At the start of this footballing season, Arsene Wenger decided to switch from the normal 4-4-2 used in previous seasons to a more dynamic 4-3-3 system. The switch to a 4-3-3 was to utilize the amount of gifted midfielders at Arsenal, and not an attempt to play like Barcelona. During preseason, Arsenal fans witnessed the effectiveness of the system as the squad posted high scoring games against Rangers, SC Columbia and Szombathelyi.
The start of the season produced more of the same with an emphatic 6-1 away win at Everton. The early season results has sadly not been replicated for the entire campaign and sides we should be winning comfortably against have either beaten us or drawn against us. We have definitely gone off the boil too, scoring just 6 goals in our last 6 games and conceding 11. Contrast this to our first 6 games where we scored 18 goals and conceded 9.
Basis of the formation:
The base 4-3-3 formation consists of four defenders, three midfielders and three attacking forwards. The midfield can be arranged in two different triangular variations – offensive or defensive in character. Arsenal use an offensive variation with Alexandre Song as the base of the midfield trio acting as the defensive midfielder (DM) or ball-winner. The other two central midfielders then flank the defensive midfielder, either Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby or Cesc Fabregas and Denilson. Three attacking forwards consisting of a striker/target man and two wingers complete the formation.
Essentially like any normal back four with two centre-backs flanked by two full-backs. Full-backs must have good tackling abilities and must be quick on the ground to be able to move up and down the flanks in support of the attack or to defend. The centre-backs must be good in the air to deal with crosses, and set pieces. They must also read the game very well and should be able to link up play with the defensive midfielder. One key characteristic of the centre-halves, is that they must possess good passing ability.
Arsenal set up their 4-3-3 in a triangular shape with Song as a DM flanked by two attacking players usually Cesc and Diaby. The anchorman in midfield allows the two attacking midfielders to be able to have free license to roam and link up with the three attacking forwards.
Made up of two wingers and one striker/target man. The purpose of the target man is to link up with the midfield and bring others into the play. He occupies defenders and that frees up the wingers to able to move down the flanks making the pitch wider and getting defenders out of position.
How our current group of players fit the system:
I believe our defenders Gallas, Vermaelen, Sagna and Clichy are quite comfortable with this system because it allows our full-backs to join the attack.
Our midfield is our strongest unit in this system, allowing Fabregas the license to roam from box to box. The midfielder has responded with an impressive return of 19 goals in all competitions this year, his highest total since scoring 13 goals in the 2007/2008 season.
In games against sides with dominant mid-fields, the formation has been tweaked to a 4-2-3-1 adding another anchorman to help Alexandre Song and the defence. The only problem with that formation is that we lose another attacking midfielder who is to be replaced by a defensive midfielder, but Denilson and Diaby don’t fancy themselves as defensive midfielders. We have struggled against the likes of Barcelona and Chelsea because the extra midfielder tasked with defensive duties is always out of position.
In attack we started off well but petered out when injuries started to affect our front-line putting enormous pressure on our midfield to keep the run going. Injuries meant we were forced to watch the diminutive russian try to masquerade as a striker with very poor results.
Benefits of the formation:
The 4-3-3 formation is useful for a team like arsenal that likes to counterattack, turning defence into attack in an instant with devastating efficiency. In an ideal world the outside midfielders/wingers can also track back into midfield to change the formation to a 4-5-1. The wide strikers/wingers also help keep the opposing full-backs occupied thus nullifying the counter attack from the opposition.
So Why Have The Mixed Results?
I believe the reason for the mixed results is due to a couple of factors with our squad and also the lack of a second system. We usually play a 4-3-3 but occasionally switch to a 4-2-3-1 when we come up against highly creative mid-fielders. We have also used the 4-1-4-1 at some point this season, Hull game is an example.
1. We lack another defensive midfielder/ball winner in our current squad. Besides Alex Song, we don’t have a proper defensive midfielder, Denilson and Abou Diaby are more attack minded and love to get forward at every opportunity. Denilson lacks the size tenacity at this moment to be a defensive midfielder. He is more suited to being an attacking midfielder. Any time we play a 4-2-3-1, Abou and Denilson struggle to assert themselves as part of our midfield trio.
2. We are not defending from the top down. What i mean by that is for the 4-3-3 formation to be very effective, we need to defend from the striker down to the goalkeeper. We did this during the 6-1 mauling of Everton and haven’t that again during the season. Some of it, is players coming in and out of the squad during to injury, but we just seem to have lost interest in doing that anymore. When you go back and watch that game you will see what i mean, when our players lost the ball, Van Persie, Bendtner and Arshavin would press the ball to allow our overlapping full-backs to get back in defence. We seem to have lost this basic art of defending from the top down over the course of the league season and it’s something the manager must address.
3. We are not playing a high defensive line anymore. Earlier during the season, we played a high defensive line so anytime our midfield lost the ball our defenders didn’t have far to go to reclaim the ball. With injuries to our midfield however, we have been forced to play a deeper line as we are defending more often than attacking because our midfield is getting overpowered. Another DM should address this.
4. We lack true wingers. Theo Walcott, Samir Nasri, Carlos Vela and Tomas Rosicky are not true wingers but hybrid players. Walcott fancies himself a striker, even Wenger has said his eventual position would be as a striker. He lacks a true wingers mentality as with the likes of Nasri, Vela and Rosicky. The only way to mask this defect is to make sure we fight to get the ball back every-time we lose it.
5. We lack a true second formation. Every-time we have found the opposition tough to break down, Arsene Wenger has failed to alter the formation. As i said before the 4-2-3-1 doesn’t suit as because we don’t have another true defensive midfielder. The only solution is to switch back to a 4-4-2 and lose one attacking forward. The Arsenal vs. Stoke City game is a classic example of the manager reverting to a second true formation, the 4-4-2. When Eduardo was introduced we switched to four midfielders and two strikers and it immediately began to pay dividends, Eduardo broke through the defence but failed to connect properly. We eventually won that game 3-1.
In conclusion, the new system is perfect for our team and with the reserves and Under 18s being schooled in the nuances of the system only bodes well for the club moving forward. I believe the problems would be fixed in the summer, another pure defensive midfielder would solve a lot of our problems anytime we play a 4-2-3-1. Lastly the likes of Walcott, Arshavin and Nasri must learn to press the ball from start to finish and for all 38 games.
Enjoy the game tomorrow.