Guest Post: Arsenal’s system – A brief breakdown

Karthik (KV) crosses the reader-contributor divide to give us his take on the subtleties of Arsenal’s 4-3-3 system.
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Cesc-Fabregas-Arsenal-Wol

From time immemorial variation has led to the survival of species. Slight variations have caused species to evolve through the years, making them more adept to the environment. Last season’s 4-2-3-1 did not quite have the right balance, with the countless number of low-scoring draws serving as evidence. A slight variation in the formation has revolutionized the way we play the game and Arsenal is not only scoring goals, they are scoring quality goals. Let us amplify the variations and analyze them.

“We will play the formation and system that most suits the players and the balance of the team,” Wenger says. “That means it’s not rigid. It can evolve throughout the season, depending on circumstances and personnel.” These few lines act as the epitome of Arsenal’s formation this season. It is fluid, enabling the individual brilliance and creativity of players to be unleashed.

The system sanctions the ‘pass and offer’ style of play, which has been the basis on which Wenger ball has been established. It is a 4-3-3 which morphs into a 4-1-4-1. “I wanted to play high up the pitch and it can change in some games,” said Wenger. “But overall I believe we can play high up and we can bring the threat to the opponents half very early in the game.” The cardinal aim of the system is to push the players high up the pitch into the opponents half. This positions the likes of Fabregas, Arshavin and VanPersie deep into the opponents half which increases the killer impact of the final ball resulting in a goal. The marching into the opposite half is done through lubricious passing and intricate movement. Effective pressuring of defenders up front to rob the ball is necessary to keep possession.

Last season, Arsenal had abandoned the creative approach to a more direct game plan. This has had an effect as Arsenal are investing that extra bit of effort by shipping men forward quickly so that the opposition have less time to regroup and defend. This has created more one on ones in the counter and the likes of Diaby arrive late in the box to finish of the chances. “I must say he is attracted like a magnet by the opponent’s goal,” said Wenger on Diaby’s attacking instincts. His animal instincts are used as a late arrival (llegada) where he rushes into the box unmarked to score the goal. This ploy seems to be extremely effective as the defenders are completely unaware of the run and it results in a goal more often than not.

Wenger has always mentioned that he likes to have ten ‘players of the ball’ on the field. This cannot be truer as the detached centre-back makes a surging run into the box which paralyses the opponents for a few seconds, taken by the player to execute the goal. Arshavin is given the freedom of the flank this season. He can cut in and operate as a second striker or he can choose to be touchline hugging (or hogging). By cutting in, he creates space for the Left back to advance and cross and for the left-sided midfielder to utilize.

Fabio Capello says that “in the modern game, the only formation is 9-1,” which means that he accedes the centre-forward is a base on which teams build their attack. The former Brazil manager Carlos Parriera added another twist to Cappello’s view by predicting that the teams in the future may see no fixed striker. Roma mastered this tactic by deploying Totti, a trequartista by trade as a lone man up front. Then Manchester United put out a variation where the front four kept constantly interchanging, adding the ‘strikerless’ effect to the formation.

Arsenal seems to be the ‘new kid on the block’ as the prolific Robin Van Persie combines both the variation expertly to make our formation ‘strikerless’. He starts off in the center and as the clock ticks, he moves wider, drops deep and he interchanges with the wingers. This leaves the defenders on the fence and confused as they will create space for the other players to exploit by following Van Persie. If not, they will give precious time for the player to craft the next move. “It can get a little bit lonely for him (van Persie),” says Wenger. “But that depends how quick and how massive the support is we give him. I believe that we work on that, you know? That he gets quick support and he needs people around him because he’s a combination player, more than a physical player. That’s why the distances within our side are important, that he’s not isolated.”

It is an often argued point that water tight defenses bring you silverware. To ensure this Arsenal have quite an efficient defense. They play very high up the pitch, close to the touchline. They are mobile and good readers of the game and need to be alert to the counter attack. Song does a spectacular job sitting in front of the defense, slapping any counter attacks coming his way. He covers for the CB if he goes out to attack.

The second function midfielder, namely Diaby plays a vital role in determining the shape of the team. His job is to forage the space left over by Arshavin in the left-wing. When we have the ball, the shape can be described as a 4-1-4-1 as Diaby and Cesc advance to be in line with the wingers. They provide extra man power around the box to create more triangles in the pass. When we don’t have the ball, the front three hunt up front to retrieve the ball as Diaby and Fabregas drop deeper to defend.

The beauty of the formation is that it can hardly be described by figures like 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1. The fluidity allows the team to morph into various shapes. The unpredictability and the variation make it deadly dangerous and lethal. That is the aim and hopefully the end products will be silverware, silverware and more silverware.

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31 thoughts on “Guest Post: Arsenal’s system – A brief breakdown

  1. What makes a system work is players. If you don’t have the players that can fit into a system you will fail. There is one thing you can’t coach. This is speed. God gives it to you. Managers must develop a system around the players that he has. He must evaluate each player’s abilities and liabilities Then mold them into a workable system. So far so good for the Gunners. Arsenal lacks cats who can find the back of the net blindfolded in big matches. Good post. http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  2. If this fluid 4-3-3 / 4-1-4-1 is what we do (and I enjoyed your analysis), I would prefer:

    ………. RVP……….
    Nasri..Arshavin..Cesc…Rosicky
    ………Song………..
    usual suspects in the back 5

    to get Arshavin more central and bebecause I’d rather see Nasri or Rosicky (much better passers)than see Diaby out there. (since he got so much focus in the article)
    I’d even prefer Ramsey, but I understand the need to have some ‘size’ on the pitch versus certain teams.

  3. I like the 4-3-3. As for Billy Billiken’s 11, I don’t mind it, but I think Diaby adds some pace and strength and some height to the team. Height is something we don’t have bunches of, and everyone always says we’re bad on set pieces. So maybe Diaby should stay. That’s not to knock Nasri, Arshavin or Rosisky.

    1. Yes. I think when Song leaves for the ANC, Diaby will take his place. He is deceptively quick and when he wins the ball, he can dribble it quickly and drive forward with the ball. This will be very useful in the counter. We might even play a 2 man shield(switching to a 4-2-3-1.

      1. no way. Diaby really isn’t cut out for that position. Wenger is trying to teach him to be more defensive, but I don’t think he is a pure DM or ever will be. Neither is Ramsey from the look of the last game. It will be Denilson if he’s healthy. If not, who knows? Maybe one of those two or maybe Eboue or even Senderos if we want to be very defensive. those last two are very, very speculative, and if it comes to that, maybe it will be Diaby after all.

    2. For me Diaby is too “cowardly” and this results in him not really challenging for balls in the air so I don’t think he really adds height to the team in the way that you might think based on his physical build.

      It also results in him shying away from challenges and 50-50 balls (e.g. The first goal against Standard Liege[?] where he didn’t close down the space after Eduardo gave the ball away) which annoys me to no end.

      He should play in an attacking role only as he’s quite effective at moving and playing across the whole pitch and has the pace/technical ability to beat players and score goals.

  4. good post….
    The first concept you learn as a manager is you develop a system based on your players’ abilities.

    The beauty of our current roster is that the forwards and midfielders have similar DNA in their skill and IQ. They are constantly exploiting space (anywhere), which makes defending next to impossible.

    You can use numbers to describe your formation at the kick off, but once the whistle blows, Arshavin, Cesc, Rosicky, Nasri, Eduardo, RvP, and Ramsey are given free reign to improvise.

    I don’t believe it matters (too much) how you line up the above. They all possess an understanding of tactics that far exceeds most professional footballers.

    Arsenal have had an exciting start to the season, but Arsenal are not anywhere near their full potential.

    Slot in a couple of youngsters to play with this group, such as Bendtner, Vela, Wilshere, and its scarry where this team will be for the next few years.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. If you are playing under Wenger, you need to possess a high ‘football IQ’ and tactical know how. That is what makes the team unpredictable. Bendtner, Vela, Wilshere, Merida, Ramsey et all will dominate world football for the forseeable future.
      Thank you everyone for your comments.

  5. RVP injured. Devastated. Without him Arsenal has no end product. No person is as selfless in front of the goal. I recommend playing Arshavin up front and we have Rosicky and Eduardo to play in the wings. Another option will be to switch to a 4-4-2 with Eduardo and Arshavin up front. What do you think?

    1. I think this is a bit OTT

      “Without him Arsenal has no end product. No person is as selfless in front of the goal.”

      Have you watched Arsenal play?

      1. Haven’t you watched Arsenal this season? Name another striker who is as selfless in front of goal. Not only in Arsenal, he is the best combo striker in the world. End product in the sense, he finishes off the moves by scoring or assisting with a touch.

  6. Brain, I would love to hear your thoughts on KV’s question about how we might adapt to RVp’s absence. I felt like him, Cesc, and Arshivin were the key irreplaceable players in the squad. So, now what?

    I doubt Arshivin can play up front alone. Eduardo could slot in and keep the formula more or less the same. The thought of switching back to a 4-4-2 appeals, except that changing a successful formula at this point in the season seems perilous.

    1. Hi. Essentially we have only one real centre forward with Eduardo at the moment. Vela and Walcott are still learning so they are out of the equation and I expect Watt to be on the bench if needed.

      I have an article planned on this (although other commitments are getting in the way) but the formation should not be changed as we need to keep learning with this method. Saying that, the players are better equipped now to switch to a 4-4-2 in terms of discipline and understanding.

      Eduardo has so much more than goalscoring in his locker so in that respect he can keep the fluidity and dynamic movement going but is he going to break down again and do we have enough options to rotate? Arshavin could have a go but he will be the falsest number nine in history if that is the case.

      1. I am quite sure that Eduardo will be the lone man upfront. But for the sake of unpredictability I would make Arshavin the Center Forward. It will produce breathtaking football. The defenders will have no clue. Constant interchanging and dropping deep will make Arshavin the deadliest and the falsest nine in history.

  7. Eduardo will slot in. However I echo the voices regarding drafting arshavin into the centre.

    It would be awesome. Ashavin can also drop deep and play in the people around him.

    Eduardo can play on the left with rosicky or nasri on the right.

    Whatever happens all 11 players have to be sharp and ready to play vs sunderland. It will be a very tough game

  8. RvP, of all people, why does it have to be you?

    Allow me a moment of sentiment, but I really feel for the boy. There’s a part in me that always thinks about the individual players, beyond the club, beyond football in general.

    Back to football, it’s good news that we’ve had Nasri and Rosisky back, both of whom can play on the wings to accommodate Arshavin’s moving into the center. So if Arsene thinks Arshavin’s the man to play center, we don’t have to worry about the wings.

    What we’ll be missing are the double-touches of RvP (great examples for me are his goal at Fulham and his assist at Wolves). Albeit with similarly good vision and with actually better finish, Arshavin is more a dribbler. RvP links with others to break down defenses’ organization. Arshavin suck in defenders with his phonebox dribbling to create room. Other players will face some difficulty adapting to Arshavin’s style and rhythm.

    But why do we bother so much with the central striker position? Didn’t people in this blog wonder aloud for a while whether we’re playing 4-6-0? Touch wood that other positions are intact, we’ll compensate fine for whoever filling in RvP position.

    1. remember euro 08 with arshavin playing the striker role? he was very effective in an unselfish role as well. i think he’s got a first touch that is comparable to van persie’s. however, noone has better ball handling in tight spaces than van persie in my opinion.

      i think arshavin is much better when he is facing forward than when he is facing away from goal – van persie has that skill of holding onto the ball with his back facing away from goal that is unique to his style of creative #9. he had such talent at creating cohesion in an attack . . .

      that is why i think we might not continue with a 433 any longer – it might morph into a more typical arsenal 442 – with eduardo and arshavin up front (arshavin playing as the creative second striker, dudu as the more conventional forward).

      missing van persie might mean we have to change tactics – after all, the manager should organize his team according to his players’ abilities. there doesn’t seem as if there is anyone who can substitute as a creative fulcrum.

      1. John,
        I would like to argue that we won’t switch back to 4-4-2 anytime soon, at least not immediately.
        It took significant time for our players to learn the positioning of 4-3-3. It will be very difficult and risky to unlearn that process in a couple of days.
        For example, the Cesc goal at Wolves. Cesc ran half the pitch to get to the box in a three-player move. I’m not sure we could have seen that in 4-4-2 with our personnel. Either Cesc wouldn’t have made that run at all because we’d have had 2 strikers or if he ran, it would be highly risky at center of midfield because we would have had only 1 CM.

        Even though I think trying 4-4-2 when we have Walcott, Bendtner and RvP all back is actually sensible, trying it now as a desperate measure would take too much adjustment from the rest of the team.

    2. But why do we bother so much with the central striker position?

      Great question, Nhan Le. But there is an answer: because that is the way we have played so far. That is our successful recipe.

      Eventually we will find another recipe. As many fans have pointed out, this team is too talented not to. So in the long term, it does not depend on any single player. But in the short term, I think the word “team” does not just mean a collection of fantastic individuals, but a collectivity, and that collectively had learned to score in a particular way. Unless Eduardo can offer like-for-like, the team will have to learn a new way… and learning anything takes time. I think our best hope is that A. Eduardo takes up RVP’s role as best he can; and B. That our individual brilliance carries us during the two or four or eight or however many games it takes to learn a different route to goals. I expect to see much more of Nasri and Rosicky (and with Diaby hurt, that is inevitable) since they have to intelligence figure this out.

  9. Hi, could someone please tell me the 11 players that Wenger considers untouchable in his tactical scheme? It`s just That I dont figure. I know that he goes like
    ————–Almunia———–
    Sagna—Vermaelen—-Gallas—Clichy
    ————-Diaby————–
    Walcott–Fabregas–Nasri—Arshavin-
    ———Van Persie————-

    I know some of them are injured, like Van Persie or Nasri, but please tell me if am I right? I mean is this squad right?
    Thanks and merry chrismass to all!

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