Maybe it’s the warmer weather, increased sun exposure, the fact they will no longer have to train with the likes of Sanogo much longer, or whatever it may be, Arsenal always seems to to end a season strong.
Arsene Wenger receives a lot of criticism for his lack of adaptability and in-game management, but let’s give credit where credit is due: He made the formational change which has catered to many of our players’ strengths and the team’s form has improved as a result. We have been able to gain positive momentum for our huge FA Cup final clash with the Champions at the end of the month.
1. Forced Promotion of Width. Four midfield bodies naturally encourage a team’s horizontal elongation and the establishment of wide options. It’s been refreshing to see our wingbacks getting chalk on their boots in order to stretch the field and exchange in interplay with nearby partners. While all our wingbacks have benefited, we’ve seen the likes Ox and Monreal shine. Their ability to pick runs going forward and create quality chances from wide areas has been vital.
2. Defensive Solidity. This 3-4-2-1 formation makes it easier to quickly revert back to a defensive shape. While our wingbacks know they need to contribute defensively, they also have license to get forward as situations dictate. They know that the outside CBs can cover space behind them and one of our holding midfielders will track back to cover direct play and ease the burden on the most central defender. During stretches where we want to consolidate defensively, a 5-4-1 off the ball shape has been effective, most notably against Man City.
3. A Freer Xhaka. Granit Xhaka finally has bodies around him to cover distances and run for him. Deployed in a midfield two, we are asking too much of him both offensively and defensively, in too large of an area. Space covering partners beside him means they can ease the defensive burden associated with tracking runners and ball recoveries. He can now drop deep and initiate attacks or get into an advanced midfield position to collect from playing CBs, depending on the situation.
Football is a game of fine margins. Small moments can decide the outcomes of games, which in turn can define a team’s season. If results play out as many expect, Arsenal will most likely finish just behind Liverpool and Man City in the chase for that final Champions League Spot. Hindsight always being 20/20, it’s easy to look back on moments and claim what exactly we should have done better. WARNING: The content below may be difficult to watch. Regardless, here are 5 goals that very well could have been avoided if we were playing within our new framework:
5) January 31: 2-1 L v Watford, Deeney (13’)
The errors are plentiful here and begin with a poor throw-in to the center of the pitch that puts Ramsey in a difficult spot. Coquelin tracks the solo run from Capoue and forces him left where Mustafi takes a bad angle given his help inside. In our current system, our extra CB or RWB could have provided additional cover and intervened so Capoue never gets the shot away and Deeney doesn’t get the follow up chance.
4) February 4: 3-1 L @ Chelsea, Hazard (53’)
This is what Chelsea does. They provide a the platform to get playmakers into space and run at defenders. With our LWB caught high up the pitch, Coquelin’s poor angle, and Koscielny’s inability to notice his central cover, this means Hazard gets a clear run at goal. Our 3-4-2-1 would have ensured our left-sided CB would be covering the space in which Hazard scores.
3) January 3: 3-3 @ Bournemouth, Wilson (21’, penalty)
Fraser’s eventual penalty win began with a giveaway in the midfield and led to two non-CBs defending a central area and running backwards. Xhaka tracked Fraser’s run and clumsily bundled into him. The extra CB body would have ensured meaningful cover and Xhaka would have been supported by extra midfield bodies to help track the run.
2) December 13: 2-1 L @ Everton, Coleman (44’)
A huge problem with our 4-2-3-1 is that it places too much stress on our wide midfielders. Theo Walcott was left isolated to defend Baines and he played the cross, which led to the goal. Our more defensively capable RWB may have better defended Baines. Furthermore, the ball may have never been sprayed wide so easily from a central area with the added midfield bodies.
1) August 14: 4-3 L v Liverpool, Coutinho (56’)
Nacho has had a great season in my eyes. His lack of cover and being forced to defend on islands has led to unfair criticism. This goal is a perfect example. The ball is played wide too easily from center midfield and Monreal is forced to defend 1:1. Monreal doesn’t get the block in and our CBs are too far apart, which doesn’t allow them to track Coutinho’s run.
Curious to know your thoughts. Should we stick with 3-4-2-1 going into next season as our base formation, especially given the fact that Sead Kolasinac looks likely? Or should we revert back to a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 base? Do you agree that the above goals could have been avoided with a change in tactical approach?
31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.