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.