I woke up with the intention of writing a conventional match review but first off, I asked the question on Twitter, which, in some shape of form, is probably on every Gooner’s mind this morning. Can Arsenal, as a consistent selection shoe horn Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette and Aubameyang into the starting eleven?
Earlier in the week before witnessing all four on the pitch together I had mused whether this might be possible in a Brazilian Dunga style 4222, but after the last 20 minutes yesterday I have asked whether this could be just as well in a unconventional 4231. Yesterday Lacazette and Aubameyang seemed interchangeable but we were playing a very average team who rapidly after the Frenchman’s arrival had the fight punched out of them.
I only set my Twitter poll on this for three hours and I will post the results and the end of the piece but unsurprisingly around 80% of us want to find a way to squeeze both playmakers and both our finishers into the starting 11. Certainly, the introduction of the Armenian Player of the Year and the returning French striker turned the game. I think I had resigned myself to a rotation, for the remainder of this season at least, which only saw three of the four starting. In this equation, I probably saw Lacazette as the fall guy but his wonderfully dynamic cameo yesterday must have initiated many a re-think. He certainly took his opportunity to impress his manager yesterday with an all-action display of grit, hard work, flair, guile (won the penalty he converted) and dynamism.
Both Lacazette and Aubameyang have and can play wide and in a free flowing attack, the positions would be interchangeable. We saw toward the end of Alexis’s time at the club he had obviously been told to play closely to the striker and make two and we could see the same from Lacazette. Of course, the questions will be asked when Arsenal are without the ball. Would Lacazette drop back in to the team shape and work back to support his full back and central midfielder? It is not any different however, than the huge question mark that always hung over Theo Walcott as the wide man in the three. We knew he could add value in assists and goals but often he shirked the defensive side of the role.
In fact Lacazette yesterday did much of his good work on the right and Mkhitaryan can equally play on the left with the two players interchangeable quite frankly. If Laca was to move consistently to the right of a 4231 it would be similar to the switch made by Sylvain Wiltord in 2001/2 with great success. He has Lacazette have similar physique and attributes so there is no reason why it could not work for this french international as it did for his compatriot in the early part of Wenger’s tenure, albeit in a slightly different formation.
For my money, the 4231 works best in attack when one wide man stays wide and when the other joins the striker to make a two. This was what the coaches used to drum into my son at Bournemouth when he played this role. When the attack is evolving or being generated down the right, he as the left-winger was to bust a gut to get in the box and be the second striker. Lacazette would naturally, as a striker do this of course. It was why I disliked it when Santi was pushed wide left when Ozil arrived. It was nothing against Santi but where Walcott would always be in the box as a second striker when the attack came from the left, Cazorla would never return the compliment, leaving Giroud isolated. I think both Lacazette and Mkhitaryan have the attacking instincts to support the striker from their nominally wide berths so the question remaining is whether both players have the stamina and desire for the defensive side of the job.
Without the work ethic from the wide players the 4231 is, as we have witnessed too often, a dangerous set up against the better teams. However, that would necessarily be the case it the cub enlisted the services of an out and out defensive midfielder. With Ramsey and Xhaka as the pivot and the four discussed, we run the risk, as someone pointed out on Twitter of being like Newcastle under Kevin Keegan. Playing amazingly attractive football, scoring goals for fun but leaking them as a similar rate. Right now and to the end of this season, in the Premier League at least, I would take that but it needs to be given serious thought over the close season with recruitment managed accordingly.
To be this attacking it does need one of Lacazette and Mkhitaryan to retain the width and their lack of genuine pace might be a concern. Whoever plays the wide roles at the start of next season if we are still playing 4231 I still think, as I have since Gilberto really, that we need to play a proper DM with Ramsey or Xhaka, depending on your preference or indeed the opposition. I guess you either go all out with the front four or add to Xhaka and Ramsey and go to the Liverpool set up with three up top.
Interesting times ahead but certainly after Lacazette’s form yesterday, I am hugely looking forward to seeing him with Ozil and Mkhitaryan against CSKA this week. In addition, whilst with a sensible hat on I cannot see all four players starting together at the start of 2018/19 I do think as far as the remainder of this Premier League season goes – What the hell, entertain me!
Long-term can we play 4231 with Laca,Ozil and Mkhi behind Auba, with Auba and Laca interchangeable?
— Dave Seager (@goonerdave66) April 2, 2018
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