“He is able to play as a central or box to box midfielder but is usually deployed as a defensive midfielder where his stamina, power, tactical intelligence, and ball-winning abilities aid him in breaking down opposing plays, while his good all-round skills, first touch, and passing allow him subsequently to distribute the ball to his more offensive-minded teammates.”
That is a Wikipedia description of a 35-year old footballer, who has never played for Arsenal but should have. However, more generally I would suggest it describes the exact player Arsenal need now and have needed for 10 or so years, since Wenger prematurely decided Gilberto was beyond his sell by date! (The same Gilberto that captained his country at the World Cup a year or so later.)
It may appear that I am digressing away from the title and purpose of today’s musings but in fact, that 2010 Brazil midfield is in a sense the inspiration for this piece. I say in a sense, because it was in fact my good friend Woz on a podcast with me this week who set the train of thought. He did so when asked to select a team from the fit players in our squad should we have a Cup Final tomorrow. The question was which 11 players and in which formation and Woz opted for a 4222 in order to accommodate all four of our attacking talents in Ozil. Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Lacazette.
However, in adopting the formation so closely associated with past Brazilian sides he acknowledged that with our squad it was extremely ‘Gung Ho’ as we do not necessarily have the appropriate players to play in the two deep midfield roles. Even if you believe wholehearted in Ramsey and Xhaka, as a pairing they would not have the combined discipline, mobility and danger awareness to play the roles in a 4222.
Oddly I had myself considered writing about the Brazilian Box formation in January when we first had the prospect of fitting Lacazette and PEA into the same eleven, but the former’s injury rather put the thought to the back of my mind. This week’s podcast has set me thinking on it again and it was Dunga’s side of 2009/10 that was my inspiration. At the time the former Samba skipper was unpopular in some quarters at home in Brazil because the formation was based on two defensive midfielders but most outside of Brazil saw it very differently. It was the very fact that he deployed two defensively-minded, strong game-readers that gave the four advanced players such wonderful licence and fluidity.
So much so that at the time observers would debate exactly what formation Dunga’s team were playing. Was it actually 4222 with flying wingbacks or was it 4231 or even 433. The two most often up front were Fabiano and Robinho, with Kaka and Ramires behind them, but often Robinho would drop left so was it a 4231 – Well it could be. In attack sometimes Kaka would join the strikers and Ramires would drop in so was it a 433 – Well it could be! Whatever it was it was built on a solid foundation.
The 4222 not only required two solid defensive midfield shields, who could also play (well they were Brazilian after all,) but also aggressive, fast centre backs, such as Silva, Lucio or Juan who along with their defensive midfield colleagues could cover the gaps left by the still traditional rampaging fullbacks/wingbacks. Indeed another feature of Dunga’s side was the ability of Gilberto, with his maturity and versatility to drop back and create a back three when required.
One of the absolute joys of playing with two holding midfielders is that invariably one of them is always free and if that players have passing ability then counter-attacking football with rapid wingbacks and four fluid advanced players is always on the cards. Such a formation, if adopted in the Premier League, with the right coach and players could be exhilarating to watch and a nightmare to defend against. Having Ozil and Mhkitaryan floating and interchangeable behind our two expensive strikers would be terrifying for any defensive but it would rely on us having the correct payers behind them.
I think In Bellerin, we have our Bastos and possibly in Kolasinac, longer term we have our Maicon for the attacking wide men but it would be hard to see the two central defenders and two defensive midfielders all coming from the current roster. For me sadly we are at the end of the road with Koscielny but in Mustafi we do have a talented, mobile defender who reads the game well. He needs a tall aggressive, good in the air, partner.
The critical decisions this summer, manager aside, whether we adopt this fanciful idea of mine or not, are around the recruitment in midfield. Elneny has extended which will excite few but he could easily if coached play as one of two out and out defensive midfielders. You have to view him in isolation, take his attributes, and picture him just sitting ahead of the back two and dropping in to make it a three as required, a tactic we have seen in 2017/18. Xhaka is not going anywhere soon and he could also play the role, with the correct partner, who would have to be an upgrade on Elneny for sure. Wilshere and Ramsey’s futures remain uncertain and it is difficult to envisage Cazorla having a first team role Maitland-Niles may yet be our future but he is not next season’s future.
All of which brings me back to where I started because the player I mentioned, by description, at outset is the one outfield regular, in Dunga’s 4222, who in case you have not noticed I have not named. Gilberto’s partner in crime back then was Felipo Melo. Melo, of 8 years ago, described so wonderfully by Wikipedia, far more eloquently than I might have managed, is the player that Arsenal need today. If we are to stay 4231 and persuade Ramsey to stay, it is that partner he needs. If we do try to play with two strikers in the 4222 I describe or a 352 we still need the player that fits Melo’s description.
To finish, here is another Wiki description of a current top-level player who we have in fact been linked to and I know we have scouted:
“Known for his composure and versatility as a footballer, which allows him to be deployed in any midfield position. Due to his work-rate, technique, ability to break down possession, vision, and passing accuracy, he is capable of playing in a central box-to-box role or in a defensive role as a ball winner. However, usually plays in a creative role, as a deep-lying play-maker, a position, which allows him more time on the ball to control the tempo of his team’s play with his short, horizontal passing game.”
In case you had not guessed player described above is Jorghino form Napoli – Yes please.