Andrey Arshavin may be central to how Arsenal line up next season

Andrey Arshavin is likely to start on the left of Arsenal’s attack which opens up many possibilities on how the Gunners may line up next season.

In the summer of 1997, the back pages of the national papers were adorned with the photographs of Arsène Wenger’s and his two new signings for the club – Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit. They looked like European pop music producers but that was not to underplay their importance to Arsenal for the coming seasons as their arrival signalled a tactical change for the club. In the previous campaign, Wenger’s had delayed the first step of his revolution – or at least the revolution on the playing field – as he persisted with his players’ preference of sticking to the rigid 3-5-2. The signings of Overmars and Petit, however, gave Wenger the appropriate tools to implement his vision.

Petit was moved from centre-back to defensive midfield and Overmars, an archetypical winger in the Dutch 4-3-3, was given a loose role on the left. With Patrick Vieira in the middle also, Arsenal played with a “double-six” which had the same capability of halting attacks as it did the ability to springboard the side’s own. It was the perfect launch pad for the team. But perhaps it was Ray Parlour who was Arsenal’s most important player as his job on the right of midfield allowed the Gunners to move from the 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, affording Marc Overmars to freedom join the attack. “Look at his medals. It tells you he is one of the biggest-ever players for Arsenal,” said Wenger on Parlour’s contribution. “He is better in the last minute than the first. Ray’s an engine that never stops.”

Since then, the 4-4-2 in it’s different guises has remained synonymous with Arsenal until last season when Arsène Wenger finally decided it was time to move to the 4-3-3. The question is, with the signing of Marouane Chamakh, does the option of returning to the 4-4-2 present itself once again to Arsenal? Indeed, if that is the case, it is more likely it would be closer to the 1997 version rather than the “Invincibles” model because of  the various strengths of the players. (Although like the 2003-04 model, the formation is likely to change to  a 4-4-1-1 in the defensive phase to allow for the more efficient covering of space). Robin van Persie has found his true position higher up the pitch while no one forward is capable of filling – apart from Andrey Arshavin – Dennis Bergkamp’s number 10 role. Nevertheless Wenger is adamant that Arshavin’s best position for the team is on the left of the forward attack. “I just love Arshavin as a footballer because he has things that are just down to him,” he says. “He is intelligent and he looks like he is a shrewd street-player because he creates something always in unexpected situations. He has a low centre of gravity, great pace and tricky dribble. He uses all that he has in the locker in an intelligent way and don’t forget he is a winner as well.” However after a stint as the central striker last season Wenger added: “But I do not deny as well that our plan in the future is to put him back where he was – playing on the left.”

The question in a 4-4-2 is, however, whether the forward line would be too top-heavy. Can Andrey Arshavin fulfil his defensive duties while at the same time not inhibiting his freedom to create? That best answer in such a system is to give him a “Marc Overmars” role and deploy a more defensive wide man on the other side (Nasri or Eboue) to balance the side out.

<Figure 1> A possible 4-4-2 for next season. Andrey Arshavin is given the freedom to join the attack so a balancing midfeilder on the right, in this case Samir Nasri may be required to tuck in to retain shape and compactness. Robin van Persie or Marouane Chamakh must start the pressing game after which one drops back to control zones better.

Of course, as underlined by recent trends in the modern game, the 4-4-2 is becoming hard to play in it’s most simplest form. The team must have subtleties underneath to avoid the opposition from revelling in between-the-lines while at the same time not to have two similar strikers up front. The “Invincibles” and before played with a 2double six” – two controlling central midfielders – and indeed two forward thinking midfielders in the middle is suicidal and one of the reasons Wenger thought suit to let Patrick Vieira go. “When Cesc Fabregas was 18, 19, I would play him in a 4-4-2 with Patrick Vieira and I saw it did not work,” said Wenger. “Then I had the decision to make about letting Patrick go, because Gilberto Silva and Vieira worked, Fabregas and Silva worked, but I could not play Fabregas and Vieira.”

Because pre-season is yet to get underway, there are no immediate signs as to where Wenger wants to go although if last season is anything to go by, continuing on from the relative successes of the 4-3-3 is the most obvious option. Experiments at the end of the season can also be used to gauge Wenger’s thinking for the coming campaign and it was particularly interesting to see the manager try to instil a greater defensive efficiency in the side in the trip to Blackburn and the 4-0 win against Fulham. Eboue and Nasri played to the side of the holding midfielder rather than both in different bands so, in all likelihood, we should see a continuation of the 4-3-3. Abou Diaby had a stint as the deepest midfielder so the Frenchman can improve his speed in the pass and tactical acumen indicating a more prominent role for him next season (an article on that soon). Chamakh will surely be embedded in slowly on the right hand side of a three-pronged attack or as a sub, Johan Djourou should partner Thomas Vermaelen at centre-back and youngsters Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere will want to push on for a place in the match day eighteen. Andrey Arshavin should still be afforded the opportunity to roam inside as the best wingers in the world are being afforded nowadays and that will be balanced out by a more conservative right-sided option.


52 thoughts on “Andrey Arshavin may be central to how Arsenal line up next season

    1. Kinda set the tone for the below comments didn’t you? Anyway, I am in no way advocating a 4-4-2, nor dismissing it. Just saying it represents an option – but the 4-3-3 is the most likeliest option and also probably the best.

    2. football is simple, you score and you win..arsenal scored a lot with the 4-3-3 formation compared to the tradional 4-4-2. Our attack was good last year but just the defence was fragile. I think that if we have two really world class central defenders, then with song and diaby as defensive midfielders, we can surely score a lot of goals in front.

  1. wenger went 4-3-3 because he couldn’t replace adebayor with chamakh immediately. now he has chamakh, i think we’ll see the team return to the 4-4-2s and 4-5-1s that wenger played in adebayor’s last couple of seasons with us. the team played really well with adebayor holding the line up front, when he was bothered. i’m sure wenger will bring that back.

  2. also i remember last season hearing arshavin’s agent saying that wenger was using arshavin on the left as a temporary solution. he seemed pretty convinced that arshavin was going to be shifted back into the middle in good time.

    and why would you want to marginalise arshavin’s influence by sticking him out wide anyway? he’s a wizard in the middle, the best thing we’ve had in there since DB10.

  3. 4-4-2 will suit arsenal with the line up mentioned above, but the line up will change according to me. i think djourou and nasri might not start. arsenal is bound to get couple of new faces to replace them

  4. i’d like to see song anchoring behind a midfield three of fabregas, nasri, and one other (diaby? rosicky? j.cole? wilshere?), with arshavin or van persie playing in the hole behind chamakh or bendtner. use walcott and vela as impact wide-men when it suits to have wide players.

    1. Spot on. This makes the most sense. RVP likes to drop deep to get involved in the build up and Arshavin is like a surgeon in the hole behind the highest striker with his incisive passing. Either can be a great #10


  5. ummm… nice write-up there, but i don’t think Mr. Wenger will change formation either. can’t bet on that one.

  6. If we signed the right players 4-1-3-2 would be my choice all day long reverting to 4-2-3-1 to close the game down.

    By the right players i mean we need another top D/M as well as the obvious 2 centre back’s and a goalkeeper.

    If we dont sign another DM then i expect 4-3-3 to remain.

    Unfortunately, our pre-season is again going to be spoiled by a will he wont he saga, meaning we cannot really plan 100%. If Barca comeback with a £60m bid at any point, Arsenal will find this difficult to resist, for a player that will obviously leave us at some point. £60m now or nothing in 4 years when Cesc is in his prime with each year his stock reducing due to nearing the end of his contract and financial difficuties globally.

    As for Arshavin, i would like to see him under a little more pressure for his first team place, unfortunately, Nasri, Rosicky and Vela are not applying that pressure. That is why a change to 3 AM’s behind either one or 2 main strikers would help with that as the players just mentioned would suit those roles better, the capture of Joe Cole would also help this and hopefully mean we can abandon playing Walcott and Vela on the wings where they can clearly not operate, instead allowing them to compete purely as strikers with RVP, Chamakh, Bendtner & Eduardo (if he stays) or Barazite (if he does not go on loan)

    1. i think us going 4-3-3 has more to do with us not having enough physical strength up front last year after adebayor left. i don’t think the 4-3-3 had anything to do with us not having enough defensive midfielders.

    2. walcott and vela can’t compete as strikers against chamakh, bendtner and van persie. no way no how. if they are put up against these guys they will never ever start.

      chamakh, bendtner and van persie have the strength and intelligence to hold the ball up, to bring teammates in to the attack, to make assists, to be a goal threat themselves, and they need to do all of these things under pressure in tight spaces. you need all of these things to be a good striker in the prem. walcott and vela are running attackers only. they need space in front of them to run into. they’re most definitely not premiership strikers.

  7. diaby has only very rarely looked like a decent holding midfielder to me. his performance in the carling cup final against chelsea was great. since then nothing.

    i’m never convinced by him nowadays. wouldn’t be especially sad if he didn’t make it at arsenal. though wenger giving him the no2 shirt shows that wenger has a big big soft spot for him.

  8. walcott and vela operate just fine on the wings, they’re both probably better suited to playing there than up front – neither of them is good at holding the ball up under pressure.

    i think the reason that walcott and vela have looked dodgy, apart from injuries, is that they are both counter-attacking players by nature and the team was playing possession football all of last year.

    i would love to see us play on the counter more, i think you would see walcott and vela and arshavin all look much much better than they have seemed recently.

  9. Great article. I agree that 4-4-2 will work better for us. Last season the good teams (ie. Chelsea and Man U) destroyed us on the counter attack because we weren’t balanced enough and I think 4-4-2 will solve this problem. Arshavin provides pace down the left but it stifles his creativity. Playing him more central he has more options when running at teams.

    1. England could play 4-4-20 and they’d still be sh*t.

      They’re like a bunch of trees in the wind flapping at a beachball.

      Formation alone determines nothing. Effort and Technique on the part of the players are also vital to how a team plays. English players seemingly keep their effort for their clubs, and they have the technique of a wounded rapist.

      1. Harsh but fair! The only English players that you will see in the future with technique and vision will be from Arsenal! However there is a bit of me that would not like to see them play for England as they would not doubt be blamed for future failures of the national team. When actually this is down to lack of investment by the FA in grass roots development!

        1. agreed! watching the slovenia game i could see the slovenian technique on the ball and their passing and movement was superior.the only reason england won was because of a bit extra speed and muscle and even that was absent against the germans and so 4-1

  10. most interesting.

    arshavin is best, imho, behind the striker and offers nothing as a wide palyer as, these days, wide men have to fight back.

    let’s wait and see who stays and who goes but i don’t think you are a million miles off course!

    i would love to see a sol or someone like him in the technical area next to AW geeing the players up. living the game. shouting at the players and also giving them praise too. i know pat rice is very strong technialy and is a loyal number 2, but he looks so moribund week in week out!

  11. Don’t like the idea of AA stuck out isolated on the front left. He is not an Overmars or a Jimmy Armstrong. He must have a free rein to exploit his remarkable skills.

  12. God forbid we change formation to suit that lazy b*****d, I’m hoping someone will make an offer for him so we can get someone who wants to play for the club.

  13. In a way, Arsenal’s odyssey in of the last 4 years has been aimed at building the best platform for Fabregas to excel. The 4-3-3 did the job, but as this blog predicted last Summer, it exposed the full backs and ultimately saw the team concede more goals than in recent history. By the way, this is why I think Fabregas would be stupid to leave Arsenal. He’s lucky to have a big club built around him.

    Easy answers aren’t to be found anywhere. If the team remains built around Cesc, we might have to try yet another central midfield partnership after Gilberto-Cesc, Flamini-Cesc, Denilson-Cesc & Song-Diaby/Denilson-Cesc.

    If we retain the 4-3-3 then we’re going to need the likes of Eduardo, Arshavin, Nasri, Rosicky & Walcott to work their socks off and cover for the full backs.

    1. our full-backs had their best season in the year after henry left, when adebayor was playing up front mainly on his own in a 4-5-1 but sometimes 4-4-2, when they kept hitting him with crosses and he scored 30odd goals. ade kept the opposition pinned back so our full backs had space to run into and support the attack.

      clichy and sagna most definitely suck under the 4-3-3.

    2. Ole gunner u are spot on. Arsenal needs to build their game around other players order than just fabregas because over the last 5years it hasn’t really work. Is time the likes of nasri, rosicky, arshavin, van persie to be given more responsibility. Fabregas is a talented player but in big games he hasn’t done anything. 4-4-2 with fabregas will not work cuz it will leave arsenal exposed in the middle.

  14. My prefered formation, Thoughts?


    Sagna (Koscelny) Vermy Clichy


    Walcott Arsh Chamack


    1. Walcott? Is this the new-and-improved super-crosser Walcott or the new-and-improved can-actually-shoot-for-toffee Walcott?

      As for fat-arse Andrei?

      Walcott and Arshavin are two of the biggest underachievers we’ve ever had (Jeffers doesn’t count). So unless AA has lost about a stone and upped his fitness during the summer and Theo has been practicing 18 hours a day on his decision-making and execution, then it’ll be the same old pair that turn up for pre-season.

      Gawd help us.

      Still, you’ve got to love them both. They’re Arsenal. What choice do we have.

  15. A 4-1-3-2 could work in the same way the czech did in 04 euros when they had baros and koller upfront.behind them they had 3ams in rosicky,nedved and poborsky and a dm in behind them.the key to this was the effort the front five put when they lost the ball.they looked likely to win that tourney playing beautiful footy.if we were to implement it AA would need to pull his socks since if he slacks around the whole system won’t work…i think chamakh will play on the right but not as a winger;i suspect thats the whole eboue in mf 3 experiment was for;the brazilians have fabiano playing against left cb and thats where i suspect chamakh will play.since sagna is a good defender but average attacker eboue/diaby can play the elano role whereby he can provide width when play is on the right.meanwhile on the left clichy can push forward liberating AA to go central next to can play as a sweeper (marquez) role ensuring we have 4 defenders when we are caught on the break.i’m just speculating but we’ll have to wait till preseason…

  16. Hm, AW changed to 4-3-3 and did that throughout the club. I doubt he will change to a different set up. But formation is one thing, much more important is how they choose to play it. By that I mean, what will the roles of the different players be when we have the ball, when we break or when the other team have it.

  17. totally agree…formation is 1 thing, tactics is another. its up to the boys to deploy the tactics and qualities given to them in order for the whole system to be a success.

  18. schwarzer

    sagna djourou vermaelen clichy



    nasri v.persie arshavin


    with arshavin, nasri, rosicky, vela and walcott competing for the wide roles

  19. AA may have not the best season but t still think he has that spark and can win matches in an instant. His best position is behind the striker so i think wenger has to play him there. He has to be given freedom. If arsenal get the best out of arshavin and keep cesc then they can win the league if they add more stability

  20. Whatever formation Arsenal choose, they must take into consideration Arshavin’s role in the defensive phase.
    He has said before that he doesn’t feel comfortable having to track all the way back onto his own full-back’s (Clichy’s) toes, which is what you have to do as a wide-midfielder in a 4-4-2. In 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 however, we saw how Arshavin’s defensive duties were limited to a higher band along the flank, which also meant that he was closer to the opponent’s goal upon Arsenal recovering possession.

    While I like Brain’s suggestion of resurrecting to a lopsided 4-3-3-cum-4-4-2 (Arshavin, like Overmars, more advanced whilst right-sided player tucks in and starts from deeper), bear in mind the following complications:
    a) the right-sided player in this dual-function role will have to display a lot of industry in what will be a shuttling role – hence better someone like Eboue; surely a player of Nasri’s gifts will be overworked in such a position – remember, only last season we were singing Nasri’s praises in his brief cameo as a No.10, now we want to turn him into another Ray Parlour?

    b) Assymetry is fine in the offensive phase; maybe ten years ago you could get away with it during the defensive phase too, but in modern football you must organise your players into bands (or two or three) behind the ball when the other team has possession. Ten years ago Arsenal were tearing through teams who still, especially the mid-to-lower table clubs- were playing a haphazzard, “green acres of open space” style. Nowadays, the equivalent of these lower Premiership teams tend to spend all day parked behind the ball whilst the stronger teams are much better organised during all phases of play and especially the transitions- that’s without even mentioning how in European tournament football, all teams will seek to punish imbalances in your defensive shape.

    c) Assuming the lopsided 4-4-2/4-3-3 is used, the industrious right-sided player (as per Ramires with Brazil) will have to fall into the same band as the holding mids during defensive phase, whilst two of the advanced players and with the exclusion of the centre-forward will have to execute some kind of defensive barrier for pressing ahead of the midfield – i.e., Arshavin and Van Persie would form this band thereby rendering the shape a 4-3-2-1, as do Robinho and Kaka for Brazil.

    If these adjustments are made, then this system could be a useful alternative for Arsenal when facing formidable opponents (Man U, Chelsea, Champ’s League knock-out stage etc.) since it is slightly more cautious than the 4-3-3 but without losing the midfield fluidity (i.e. the Cesc/Nasri/Ramsey figure would still be orchestrating from deep midfield unlike Brazil’s brutal duo of Gilberto & Melo).

    1. Admittedly even posting up this article I had quite a few reservations. I’m not in any way advocating such a use although should it be used then that’s how it will probably look.

      – But the point about bands is a pertinent one. The 2007-08 version of the 4-4-2 had the strikers pressing – one dropping deeper – and one more defensive midfielder making it almost a 4-1-1-3-1 but found quite a bit of strain at the back doing so. Indeed, the 4-3-3 from last season is likely to stay which means a greater dissection of bands and probably not the same reliance on Fabregas as before.

  21. I agree will be interesting to see what aw does and as we all know aw is a revolutionarist he will most probably come up with a slight variation of the 4-3-3 to accomodate chamakh(he said he won’t play wide),involve AA more,give cesc(if he stays) freedom and also to strengthen the i mentioned above at 5:54 eboue may be key to our shape next season.i can’t wait for preseason…thanks for your input roberticus.

  22. Thanks Brain. I would think that AA23 would be best suited to playing a free role behind the striker starting from the left (aka Robinho in todays Brazil). I think that is what he did for his club in Russia and the Russian national team. The formation you suggest in the article is actually alright but the personnel would have to change as the middle of the pack you have on is too light weight, at least in the premier league. If Arsenal could be set out in the present Brazil formation, perhaps AA23 could take the role of Robinho (free role) with Cesc doing what he does best in the Kaka role. The guy ahead of Sagna then will have to take his defensive duties more seriously but also be able to attack with lightning speed as Elano/Ramires/Alves does for Brazil. What I see is that, Arsenal playing their two strikers in the 442 formation would weaken the midfield and be liable to being overran. So I think Arsenal would be suited playing just one striker as they have done in the 433/451 or the Brazilian version. If they play two main strikers then one must contend with a position on the left or right of a three-man attack as Spain are doing with D. Villa on the left. The set up and shape may, however, be modified depending on the opposition and changes in the match, and particularly in Europe.

  23. Great article.
    Your proposed formation would leave Clichy brutally exposed but he is probably used to that by now.No way is Arshavin going to track back consistently.
    That is where the comparison with Overmars falls down. Overmars worked very hard to close down players, a habit from his Ajax days.

    I don’t yet see how all these players will fit together. It will be interesting.

  24. i think the thing here with AW is to have a team that can play in 442 433 451 and on occasion 424 with continuous flux between these somewhat static ideas on formation depending on what suits at the time.players are certainly becoming multi functional and capable of playing a variety of positions, with the obvious exception of AA23 as a CF trying to get a head on a cross.
    get ready for a new model of total football,
    ossie ardiles commented on RTE recently that in england, Arsenal play modern football, we are going forward!!

  25. I think we will be playing quite close to how the Dutch play in the WC, it’s a good variation on their old system with more defensive cohesion than the traditional 4-3-3. So we will have two defensive midfielders who will have stricter orders to stay back, so as to give support to our backline on both left and right-hand sides. Maybe we will see Denilson eclipse Diaby if he has more tactical skills although I do hope Abou can be taught a Song no. 2 role. The four first-choice offensive players will be Arshavin, van Persie, Fabregas and Chamakh. Hard to predict how they will play, but probably Andrey, Robin and Marouane from left to right and with Cesc as a free agent behind them. But expect lots of switches of positions à la totalfootball. Our second-line of offensive players with Vela, Bendtner, Nasri and Walcott looks quite good, doesn’t it?

  26. I dont see a switch to 442 happening at all.

    Possible line-ups:


    …………Van Persie…………



    ………Song…… Diaby………
    Walcott……. Cesc…….Arshavin
    ………….Van Persie………..

  27. I don’t see a switch to 442 happening at all.

    Possible line-ups:

    …………….don’t know…………….
    V.Persie…… Chamakh

  28. wenger should teach the players how to take out side short.
    they should be more lifely on attack in front. keep trying the goalkeeper with hard shorts.

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