Arsene Wenger banking on Arsenal’s central strength for the new season

The Emirates Cup has signaled a change in formation for the coming campaign as manager Arsene Wenger looks to maximise Arsenal’s creative potential.

Arsene Wenger has lost his religion. Or make that, devoting more time to what had made his previous sides a joy to watch. Wenger will never deviate from the fluid, passing style that has been the hallmark of his Arsenal sides but that had long been in a 4-4-2. “I think 4-4-2 is simply the most rational formation in most cases,” he said in Gianluca Vialli’s book, ‘The Italian Job’. “In fact, it’s the essence of reason. With a 4-4-2, 60% of your players are occupying 60% of the pitch. No other formation is as efficient in covering space.”

But if the Emirates Cup is anything to go by, Arsene Wenger is greatly pondering a switch in system to a 4-3-3 in an attempt to galvanize his young team. And it make sense; the Gunners have a abundance of central attacking players and with the switch, allows fluid combination play and creativity. The three central midfielders are set-up in a triangle, one deepest and two either side as opposed to last season’s 4-2-3-1 while the wide men have freedom to support the lone forward.

Far from being perfect yet a step up from last pre-season, Arsenal produced two solid, attacking team performances to win the competition. Against  Athletico Madrid Arsenal were typically domineering and kept possession well but ultimately lacked that dynamism to prise open the Spanish defence until Andrei Arshavin’s introduction. The Russian has had a slow start to pre-season but is getting used to his new wide role and it’s easy to see why Wenger prefers him there. His ability to take people on and killer instinct should mean a more clinical Arsenal.

At Rangers, we saw a more rounded attacking performance. The front three of Eduardo, Wilshere and Arshavin pressured well and their movement in particular was bamboozling. In fact in the post-match conference, Wenger admitted that the formation Arsenal have indeed been playing is a 4-2-3-1, adding to the flexibility (In this case Fabregas closest to the right of Song/Denilson and Merida higher and slightly elongated to the left). He has n0 doubt been watching a lot of Brazil who have always intimated under Dunga that their 4-2-3-1 formation is indeed a diamond formation.

Nevertheless, it is a three man central midfield and from a defensive point of view, it should feel like one. The advantage of this set-up is that it gives greater security to the other central midfielder but over-eagerness to get forward has not dispelled the problems associated last season with the 4-4-2.

Often the deepest midfielder has been left exposed and in such situations there is the argument that a ‘enforcer’ is required. However, unless that enforcer has extendable legs capable of spanning 20 yards, what is best required is someone with astute positional sense, capable of nicking the ball away.

In an unfair comparison with Barcelona, Yaya Toure is able to remain disciplined because players like Iniesta, Xavi and Messi are better at keeping the ball and making the right decisions. As of yet, because of the Gunners’ elaborate playing style, more resources are pushed forward in order to sustain the pressure but at times a bit too hastily. NB: having seen much of Barcelona, this formation Arsenal is playing is not the same as the Catalan club.

There is a case also that a tall target man in the build of someone like Huntelaar would be best suited to the system, capable of patrolling around the box and linking up play. As of yet only Eduardo has played with distinction of the available strikers while Van Persie still looks best as a support striker. We will see some matches played in a 4-4-2 and some in a 4-3-3, but unless someone takes the second central midfielder mantle like Flamini did in 2007/08, the latter looks the formation of choice.

And somehow, playing this system has opened up new levels of depth to the side. More onus has been placed on the creative players to not only create but to score and with the options on the bench, Wenger is able to switch talent seamlessly. Which is the supposed beauty of this system; fluidity.


34 thoughts on “Arsene Wenger banking on Arsenal’s central strength for the new season

  1. If Arsenal fail to buy anymore players both Wenger and the board are folling the fans
    We need Hagland and a defensive midfielder Denilson is our weekeness along with our hight we also need a fox in the box
    If Sendoros and Eboue goes there will be 54 million n the Kitty this must be spent without penny pinching and haggling over the sake of two million or so (Alonso last year)we are three players short of a winning squad buy Hagland,Inlar or Matadi and Huntelaar also Veira for player/coach role total cost 43 million

  2. I am still perplexed at the situation at the Emirates….

    AW insists on percevering with Eboue …. I cant question his heart, but there is never any end product to his work.

    AW insists on playing Song as our DM player … yet claims he is going to be a quality centre half…

    And then there is young Bentdner who is not of the quality of those around him…(yet)

    So if we play a 4-3-3, who do we utilise as a genuine 9 …. while I think Eduardo is class he isn’t known for putting his head on crosses or holding up the ball… while RVP is best just sat off a front player, just as Bergkamp did for us with distinction….

    But why am I worried about going forward we are the best in the land …. meanwhile we are weak through the middle and at the heart of our defence …. plus we have 3 decidedly dodgy keepers….

    I know that in Arsene we need to trust, but too many gooners seem satisfied to stay in the top 4 …. when we should be confident of competing and winning every competition we enter

  3. use 4-2-3-1






  4. we need to calm down regarding youth we are the future of the best team in europe not the past we learn from the past especially the last four years.
    the young guns have showed us promise, so expectations can also destroy our young players. it is natural to want more and more when we are doing so well that the more we want the more we destroy. taking wenger at his word should be enough he is the manager and knows these future stars personally, their history, their families, their lifestyle and their problems as youth. so lets just enjoy the games they play and watch them grow into the great players of arsenal. we are the fans of arsenal we unfortunately do not know what is in the minds of these young men. we like anyone else want to win. but we need to be patient about it . so here we are wenger promised us a great team and that has taken time so lets sit back and watch the future champions pump up the volume. the young guns will shoot bang bang bang so many goals. but respect them by allowing them to gain the experience they need. i will say this though in this time of ression all clubs should drop the price of tickets and make allowances for this ressesion. so to the board i say you have enough money as well do city and chelsea and utd the top five should lead by example to the rest of the prem.. and cool down throwing stupid money around the game its disgusting an insult to struggling families in these days of the struggle to survive. well done wenger you are the­ brains of the premiership you deserve to be recognized as the legend not just of arsenal but of the whole­ football association in europe

  5. We were playing a 4-3-2-1 formation against Rangers.

    Eboue, Gallas, Silvestre, Clichy
    Cesc, Song, Merida
    Wilshere, Arshavin

    Wilshere and Arshavin were given a much more freedom role on the pitch. You could see Wilshere and Arshavin were not stuck on the left or right.

  6. I think this new ‘4-3-3/4-3-2-1’ while it has also played to our fundamental strengths of having so many central midfielders, it has also opened a new can of worms, namely tactical discipline. With 3 central midfielders, it should not be so easy to bypass, yet yesterday, you look to see who is trying to clean up, it’s the full backs and the 3 are nowhere to be seen. The players should be thankful they can all play now, but augment it with collective tactical work, the same vigour in attack must be shown in defence. I’ve always been in favour of 3 midfielders, and then two strikers and a playmaker, or vice versa, where it does come into question is are our ‘strikers’ killers as Wenger called Utd when they beat us 3-1. A new striker should still be on the agenda.

  7. 4-4-2 still (arsenal de best any way)

    Sagna gallas Vermalaen Clichy

    Walcott Fabregas Nasri

    V.persie Arshavin

  8. First time poster at this site. Please show some mercy when you point your thumb. 🙂

    I notice that all attacking players starting the Rangers game were Fabregas or shorter, and we had no problems dealing with direct balls or fighting in the air. The message to the players, especially Wilshere and Merida, was: as long as they fight off launchers of hoofs, they won’t need to worry about their limited heights.

    The way Arsenal will play against mid-table muscular teams this season will be similar: our slick passers will turn tireless runners when they lose the ball to crowd out opponent’s defenders and midfields.

    It’s unlikely that a Vieira-like player will be coming to Arsenal (or into our first team) soon. A worker like Flamini might have looked great doing his defensive work, but Arsene clearly viewed his limited passing as too much a sacrifice in attack. I’m guessing that he’s convincing his creative players to do more of defensive work up front to cover up our most obvious weakness – dealing with direct long balls. If he succeeds – as he did with his past great teams – Song and Denilson will be made to look as good as any holding midfielder in the world.

    1. Attack has long been our form of defence. If we attack well and sustain pressure then it denies pressure at the other end. The system will allow us to keep the ball but with no real no.9 it will be more difficult to score against the direct sides.The signs so far show more dynamism and movement, so the first step is going well.

      @ New Gooner: it seems the other central players almost were taking granted the ‘extra’ security they get. Discipline and understanding needs to be drilled in. And yes, a striker should be on the list. I would be fine with the ones we have if playing two strikers but with one upfront, they do not seem suited to the role.

  9. Ok – so the squad we have can win the premiership – Unfortunately I am not convinved….

    I am concerned about the keepers and i still believe we are light weight in the middle of the park…. we were average against Athletico Madrid… and while we tore Rangers apart when we had possession, they caused us some major problems in the second half on the counter attack ….. please what would the likes of United / Liverpool and Chelsea do to us…. and before I am pulled apart I recognise it was just a friendly…. but Rangers would be a mid table premiership side at best….

    So I pose this question are we happy to be top four or should we expect a trophy….

    oh and Nhan- Wenger did not let Flamini go because he did not want to sacrifice the passing game – He was out of contract and chose to go because he thought the grass was greener…

    As for dealing with mid table muscle teams by slick passing …. please have a word with yourself Bolton or Stoke on a cold raining Wednesday evening on a boggy pitch – slick passing wont help us …

    As for the youngsters, I was delighted with Wilshire and Merida on Sunday….. still unsure about Song and Denilson…. but what happens if we do drop out of the top four this season … do we honestly believe the likes of Fabragas, Arshavin and RVP will stay….

  10. I think the current squad is suprisingly capable. I liked the look of the formation vs Rangers.

    Personally with the current squad


    Sagna – Djourou – Vermaelen – Clichy


    Fabregas – Nasri*

    Walcott Arshavin

    Van Persie

    *Currently Injured so use Rosicky.

    A Potential Line up


    Sagna – Hangeland – Vermaelen – Clichy


    Arshavin Nasri*


    *Currently Injured so use Rosicky or Walcott.
    **Depending on Chamakh, if neither then Eduardo
    vieira – 750k max
    Huntelaar – 25mil max – Ade 25mil
    Hangeland – 15mil max – Toure 16mil

    pretty covered to be honest!

  11. I am still confused as to what this new formation is. At times, against Atletico Madrid it looked like a 4-4-2 with the 2nd striker hanging out wide.

    The reason it looked like that to me is that Bendtner seemd to have been playing like a striker, and not as a winger despite his being stationed out wide. In the Arsenal scheme of things, what separates a wide man from a striker is how much the player is involved in build up play.

    Afterwards, Wenger confirmed to a journalist that we’d played 4-2-3-1 against Rangers.

    If you watch the games it could have looked like a 4-1-4-1 because we more or less had a 5-man attack with Merida, Fabregas, Arshavin, Wilshere & Eduardo involved in attacks, with Song always holding. It was the same when Denilson came on and Ramsey, Sanchez and Bendtner were the 5 always linking up.

    It still hasn’t resolved the question of midfield. If you’re going to have so much positional rotation, and fluidity in forward areas, you’re going to get caught out in midfield.

    I still favour a 4-4-2 with the two “double pivots” covering both attack and defence, box-to-box.

  12. I liked how we crowded around the opponents once we lost the ball. We either won back the ball very quickly or we forced the other team to make a mistake….

  13. Hey, did anyone read the article in Guardian? I am still confused about the system brazil plays. Can anyone write the formation?

  14. I have my doubts about toughness of this 3 men midfield. When elbowing, harsh tackles and shoulder charges start, this might prove just too soft. Wenger seems to be aware of this, hence the Vieira business…

  15. Brain, I have a doubt.

    Let us say this is the formation arsenal played. Can you tell me where fab 4 and wilshere played according to this? I am totally confused. I thought we played a 4-3-3 in the game before the wenger comment.
    Help me out!

    1. Hi. We didn’t play the exact formation; the comparison was just there to show the subtleties beneath. Essentially, the formation is meant to be a fluid 4-2-3-1 but lack of discipline and eagerness to get forward means it looks a lot like a 4-3-3 most of the time. With all the movement Wenger wants it is bound to be interpreted and seen differently.

      Therefore, Wilshere played on the right, Arshavin on the left but almost a floating second striker when attacking. Denilson/Song played deepest with Fabregas meant to be alongside to the right of them. Merida played slightly to the left because Arshavin would cut in, but as the highest midfielder.


      1. Thanks,do you think gael and sagna will be attacking this season? I think they will because when arshavin and walcott cut in, they will drag the markers along. So they will have space for crosses.

        1. They will certainly attack although I suspect Wenger will once again ask for them to be a bit more cautious and not too hasty. They may leave too much space if they move too quick however Wenger does want them to provide support to the wingers.
          This was the formation v Rangers:

  16. 4-2-3-1

    This is no different from the system we employed for long stretches towards the tail end of last season, so why all the hoop-lah?!
    The alteration, against Rangers, was that Merida slotted into Cesc’s role, while Cesc filled in for Denilson.

    It’s not new and works pretty well with willing participants in the right roles.

    The talk about a defensive enforcer is being drummed up by people without advanced knowledge of the game (excuses for the forward players not doing their anti-attacking duties). We need to defend better as a T-E-A-M .period!

    Also don’t why it is so hard for footballers to adopt diferent formations for attack and defence (4-3-3 attack; 4-5-1 defence).

  17. For the all pressure Arsenal still couldn’t find the back of the net until the end of match against Atletico. Against Rangers Arsenal’s showing was better. I still think Arsenal needs a good striker who can fund the back of the net on a consistent basis.

  18. Spot on Amaury, I actually liked the formation\system. For our “midget gems” it worked well. We can crowd teams out in the midfield making use of our agility and stength in numbers rather than phisicality to win the ball back and counter attack well. However it does fall down when players are allowed to run with the ball beating that first tackle and building up momentum drving at our defence or playing a through pass to the runner beating our high defensive line. And of course there’s still a problem from set pieces so I think a more robust and experinced holding\defensive midfielder is needed along with that aerially domininat defender. Aside from that offensively I prefer this system which effectively allows us to play so many of our match winners allowing them to roam, interchange positions and move the ball so well and puts less emphasis on the fullbacks getting wide. We do need to move the ball though, but don’t worry about the goals I’m sure they will come.

  19. That was supposed to be spot ‘The Brain’

    I think the goals will come as we get used to the system and with Rosicky and Arshavin’s shooting abilty we’ll become less predictable. Arshavin has a great eye for goal and quickly joins the forward most player to make front 2 in the box if needs be.

  20. yea, i def agree with amaury and brain.

    our main problem is not physical – rather is it tactical. we over commit ourselves in attack because arsene has deemed our attacking creativity sub par. i remember a previous entry where brain talked about how losing rosicky was like losing our creative “brain.” (hmmm,self reference perhaps?)

    now that he’s back, we have to do exactly as arsene says and wait. the first two months are important for rosicky. i hope he stays for a while – that will be a great boost to us.

    our defensive midfielders are decent, with some room for improvement, the biggest problem is with how they position themselves. arsene has bought vermaelen, who is an adept and intelligent player – the type we need – especially with our DMs and other players being so flaky on defense.

    to reiterate my point – our defensive plan is strong when it works – when we defend in numbers and swarm. but it is weak when we are not given the time to swarm. we need to be aware of this fact and defend as a team – all our midfielders need to get back when the opponent attacks, even the revered Fabregas.

    our attacking tactics play to our strength – dynamism. it’s time our defense does too.

    1. Yes, the biggest does seem tactical and discipline. I mean, if Song is not physical enough for some people then who is. I would say direct play can also be difficult for us and the midfielders have to try and make sure they are first to the loose balls. Denilson has had more trouble than Song against such teams but this still is tactical; they need to make sure they are not leaving too big a gap between midfield and defence and also get pushed back.
      RE Brain: That nickname is tongue in cheek; it’s not realistic for me to feel that I know too much. Like Wenger, I’m a stats man, a thinker but definitely do not feel I am more knowledgeable than anyone else.

  21. haha, that was my attempt at humor, but text isn’t good at conveying that.

    look how many more comments this site is getting! (since i started reading anyway . . . connection perhaps? haha)

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