real world and in the game.
Elsewhere there aren’t many other massive strengths in the squad. Hector Bellerin is a quality right back, who, at 23 years old, is one of the few first team positions that will be settled for years to come. The rest of the backline are either the wrong side of 30 or are players I have doubts about the quality of. Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny have long contracts and both have the potential to be useful players. On the other hand Aaron Ramsey’s contract is running out in one year and his stats in the database aren’t anything special and seem to do him a bit of a disservice (a stamina of 15, the same as Özil and only one more than Lacazette and Wilshere!). If his wage demands are high then he could be a player who needs to be sold in order to create funds. The same goes for Jack Wilshere.
To say Arsenal are somewhat lacking in genuine wide options would be a gross understatement, which is obviously something to note going into the transfer window, but is also making me lean towards a three or five at the back formation for the next season. A three centre back formation, where the wingbacks are the primary source of width, also helps to fit two strikers in without leaving the rest of the team unbalanced, so it’s a natural fit.
In the end I opted for a 5-2-1-2, with Özil in the hole behind the two strikers. The formation is obviously not set in stone and could be adapted in the future. In the next episode of the series, when we look at transfers, I’ll discuss the ways I think the rest of the team can be improved, and with certain signings the ideal formation could change. At the moment, this is what I think is best suited to the Arsenal squad.
In terms of instructions I’ve opted to play a slightly higher line, and to close down more. If I was feeling particularly ambitious I could try a much higher line with much more closing down, but given it’s still early days and the Arsenal defence has been less than stellar, to put it lightly, over the last two seasons, I think that might be unwise. I’ll see how the first couple of months go, observe how the fitness of the squad holds up and assess from there.
After getting the ball I want the team to keep it and for prolonged periods so have opted for shorter passing and a lower tempo in possession, while still allowing for creativity and for the players to express themselves on the ball.
In the next episode I’ll start looking into potential transfer targets, focusing on potential CBs, CMs and wingers. If you have any standout suggestions, let me know on twitter. That’s all for episode one.