Our dear Dave (@Goonerdave66) recently turned 50 (Happy Birthday!) and decided to celebrate with the 1,579,698,741,258th tweet about how Arsène Wenger should turn to a 4-3-1-2 formation to take the best out of Alexis Sánchez, Olivier Giroud, our plethora of anarchist central midfielders and our full backs.
Although personally never a fan of such system, I must admit that there’s wisdom in the old man’s words!
I was trying to fit current players into this formation and I was surprised to see that our best individuals, especially in midfield where we have a lot of options but recently struggled to find the correct position for the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere, would all be in their most suitable roles: Granit Xhaka would sit in front of the back four with Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Mohamed Elneny and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battling for a place at each side of the Swiss and Mesut Özil as the advanced playmaker, the man to make things happen for our forwards.
It looks wonderful, I must admit, and I’m almost tempted to join Dave’s tactical crusade!
That said, I’ve always had two major doubts about this kind of formation, its demands in terms of discipline and its lack of width.
I’ve seen quite a few teams playing the 4-3-1-2 system and they were hardly spectacular, often congested in the middle and were mostly relying on one player – notably their #10 – to create some magic out of nothing.
Despite the pleasure of having Mesut Özil in our team, I won’t like the idea of him being the main (only?) source of ideas, especially when teams come to the Emirates Stadium and deploy two lines of four men in their final third.
Also, any of those teams always had at least two very disciplined and defensive-minded midfielders, one playing in front of the defensive line and another providing balance for his colleagues’ runs and offensive projections.
I can recall only one team constantly playing a fluid, effective and joyful to watch 4-3-1-2 formation: Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan.
The blend of flair, technique, grit and discipline in that team was stunning, especially if we think about how unbalanced the team looked, on paper; the Italian coach used to field Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Kakà behind Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi, as well as two ultra-offensive full-backs like Cafú and Serginho – or Marek Jankulovski.
Of course, they had Alessandro Nesta, Jaap Stam or Paolo Maldini at the heart of their defensive line and Gennaro Gattuso in midfield but still, the team looked heavily unbalanced.
Width was no longer a problem with the Brazilians running riot on the flanks and defense was hardly in troubles with Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf virtually never giving the ball away and that team went on conquering Europe twice in five years. It should have been three if it wasn’t for Liverpool’s amazing comeback in Istanbul, the night Rafa Benitez and his men were taught a true football lesson.
Can the Arsenal replicate AC Milan formula? I doubt it, to be brutally honest, but there might be a way.
We have a lot of quality in midfield but we lack the discipline and maturity needed to support such formation; bar Santi Cazorla, all our midfielders are too adventurous with the ball and error prone, which will expose Granit Xhaka and our defensive line to counter attacks, the worst case scenario if one of your centre backs is Per Mertesacker.
We simply can’t keep possession if the ball is anywhere else then Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka or Mesut Özil feet; opponents will soon understand where and how to attack and catch us out of shape, to punish every mistake we make in midfield.
As buried as this option sounds, there is still hope to finally see the 4-3-1-2 implemented but it would require a couple of bold calls from the manager: in order to be able to play a neat, effective 4-3-1-2 formation with the men we have at our disposal, the only option would be fielding Mohamed Elneny together with Granit Xhaka and Santi Cazorla but that would mean axing Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey and relegate them to back-up options to Granit Xhaka and Mesut Özil, respectively.
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It is funny how, in a moment of the year when all kind of names are thrown on papers, the man who could really make the difference for the Arsenal is already training at London Colney.
It’s quite a big decision, given the amount of time and energy spent to develop these players from a very young age and I doubt Arsène Wenger would go down that line.
My preferred option would still be our 4-2-3-1 formation, with Aaron Ramsey deployed as a wide playmaker and relieved of excessive defensive duties but I can see Dave’s excitement about a potential switch.
It would be interesting to see how the team responds to this change, see if we become less predictable as a team and if pairing Olivier Giroud with Alexis Sánchez or Theo Walcott would result in better combinations near the box and more chances for our forwards.
Also, it would be challenging for our midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as they will all have to adapt their game, prove a point and earn a place through discipline, maturity and altruism instead of flashes of brilliance they all seem to rely on.