The opening game of Arsenal’s campaign ended with a positive result, just. I am not going to say I was not concerned at 3-2 down, although those who sit with me will confirm I predicted the final score-line at halftime. Whilst it is too early to draw too many conclusions after one match, there was one facet of the game was interesting and I felt a true pointer for the campaign to come. I am of course referring to the tactical switch from the starting 3421 to the traditional Wenger 4231 during the second half to change the course of the game.
Whilst the alteration to a system different to the starting set up is not surprising in itself or indeed uncommon in modern football, it is rare for Arsene Wenger. I can think of only a handful of matches since 2009 for example where he has reverted to 442, having adopted the 4231 around that time. The 2014 FA Cup Final being the one notable occasion. If this fluid system change is used with regularity, based on the opposition on the day or in game situation it is to be applauded and encouraged. Not least as it will keep our opponents guessing ahead of matches and when required, during the 90 minutes. Something that is most welcome as, let’s be honest, every manager and coach has known how Arsenal would line up and play for years. Not so much, ‘Boring Boring Arsenal, as Predictable Predictable Arsenal.
I intend to look what this transformation from the three at the back to the conventional four might mean for team selections in a series of articles but today I intend to focus on how it might affect the two apparent candidates for the Right Wing Back berth, Bellerin and Chamberlain.
Arsenal supporters are divided on Oxlade-Chamberlain but there is little doubt that he has many attributes that make him a more than viable alternative to his young Spanish teammate in the new system. The wingback role in the 3421 is essentially a right midfield role in many respects and Chamberlain’s ability to beat a man and get free from tight situations with his skill are valuable. Add to that I would argue his delivery in the box from wide areas whilst not perfect is superior to Bellerin’s. On the flip side when it comes to the defensive disciples of the role the more honed right back experience of the Spaniard are noticeable superior. The timing of his tackling, knowing when to jockey and not to challenge and his positional sense win out over Chamberlain.
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With a first choice central three, when all fit and available of Koscielny, Mustafi and Monreal, I am certain we will see Sead Kolasinac start on the left. He has demonstrated all skillsets and fitness to fulfil the wingback rile admirably. Ox has been asked to fill in in that role but he is compensating on the left and it does not seem a long-term option. If I am right, or even if it is Holding and not Monreal, the very fact that Wenger has shown his card early on that he is willing to revert to a back four, must strengthen the case for Belerin over Chamberlain.
We saw the machinations and personnel movement required on Friday to effect a simple fornation change and against superior opposition, the transformation has to be seamless. It has to allow us to retain defensive solidity (Yes I said that in an Arsenal blog,) whilst freeing up greater flexibility, further up the pitch. With a settled back three, this change will be easier. Wenger can substitute one of Monreal of Kolasinac, still leaving a sold left back on the field and Bellerin slots automatically back into his accustomed role. Even if Monreal is not a left centre back, one of the three who are playing can be scarified, safe in the knowledge that both wingbacks can securely revert to fullback positions.
I am a fan of the Ox and therefore do not make this suggestion lightly. We have so few players who can beat a man to open up the opposition and he is certainly one of them. However if the tactical switch we saw on Friday is one we can expect regularly this season, and I think it will be, Bellerin will surely be selected in the games where the coach thinks it likely or indeed in matches where he starts with a back four.