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.