A LOT has changed since Arsenal won the league unbeaten; the
players, the stadium, the board, the philosophy and the way the team plays.
Obviously one major thing has changed since the
2005, the amount of silverware acquired by Arsenal (make your jokes now!). But
there is one thing most people overlook while reminiscing the transformation of
Arsenal Football Club in the past eight or nine years… is the onfield changes
of formations and styles of play.
The Invincibles will always be remembered for their
iconic 4-4-2 formation which lead to their direct attack and stellar midfield.
Now in the current day the Arsenal have adapted their formation to a 4-3-3
sometimes evolving into a 4-2-3-1. There is a significant difference
between to two styles of play and formations. Could the change into the
possession style football that tries to imitate Barcelona be the cause of the
shortcomings since moving to the Emirates? Let’s find out.
I’m not going to sit here trying to compensate with Arsenal’s
decline in quality saying ‘Marouane Chamakh is a world class striker because he
scored in four Champions League games consecutively’ because that naivety shown
by some fans is quite moronic. But I will tell you how Francis Coquelin will be
the next Patrick Vieira… just kidding.
The 4-4-2 played by
the Invincibles was certainly very attacking but had the ability to hold a
strong core in the midfield to win the physical battles. One of the things the
Invincibles did so well was pass and move. Below is a diagram of the
Invincibles would set out formation wise in comparison to how the current
Arsenal team would set out.
have the standard formations of the two different generations. The current
Arsenal team tend to play with more width and play form the midfield working
their way to the box through using ‘Tiki-Taka’ style of football. But in all
fairness, that doesn’t always work for them. We see this when Mikel Arteta, Santi
Cazorla and Jack Wilshere are tiptoeing their way around the edge of the
opponents box but not actually going anywhere due to their lack of directness
(hence the 55,000 Arsenal supporters in the Emirates shouting “SHOOT!”). Their
only plan is to find that killer pass and undo the opposition- Xavi/Andrea Pirlo
like. But on the other hand, the Invincibles would use all of their strengths
as one to construct the perfect attacks: Vieira’s physical ability, Robert Pires
and Freddie Ljungberg’s trickery, Dennis Bergkamp’s vision all finished off by Thierry
Henry’s pace and brilliant finishing. It was a pretty standard procedure in those
days, the manner in which the team penetrated space behind the opposition’s
back line made it easy for them to score, but why isn’t it the same now.
Above we have two similar situations in attack when the
right hand side of play has the ball and the midfielder is supporting the
winger. In the Invincibles diagram, Pires is holding the ball up for Vieira to
run into the space behind the back line which was one of the things the
opposition feared most; Vieira’s surging runs with his power and pace.
Vieira would run onto the ball played by Pires
hence the more direct approach. But on the other hand, the current Arsenal team
in the same position wouldn’t do the same thing. Theo Walcott would hold the
ball up on the right to be supported by Cazorla, but instead of playing the
ball forward (red arrow), he will pass back to Cazorla who will distribute play
back (blue arrow) to the midfield losing all current momentum they had going
forward. Instead of Cazorla running behind the backline (black arrow) he’ll
move backwards which in fact breaks down Arsenal’s play. Such possession
tactics have been an occurrence in Arsenal’s play since they adapted the keep
ball philosophy and trying to find the perfect pass.
The difference between the
two sides is that the Invincibles were more direct in their attack, which got
them into more dangerous positions unlike the current Arsenal who frolic on the
edge of the box waiting to be intercepted. This is a huge factor I believe in to be the
reason why Arsenal have been underperforming on the pitch as of the last six
years. To have a more direct tactic of movement would allow them to be in more
dangerous positions more of the time instead of hoping Arteta will magically
lift in a ball from the halfway line. Could this be the key to Arsenal’s
modern day success? Well, I’m not Arsene Wenger…