Is Allegri the Man to Replace Wenger at Arsenal?

Arsene Wenger

Whenever Arsenal enter a poor run of form, the attention inevitably turns to their manager. After twenty plus years, the question is whether Arsene Wenger is still the right man for an underperforming Arsenal club. The second question asked is who would replace him. The most popular name mentioned is Masimiliano Allegri, current manager at Juventus. The Livrono native has succeeded Antonio Conte at Juventus and The Old Lady has kept their stride. Allegri himself has refused to rule out a move away from Turin as recently as yesterday, but what should Arsenal fans expect from the Italian manager?

The first thing to examine when considering Allegri’s suitability for Arsenal is the entirety of his managerial career. Before looking through his resume, it is important to note one thing about managing in Italy. Getting fired is not necessarily a negative. Almost every Italian coach has been sacked at some point in his career in Italy.

After an almost 20 year playing career, Allegri managed two small sides before he was hired to manage Sassuolo in Serie C1. Sassuolo are tiny, and at that time (2007) had never been above Serie C1. In fact, a large percentage of their history they were an amateur side. Allegri in one season took the squad and won promotion to Serie B, their then highest level.

Sassuolo’s success turned heads and Allegri was hired by Cagliari. The club had some talent but was a prime candidate for relegation battles. Regardless, Allegri established them as a mid-table side. Despite this, he was “relieved of his duties” in 2010 and scooped up by AC Milan.

AC Milan in recent years is a tough job. Silvio Berlusconi did not spend as much or as wisely on his players, and the club was/is shouldered with unrealistic expectations. This is to say that despite their reputation as a legendary club, the Milan of the past decade has been poor. Allegri flipped this and in his first season won the scudetto since 2004. This would be the height of success with Milan, as after he could not win another scudetto nor advance past the quarterfinals of the Champions League.  He made some questionable personnel decision, including supporting the sale of Andrea Pirlo to Juventus. By the 2013-2014 season, despite a third place finish the prior season, the writing was on the wall and mid-season Allegri was sacked.

Six months later, he was introduced as the manager of Juventus. The move caught some by surprise, considering how his Milan tenure ended, but the past two and a half years have been an unquestionable success. He has continued the run of titles begun by Antonio Conte and in many ways has improved the squad. Despite the loss of some big names (Arturo Vidal, Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba) and increased competition by improved Serie A clubs, Juve have dominated. This season may be his strongest and most versatile team yet, and truthfully is maybe the third best team in the world and a definite Champions League title contender.

What does all of this mean for Arsenal? Unlike Conte, Allegri has a blemished record. He wore out his welcome at (an admittedly tough) AC Milan and has made some glaringly poor personnel decisions. However, tactically he has few equals in Serie A. When you watch this Juventus team, he has so many different parts and combinations he can play that it is nearly impossible to gameplan against him. Juventus still on occasion plays with the formidable back three, but tend to play a 4-3-1-2 that can change to a more defensive shape. He is less intense and more introspective than many managers, so in that sense he does resemble Wenger.

This is the problem, however. If Arsenal hired Allegri, they’d replace a manager known for his intellect and player-friendly style with a similar style of manager. The biggest difference is Allegri can adjust his tactics and style to react to situations but this would not be the drastically different style that Arsenal need. The players are too comfortable and simply swapping positions or starting formations would not be enough. Allegri has not faced this type of locker room in his career.

What are the positives he’d bring to Arsenal? He is a manager who can put players of different skillsets in positions to succeed. He is comfortable selling players and finding replacements for them. He can grow young talents (he managed Balotelli at his best) and utilize veterans. But he has some major question marks too. He is not known for aggressively challenging his players when they become complacent. When he’s had a bad season or faced intense criticism, he likes to talk about when he will retire. While Serie A is a better league than people give it credit, it is still not as top heavy or talented as the Premier League.

Is Allegri the worst option for Arsenal? Not even close. Is he a guarantee? Not even close.