I have seen much talk about Arsenal and in reality Wenger’s ability to alter his approach to secure results, ideally wins, against what can described as ‘the other big clubs’. I hesitate to say title rivals because I am far from certain at present that we are that. As so often is the case our fan-base, myself included get carried away with a good run of results, ignoring that fact that the performances were far from convincing and we were playing, predominantly lesser sides. The simple fact remains and this has been all too evident in recent weeks, that we don’t have a strategy or plan B to vary our style against the big teams away from home and we can easily be out fought or outnumbered in the centre of midfield.
What is strange is that our much criticised manager DID have such a plan in 2014/15. It was a plan that worked, brought him success and he was praised for belatedly utilising it. So he had a plan, it worked, he was lauded for it so ‘logically’ he then forgot about it and stopped using it!! And he wonders why a large section of the Arsenal supporters see fit to occasionally show their bemusement.
The plan or formation to which I refer is the 4141 that was used certainly in the huge away win at the Etihad in January 2015 and again to overcome Man United at Old Trafford in March in the FA Cup QF. After the massive victory over City it was revealed that the change in emphasis came after much discussion with the players themselves, who were fed up with being on the wrong end of drubbings. Shipping between 4 and 8 goals the previous campaign at Everton, Liverpool, City and Chelsea. Playing a central midfield 3, on the Etihad occasion, of Coquelin, Cazorla and Ramsey gave the Arsenal away team a much stronger and more solid look, allowed us to win and retain possession for Cazorla to pull the strings. That coupled with hard working widemen in Alexis and Chamberlain gave the Gunners the ability to transition to 433 in attack with ease. This is why some observers called the formation 433 rather than 4141. The reality is it is both, depending on whether we have the ball or otherwise.
It is baffling why Wenger seems to have forgotten how well this strategy worked for him only last year and whilst I am not advocating that he reverts to this system all the time it has huge merit in the crunch matches still to come this season. He also has the players to make it work, even more so when Welbeck is fit, the star of the Old Trafford triumph and for those desperate to see Xhaka and Ramsey, this is the set up for you. With Coquelin patrolling in front of the back 4 and Xhaka alongside Ramsey we might see the Welshman and Arsenal able to play to strengths and mask his weaknesses. He has an innate indiscipline and desire to follow the ball which might be a strength safe in the knowledge that he leaves 2 colleagues still sitting, where as in a 4213 or 442 deployed at present it weakens us.
If we assume Alexis stays central the players who could be on the left are Ozil or Chamberlain and on the right Perez or Walcott. Of course this will illicit the usual outcry of ‘Ozil is a 10’ and has to play centrally when in reality what he is, is a devastating playmaker and visionary who can do damage as long as he has the ball from anywhere on the pitch. This is something his national team manager knows and embraces but our fans won’t accept. The simple fact is that at Everton and City Mesut Ozil was poor because he was starved of good ball. Why, because our midfield ‘2’ had no control to give him the platform. With a midfield 3 there is a far better chance that Ozil will receive the ball and receive it earlier and with more time to use it. Add to that with a freed up Ramsey, Alexis and Perez or Walcott he will not be short of runners to hit.
It is this strategy that worked for us before that can. in my humble view change our fortunes in the second half of the campaign. We have to go to Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool and on current form and tactics in such games we may as well throw in the towel now. If we set up as discussed and as we did on 2 seasons ago we give ourselves a fighting chance to defend with solidity and with numbers and to then transition with speed on the break as the Arsenal of old.
Having seen how hard Lucas Perez worked away in Switzerland in support of his full-back I would very much like to see him given a run on the right and he may well work well in our current system or the one proposed above.
Anyway that is enough of what is on my mind but I am sure it is a theme I will return to so watch this space……