Arsenal; One tactic change away from replicating the Invincibles

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.

There we
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…

Shaan Mangat


10 Responses to Arsenal; One tactic change away from replicating the Invincibles

  1. Ian Harvey April 25, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    Do you go to games? Just wondering. Football has moved on in the last 9 years, so has the opposition.

    • shaan August 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

      Yes, go to around 20 a season (home) and maybe 1/2 away money depending

  2. arino99@yahoo.com August 25, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    You’re spot on, mate. As a confirmation, we missed three clear opportunities yesterday by refusing to shoot at goal, despite the most brilliant of build-ups and most intelligent passes. One thing that must happen, and which can disarm most opposition this season is the SURPRISE element. One or to of the (attacking) mid-fielders must train themselves to "shoot at sight" whenever the crafty, deceptive, through passes are not coming. Because the opposition already know Arsenal as a non-shooting side, it will always work.

    While commending the current team-spirit, I also agree with one of the commentators yesterday that winning against Fullham does not mean that this is a title-winning team and Wenger must save us the constant BP and stroke signals by identifying and signing world-class players in the appropriate positions, whose presence on the field alone, would be enough to calm otherwise fraying nerves.

    A bright season ahead of us!!!

    Femi Boyede

  3. Chris Monsen August 25, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    A couple of things:

    The invincibles weren’t strictly 4-4-2. 1). Bergkamp would often drop deep, into a second striker role that, while not quite creating a three man midfield, would open up to quick one-two’s with the central midfielders, the wingers, or Henry up top. 2). Our wingers were different and played different roles. Pires was creative, almost like a playmaker played out wide (not unlike Cazorla’s role does when he is placed out there), whereas Ljungberg was a runner, running into space in order to recieve passes from Pires, Bergkamp or others. 3). Historical perspective is needed in order to understand why a formation may have worked in the past, while it possibly would not today: Back then, almost all teams we faced played a variation of 4-4-2, meaning the opposing were matched, numbers wise. Because our two main central midfielders were two of the best around at the time, we also controlled the ball against most teams, and winning the ball back would be easier two v. two when we didn’t have the ball, and in addition, starting moves from the centre of the pitch would be easier than it would had the opposing midfield been more congested. When we faced other formations in Europe, our midfield could be outplayed with worrying ease, while starting counterattacks through Vieira were less effective (I remember two examples very clearly: Ajax and one of the Deportivo encounters). If the current team were to revert to a variation of 4-4-2, our central midfield would almost always be outnumbered and would be less likely to control possession. Not necessarily a bad thing, only since our midfielders are comparatively shorter and lack the physicality of our invincibles team, the need for a more natural destroyer and/or big box-to-box player would be even bigger in order to have the stamina to chase a three man passing midfield and strength to break free when / if we won the ball back.

    I’d add that it’s not like the current team cannot be direct in the current formation. See for example Podolski’s second yesterday, and Jack’s break and pass.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. I’m as frustrated as the next guy at tippy-tappy for tippy-tappy’s sake, but I’d rather buy a defensively minded, aware yet technically adept midfielder to shield the back for and try to dominate possesion with any combo of our current crop of midfielders, than watching game after game where we would likely be pegged back due to a two man midfield being outpassed and outmuscled.

    • shaan August 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      Yeah I understand that, it was a 442 but adapted to a 4411, you can see this by tactics board how Bergkamp is in that centre forward role behind Henry

  4. Kelvin Au August 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    The problem now is:

    (1) We have too many similar type players who want the ball to their feet, who want an extra touch (or two, or three), who want to have the ball around the same spaces, who want to make the same type of (killer) pass, who want to do the same things with the ball, who don’t want to run into tight space, who don’t want to get challenged physically (pushed/dragged/barged etc)….

    (2) Nobody makes runs off the ball anymore. Some are too daft to see the space (e.g. Walcott), while others don’t like getting pushed/dragged/barged/tackled/lose possession…

  5. Chris Monsen August 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    A couple of things:

    The invincibles weren’t strictly 4-4-2. 1). Bergkamp would often drop deep, into a second striker role that, while not quite creating a three man midfield, would open up to quick one-two’s with the central midfielders, the wingers, or Henry up top. 2). Our wingers were different and played different roles. Pires was creative, almost like a playmaker played out wide (not unlike Cazorla’s role does when he is placed out there), whereas Ljungberg was a runner, running into space in order to recieve passes from Pires, Bergkamp or others. 3). Historical perspective is needed in order to understand why a formation may have worked in the past, while it possibly would not today: Back then, almost all teams we faced played a variation of 4-4-2, meaning the opposing were matched, numbers wise. Because our two main central midfielders were two of the best around at the time, we also controlled the ball against most teams, and winning the ball back would be easier two v. two when we didn’t have the ball, and in addition, starting moves from the centre of the pitch would be easier than it would had the opposing midfield been more congested. When we faced other formations in Europe, our midfield could be outplayed with worrying ease, while starting counterattacks through Vieira were less effective (I remember two examples very clearly: Ajax and one of the Deportivo encounters). If the current team were to revert to a variation of 4-4-2, our central midfield would almost always be outnumbered and would be less likely to control possession. Not necessarily a bad thing, only since our midfielders are comparatively shorter and lack the physicality of our invincibles team, the need for a more natural destroyer and/or big box-to-box player would be even bigger in order to have the stamina to chase a three man passing midfield and strength to break free when / if we won the ball back.

    I’d add that it’s not like the current team cannot be direct in the current formation. See for example Podolski’s second yesterday, and Jack’s break and pass.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. I’m as frustrated as the next guy at tippy-tappy for tippy-tappy’s sake, but I’d rather buy a defensively minded, aware yet technically adept midfielder to shield the back for and try to dominate possesion in a three man combo with any two of our current crop of midfielders, than watching game after game where we could be pegged back due to a two man midfield being outnumbered, outpassed and outmuscled.

  6. Peter Bloor August 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Well, Pires played on the left and Freddie on the right, but otherwise a good point. How could you forget the left axis of Cole, Pires and Henry?

    • shaan August 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

      I only used one example of Viera filling the gap behind defences on Pires’ side, of course there’s Cole and Pires partnership too

  7. odb04@live.com August 26, 2013 at 8:37 am #

    Yes I have been pondering on the same for many years..

    But I just cant understand how Wenger and Arsenal (everyone still there from the invicibles) not can see this as acknowledge it? I mean he was the one who started that kind of ruthless attacking (and defensive) play, with speed, few touches but most importantly great runs and positioning. How can he just forget all that? Especially when the current style of the last years have been not very effective (possesion yes, but no real danger).

    I think the current squad need a few additions obviously. But most of all they need proper coaching when it comes to making smart runs, creating space and using that space effectivly. Also mental-strength and attitude has to bee killer, when the teams start tackling us to death and the incompetent ref just lets it go. We all know its not fair, but the players and fans at the stadium have to keep going and use that anger to fucking burry that ball in the back of the net! Not sulking around on the pitch. I know from sitting at home watching I get so fucking pissed I just wanna jump on the field to get that ball and do something with it. It seems the team just turn off their head in these matches.. But still, the ref usually does not help with the corrupt refereeing!

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