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Wenger should revert to 4141 to win the Big Away Games? It worked before!

Time for a big game rethink

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.

4141 with Santi in charge at the Etihad Jan 2015

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.

A system to play to both’s strengths?

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……

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4 Responses to Wenger should revert to 4141 to win the Big Away Games? It worked before!

  1. chris December 29, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    Wenger does not like to accept advice from anyone at all – but had to when senior players approached him. He could not afford to lose the dressing room. Maybe they should go and see him again. We are told the negotiations with Ozil and Sanchez are not all about money and this is 100 % believable. Like the rest of us these two top players must struggle to see how Arsenal can really win much against the best teams – weighed down by the limitations of Arsene Wenger.

  2. Othman Tazi (bizmarock) December 29, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    Hi Dave,

    Pleasure reading your posts as usual, and this one in particular is important for me. Nonetheless I fundamentally disagree with the cure you prescribe, simply because we do not currently have the players for it. Specifically, I reject the notion that Rambo’s indiscipline can be cancelled out by Xhaka; the implications that ensue are that we, ironically, need tricky midfielders again, we need them placed in front of the back four, and Rambo probably shoudln’t play alongside Özil.

    As supporting evidence I include here Arsenal Player’s satisfyingly long summary of that game: http://player.arsenal.com/matches/g755517/video/5863/manchester-city-0-2-arsenal-january-18-2015

    I. The Lineup: if you look at the starting lineup that day, a couple facts stand out:

    1. Mesut started on the bench.
    2. The tricky short midfielder we used to have in spades, last represented by Rosicky, Cazorla, and Wilshere, has all but disappeared this season.
    3. A critical fan would notice that none of the starting 11 have been sold. Two were replaced (Ospina & Per), both out of urgent necessity.

    Rewatching this summary, which I strongly invite you to do, can be a good exercise to take stock of the progress we’ve made in the intervening 24 months. In this case, we have clearly strengthened our backline with Cech and Mustafi, which are all to Wenger’s credit. Unfortunately however, that nifty little midfielder who was crucial to extricate us from complicated situations in the back and start the counter attack has all but disappeared. It clearly isn’t Xhaka for me, whom I am not in any criticizing, but I wouldn’t mind trying harder to find a Santi-replacement.

    II. Santi Cazorla: You may have noticed I’m always going on about Cazorla’s importance and my belief that he is potentially our Pirlo. This belief was borne precisely out of that win at the Etihad, which he masterminded in an incredible performance. Sitting in front of the back four alongside Coquelin, his touch was the impetus, time & time again, that extracted us from Fernandinho’s press and kickstarted the attack. It was also the case against Leicester’s Kante in the 5-2, and against Chelsea in the 3-0. This function has not been replaced in his disappearance.

    III. The other topic, related to Cazorla, is that of Aaron Ramsey: interestingly in this game, Wenger chose to play him instead of Mesut Özil. This is clearly a case of the proof being in the pudding, because although I’ve become intolerant of Rambo I must concede we won with him and not Özil. His energy seems to offer something that Özil’s languid style can’t provide for those games. Nonetheless, I note that contrarily to your view, Rambo is in the front three behind Giroud and not at the back with Coquelin or Xhaka. His indiscipline is therefore safeguarded by two screens of disciplined players.

    Conclusions: when we play a team that is willing to attack us and leave spaces open:

    1. We, ironically, need (to go back in the market for) short tricky midfielders, or at the very least bring Jack back.
    2. We need said tricky player to sit back near a Coquelin or Xhaka-type midfielder, shielding the back four and extracting us out of the opposition’s high press in order to kick start a counter-attack.
    3. If Rambo’s energy is indeed that useful, then it seemingly has to be at Özil’s expense.

    • Dave Seager December 29, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks for the comment but your recollection may be faulty. Ozil was not de-selected as he has been out injured and had returned only then to the bench. He was straight back in the next match. We do miss Santi of course and Wenger was mad to agree too Jack loan imo.

  3. Victor Thompson December 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm #

    Hi Dave,

    These two comments are a great example of what makes football such a Kaleidoscope of views. Your article and the comment by Othman are well written but completely at odds with each other. my views are similar to yours but frankly I am finding it hard to find inspiration to write anything.

    The truth is, we are clinging on to 4th place. Spurs are breathing down our necks and they are running into form. Man U are settling into a groove and Mourinho has them playing consistently. Liverpool, even without their Cazorla ( Coutinho ) are on fire. Man City were able to beat us while playing in second gear.

    Despite our recent optimism when we stood at the top of the league at the end of September, we are now in a worse position than we were last year at the same time. We went on to lose to Swansea and Watford before the tide turned for us. This time we have to look forward to Bayern again when we are in a miserable run of form since we beat Chelsea.

    I tend to agree with your suggestions re. the shape of the team, but whatever formation Wenger chooses, the players have to put a shift in and they simply have not done so. Against City, it was evident that he had strung two banks of four across the pitch. The two ranks have to interlock to succeed but there were times when Toure and Silva had the ball, and you could see the front four moving independently of the back four and leaving spaces for runners to exploit. Monreal seems to have been instructed not to leave the left side of the Penalty box and he leaves an inviting space on the wing. Part of his loss of form is because the opposing winger has a run on him every time and he cannot cope with fast moving ball players who run and turn faster than him.

    Ozil has rightly been criticised for standing watching while the man he is supposed to have been `marking` ( I think that is the name which is used, perhaps someone could explain what it means for him ) shoots past him, but Xhaka and Coquelin were doing the same. There is no leader on the pitch although Mustaphi was beginning to look as if he could be the one to shout and direct play in the defence.

    I am sorry that I cannot find any Xmas cheer for the fans but at least we have 5 games coming up which we should get 15 points from. That might set us on a run again and most of the squad will get a run out. There cannot and must not be another Swansea or Watford this time.

    Incidentally, apparently Liverpool are after the Ox. I hope we are not going to face another period of our players opting out in search of better prospects elsewhere. It would be hard to persuade Chamberlain that at present Liverpool do look better. How many more are there who are fed up with always being the also-rans. I fear that Ozil and Sanchez may well think the same.

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