Tweaked Arsenal aim to capitalise on Cesc Fábregas’ craft

Arsene Wenger has made three slight adjustments to his side following key defeats in the league, one of them pushing Cesc Fábregas higher up.

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” but following the defeat to FC Porto in the Champions League where two errors gifted the tie, Cesc Fábregas has had enough of experience. Defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United where avoidable goals had put Arsenal out of the contest had already irked the captain enough, his body language in those matches displaying an air of resignation and Arsène Wenger has seemingly caught Fábregas’ drift – and responded by playing him higher up the pitch.

The need for slight adjustments had been somewhat displayed before those crucial matches, with Everton, Aston Villa and Bolton not just stifling Arsenal’s fluency to certain extent but also creating their fair share of dangerous opportunities. Wenger could not use the excuse, conceding chances is the “consequence of our philosophy a bit” which at the start of the season was compensated by the effectiveness in which Arsenal tore apart teams, as those sides had already took the game to Arsenal. Cesc Fábregas had already shown his importance to the side by coming off the bench to inspire the Gunners to a 3-0 win over Aston Villa at home although Arsenal had already put in a good team performance but lacking bite and has been the main benefactor of tackling high up the pitch. However, with much of Arsenal’s best success this season based on a holistic culture, could alleviating someone’s role disrupt the balance of the team?

In the past three matches, Wenger has sent his side out in an asymmetric 4-3-3 formation which could almost be described as a 4-2-Fábregas-3 given the amount of freedom the Spaniard has been granted and entrusted to do that higher up the pitch. Unlike last season in which Fábregas looked lost at times in the role, this season he has added greater penetration to his game, scoring 12 goals in 23 games and making 13 assists to boot. “He has become a complete midfielder because he can defend now, he has kept his vision and I believe he has added some physical power to his game,” said Wenger. “If you compare Fabregas two years ago and today, physically they are completely different. He has got that injection of power to his body and that makes him a different player.”

Playing asymmetrically is much to do with granting an euphoric mind-set and defensively is all about chain reactions. The two midfielders behind Fábregas do not play as a double shield but one slightly slanted to the left and pushing on a bit. In recent games, that role has been engaged by Diaby and Ramsey and tellingly they have been instructed to be more disciplined. This is so the flanks are less exposed in the defensive phase and Arsenal are not under-manned in the centre. Alex Song though remains the glue in an attempt to keep the side compact and his intensity, interceptions and anticipation help stem the oppositions raids. He has also against Liverpool and Sunderland allowed Emmanuel Eboue to flourish and as Slaven Bilic so expertly analysed, when playing with two covering midfielders the side must allow the full backs to bomb forward. The Ivorian’s urgency has been a plus in defensive transitions as Wenger looks to instruct his full-backs to get more tighter to the winger while curiously, unlike most defenders who profit from being initially unmarked by attacking on the outside, he has benefited from Arsenal’s stretching of play to cause havoc by foraging inside. One would wonder how even more devastating Maicon of Inter Milan would be if a similar ploy could be replicated at his club.

The tweak however is not just a reactionary fix; it is hoped it will rekindle the early season mentality where it was all about collectivism and will give Fábregas the chance to play more naturally, where eventually he starts deep and pushes on ‘between the lines’ as offered by the re-discovered balance. “Cesc likes to be at the start of things and then get on the end of things,” said Wenger early on in the season, explaining his desired intentions. “And he can push forward more this season because he has two players around him who can defend.”


34 thoughts on “Tweaked Arsenal aim to capitalise on Cesc Fábregas’ craft

  1. Fabregas should pack his bag this summer, because he is not winning any thing at arsenal with this bunch of spineless pplayers. It doesn’t matter how AW tweaks the team, they are still not good enough!!!!

        1. I AM SO GLAD cesc is not a looser that gives up like gresborogooner does. He is a fighter not a looser, that is why he is a hero and you work in a factory! Begone troll!

        2. More than slight. They get back up after knocks extremely well, and answer critics pretty well.
          All they’ve done poorly this season is fail to cope in the big games, although they didnt look too bad at old trafford. Luck was against us unfortunately but we were far superior on the day.

  2. A fan of over 70 years, through thick and thin. At the end of the day, Cesc MAY leave or may not. What you DON’T do is run down the team doing their best. So-called fairweather fans are the curse of a fine club like Arsenal
    …………..remember how Eboue was pilloried not so long ago.

  3. Its a shame it has taken so long for Eboue to be used in this way, ACN withstanding. The defeat to sunderland was a game crying out for Eboue’s involvement, AW didnt pick up on this and we went on to lose. Chelsea then employed the same tactic a week later allowing is space wide right for sagna to cross as far as the first defender and we all know what happened. The penetration that Eboue gives us, Diaby also is key to unlocking stuborn defences. By including Eboue in the team as early as sunderland away we could very well have more points on the board and be much closer to chelsea.

    1. I agree. I’ve been watching our lack of penetration on the right and calling for Eboue for quite a while now. It is always satisfying when one’s hunches are borne out. I don’t think it is simply a matter of stretching defenses, although Walcott did do that against Sunderland. It is also the case that Eboue is quite simply a very good dribbler and a fabulous passer. However, it may be the case that having both Diaby and Eboue push forward will leave us more exposed at the back.

    2. Yes. Eboue offers something different and can really dominate the lower league sides. He’s also a fighter and can be useful in the big games. Been under-used this year imo.

      1. The 4-2-Fab-3 formation basically turns out to be a 4-2-4 and not a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 as the wingers are more advanced. In many games, Cesc was playing like a second striker(against Bolton for eg).
        This formations leaves a lot of space in the wings(on either side of Diaby and Song) and our two in the middle move that side to cover space thus leaving a huge gap in the middle. Eboue playing at right back helped compress space on the right side and Song remained quite central. If we do play this formation, we need a RB who pushes up and this is where Eboue helps us.
        Do you all think this formation will work? I think it will work if Cesc can play a little deeper. And Eboue should play at RB.
        I feel the Man Utd 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 will suit us just fine. One half winger on one flank and a more dynamic presence on the other.

        1. The Man United 451 uses real wingers and a false nine. At the moment Arsenal don´t have these kind of players. The united formation is also counter-attacking whilst Arsenal play a more measured approach.

          Arsenal still have big problems in defence, leaving gaps all over the place. Sunderland had 3 clear breakaways, a better team will take those chances. The defence can´t deal with the counter attack, Song gets sucked into midfield instead of holding his position and fullbacks push forward at the same time. Recipe for disaster.

          1. Bendtner has the intelligence and presence to play up top alone. Man Utd use a half winger/defensive winger like Park and Giggs on the left and a more direct Nani or Valencia on the right. We have Nasri, Rosicky who can play as half wingers and Walcott and Arshavin who can function as a more dynamic winger.
            Song should hold in the middle and not get sucked into right of midfield as you say. If Fab is not going to cover space then a half winger must be used on the right flank or the RB should advance slightly. At Barcelona Alves advances as Messi does not track back much to cover space. While on the other flank, Abidal is comparatively static as TH runs along the flank and does the defensive work.

            1. By ¨real winger¨ I meant players who will cover their fullbacks. Arsenal´s wide players are bad at this (or maybe instructed not to bother). Anyway, Wenger rarely changes formation to suit the opponent the way Man United do so I don´t think a counter attacking 451 is on the cards.
              Sunderland played with 3 flat strikers, allowing Eboue to push forward at will. What will happen when he plays against a decent winger with no defensive cover ??

              Like Maicon, Dani Alves is good enough to cover the whole right flank on his own and defenders are so worried about Messi that they don´t try to double up on that side. Guardiola has a formation that is tailor-made for his players so I don´t know if imitation is even possible.

              1. I am not calling for an imitation of Barcelona’s formation. I cited the example of Alves to add clarity to my point. Man Utd are not always a counter attacking team. They change styles against some teams. Now our fullbacks and the defense on the whole is extremely vulnerable.
                @Brain, Do you think pushing Fabregas up is a good move considering our defensive failures so far? How do you think our team can be balanced?

    3. It really is a question of the team’s personnel. Wenger says watching Barcelona is art and clearly is inspired by Cruyff’s vision. He has tried to adapt the 4-3-3 to suit the Arsenal players which seemingly most important is Cesc Fabregas. But this 4-3-3, is meant to morph almost into a 4-2-3-1 in the attacking phase (despite Wenger likening it to a 4-1-4-1) to suit the captain. But the formation has been found most effective if the inside midfielders function as equal.
      So with Barcelona, even if Xavi tends to drop deeper, he and Iniesta are pulling the strings in front of Toure/Busquets to make it a 4-1-2-3 or even a 4-1-4-1. This also allows them to cover for the full backs when opponents attack down the wings – Arsenal’s big problem this season.

      1. Barca are struggling a little at this moment. Be interesting to see how they cope in the CL tie against a dangerous and confident Lyon squad.

        Injuries, being forced to blood young players, it all sounds a little familiar.
        Maybe it’s not purely a question of tactics, but of growing experience, and of growing confidence, and responsibility (?) as well.

  4. Some people are crazy why will anyone want Cesc to go unless they are not part of the supporters.At this stage criticism should wait until the last game coz some of us have hopes.

  5. I think the return of Nikki B may also make Cesc more effective further up the pitch. Quite simply, instead of playing through the midfield, Bendtner gives us the option of a quick pass up the pitch. This is particularly important when teams try to squeeze us in the midfield. But that only makes sense if there are players nearby ready to support him. Hence, push Cesc and Nasri up next to him and allow the backs to use the spaces on the outside.

  6. greensborogooner is a goof and stupid 4 saying our best player should go. if u are tired to be a fan of arsenal quit and join chelsea bcos they are ontop of d table.u will be disadpointed at d last day of d season if we win d league at d xpense of chelsea and manu.

  7. if cesc is as daft as some gooners, the he would surely have packed his bag long ago. have forgotten dat cesc was nobody but through wenger’s believe in him he became somebody. had barca saw him as a gud material then, they probably woundnt have let him go. u can always decode frm cesc comment and gesture that he want to fully utilise the opportunity giving to him. the guy wont go except the greedy board jumped at the bumper offer him. i will always blame wenger for his stubborness to field his best legs in the cups game which are our only hope of silverware till the expiation of the stadium debt. well trophy or not i am less concerned cos i am supporting arsenal for it fluid style of play. winning trophy is only by chance. barca didnt win a glass the season they paraded the FANTASTIC 4.

  8. Ok. Please, just stop fixating on the first comment! The intention was to create a stimulating debate and apart from a few, most are unnecessary web junk. If it gets worse, I am actually going to delete all of them. The people NewsNow attracts…..

  9. Given the current form of Eboue, Sagna, and Clichy, I wonder if our best fullback pair is Eboue and Clichy. Over the past two seasons, Sagna and Clichy have been seen as the de facto starters, with Clichy given more license to attack and Sagna seen as the more defensive of the pair. It seems to echo your point about the asymmetry of the formation with the two fullbacks given slightly different roles and responsibilities in attack and defense. It could be argued that with Eboue’s rise in form and Clichy’s recent injury difficulties and resultant lack of match sharpness that Eboue should start and be given the more attacking role. Clichy could then play deeper and concentrate more on his defensive responsibilities. It would lessen the impact of Arshavin’s lack of defensive cover (which is why Diaby/Denilson have to shade to the left of midfield in the first place) if Clichy were relieved of some his attacking responsibility. On the right, Rosicky, Nasri, or Bendtner all do a better job of helping the right back, which gives Eboue even greater license to come forward.

    Having the 2nd midfielder play a little deeper will also help balance the formation and protect against the counter. The coordination between the the centrebacks, fullbacks and the two deeper lying midfielders is key to maintaining the balance of the formation and stopping the quick counter. All six of those players must be aware of each other’s position in order to cover spaces vacated when nominal defenders push forward to join the attack. Wenger’s philosophy of fluidity and interchangeability doesn’t just apply to forwards and attacking midfielders but to defenders as well. Where the team has been caught is when players have failed to rotate and cover defenders who have advanced further up the pitch.

  10. You all got wound up by a silly fake who called himself “Greensborogooner ” to cover the fact he hates Arsenal. Spuds fan perhaps?

  11. The slight tweak has certainly improved our game. Cesc is higher up but does not shirk his defensive role high up the pitch and can win the ball back also.

    Song IS the glue that holds a lot together. Excellent commitment and he has great anticipation and tackling. He rarely goes to ground to win the ball.

    I feel ramsey may now have edged in front of Denilson due to denilson’s slight ‘laziness’ in his last few games. The energy and work ramsey puts in is a breath of fresh air. If he can keep his discipline alongside cesc and song he could prove to be very important in the run in. Particularly as Diaby seems to pick up the odd knock.

    I still feel the CB’s can be more disciplined and not bomb forward quite as often.

    We can beat stoke with our tactics, we won’t be physically out done as we have some very physical players of our own in vermaelen, campbell, song, diaby, bendtner and ramsey

  12. Whilst Arsenal have tweaked the team structure to the advantage of Fabregas, it is important to look at the casualties of this. Samir Nasri is the big one. Banished to the flanks, he has been under-par if we are honest, he hasn’t shown his true quality out there, and the main consequence, he has been dropped from the French team, and if he continues to play wide for us, there is no way he will make the World Cup squad. He should be playing centrally, and probably in the Fabregas role, dictating play and looking to make the final pass, instead, he is shunted out wide.

    Another casualty is Rosicky, he is no winger, and his contribution compared to what he has done for his national team and Dortmund, he has been okay, but not spectacular that he can be.

    Another casualty, Arshavin. He should be playing behind a striker, not wide, and because we have lightweights like Eduardo and Vela up front, he has been sacrificed to play striker, what a shame. Arshavin should play where Fabregas is playing, dictating play, finding passes, shooting from range.

    Another casualty, the team is too dependant on Fabregas now, he is the only one with a free reign, this means that if Fabregas is shut down, no one else has the tactical freedom and personality to step up, as they are shackled, Diaby has to stay in a zone, Denilson stay in a zone, Nasri in a zone, Rosicky in a zone, Arshavin in a zone, they can’t break out of those zones to step up and replace Fabregas to make the difference.

    1. Perhaps a Czech 2004 style setup with the midfield?
      Rosicky – Fabregas – Nasri
      Denilson, Diaby, Eboue, Ramsey, Merida and other youth players can all fill in the 3 somewhere and we can have a more “traditional” forward two setup.
      It would shackle Song but frankly I think that would be a good thing for a DM!

    2. You make some very valid points. While Fabregas is the most talented player on the team, in many ways he is the most limited as well. He can play as a deep-lying playmaker or he can play “in the hole”. As a result his presence may actually discourage interchanging of positions in the front four, which leads to predictability.

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