In-between games against Manchester City in the Community Shield and Premier League, Arsenal have begun the season in a somewhat unfamiliar fashion, often struggling to impress fans and observers alike. You could call it a false start, but the Gunners aren’t going to be disqualified from any competition anytime soon. Instead, this period has been seen by Arsene Wenger as the perfect time to substitute the team’s predictable 4-2-3-1 approach with the puzzling 4-1-4-1 system.
It’s been far from a rollercoaster ride (and rightly so), so far and this new approach has been met with multiple criticisms. Nonetheless, this was always going to be a difficult learning curve that would yield endless long term benefits. A trend so familiar with Arsene Wenger.
What worries the majority of fans is the way players such as Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil have been ‘undermined’ by playing them in advanced and wide areas respectively, thereby making them ‘uncomfortable’.
Unfortunately, most fans can’t see beyond the next few games and only worry about the present. This is doleful, considering Arsenal is a club that loves to protect its future.
Going a bit biblical, what shall it profit a club if it gains a cozy system and loses its spine? Well, temporary profit.
Arsene loves his midfield and will adjust systems to fit in his best legs in the middle of the park. I believe this is what best explains his insistence of sticking with 4-1-4-1.
The new formation aids the pressing game, which has become an essential tool for adjusting to modern football. With this system, Aaron Ramsey can utilise his high energy levels more, further up the pitch, compensating the pressing abilities of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck, with Jack Wilshere/Santi Cazorla just behind, alongside the anchor of the team.
This means Arsenal will have the significant presence upfront to stifle the opposition while also being protected in front of the back four. The chemistry to perfect this is not quite ready yet, as we clearly saw last night and in previous games this year, but six games into the season is a bit too short to master such a tactical idea.
However, like we saw in the draw with Manchester City over the weekend, the energy levels and urgency will be significantly improved with this current system.
The quest for control
In Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Oxlade Chamberlain, Arsenal possess a quartet who love to control the course of games. Players who delight in pinging balls around the pitch and burst past their markers, on or off the ball, which I like to call give-and-go-ahead football. This current system gives them the platform to use their qualities to surge ahead in tandem.
Perhaps Aaron Ramsey is the only one of this set of players still trying to find his rhythm but that’s because he’s not getting the little details right. His decisions have let him down in split seconds, but being a fast learner that he is (and knowing his history), there’s really no reason to rant.
Also, when you consider the fact that he’s already bagged three goals and an assist in six weeks of a patchy season, it shows how game-changing his form will be when he starts to make the right decisions.
Embrace the challenge, Mesut
Coincidentally (or not), last weekend was the first game where Ozil looked more involved in the team’s attacking moves and showed why Arsene wants him as an inverted winger.
The way the German drifts in and out of the midfield (even when he played in the #10 role last season) means he wouldn’t control games from the middle, but will be involved in series of counter attacks which begin in different areas in the final third.
Ozil is no Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas or Xavi who are synonymous with control. Instead, Ozil is a roamer who changes the course of games in a flash through excellently working the channels and threading short through balls/square plays, thanks to his immaculate vision. He doesn’t need to begin from the middle because he’ll eventually pop up there, when the opposition least expects it.
However, it’s much more complex for players like Ozil to operate in England, where space is a rare commodity, due to the highly intense nature of the league. To be more effective, he needs to increase his fitness levels to the point where he can comfortably operate in all areas of the final third. Basically, he needs to embrace the challenging nature of the EPL.
As a gifted midfielder in his prime, I think he can handle this fervent approach. He’ll come out of it physically and mentally sharper. And if the City game is anything to go by, it shows he’s getting there.
This system requires patience. Perseverance that will pay-off when each player finds an understanding of when and what to do in his ‘territory’. I’m quite optimistic we would have found our swagger by this time next month, which is when we really need to be up and running. (pun intended)
From 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 to 4-2-3-1, Arsene Wenger has hardly gotten his systems wrong in his 18-year reign at Arsenal. He may be guilty of not balancing squad depth and strength but one thing you can’t fault the man for is his foresight to find long term solutions to problems. He will stick with 4-1-4-1 until the system produces permanent orchestral performances.