Back to the future with 4-4-2: how Emery could transform Arsenal in one easy move…


Assumption #1: Unai Emery doesn’t favor using a player in the hole.
Assumption #2: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left-wing is a waste.

CONCLUSION: Play 4-4-2!

It sounds easy and is perhaps a bit simplistic but it’s also very fascinating and could solve some of our problems, especially up high on the pitch.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s best position is centre-forward, where his runs in behind are often lethal for our opponents; sticking him wide limits him more then it benefits the team as he’s not a particularly inspired dribbler and doesn’t possess the skills and trickery of a traditional winger.
Given his mentality and physical attributes, the Gabonese would still score some goals from the left-wing position and create some for his teammates but he wouldn’t play at this best.

The problem with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spear-heading our front line will be the complete lack of participation to the build-up, with the former Borussia Dortmund forward not very suited to playing with his back at the goal and bringing teammates into the play.

Enter Alexandre Lacazette.

The Frenchman is one of the most complete strikers in Europe and is excellent at creating the cohesion and connectivity between midfield and attack, something that we have sorely missed in the last few games, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was leading our attacking line.
With him on the pitch, we have the focal point that a flat 4-3-3 formation requires in order to work, a man who could hold onto the ball, combine with onrushing teammates and run into the box to finish the move; without a striker of his profile, it is very difficult for us to use the central area in the final third, especially as Unai Emery doesn’t use a typical attacking midfielder.
Alexandre Lacazette would drop in the half-space behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and help the team move upwards, while the Gabonese runs in behind and loses his markers.
Despite being a composed finisher, though, Alexandre Lacazette doesn’t possess the same instinct and positioning of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose runs and movement in the box are unparalleled, so playing him centrally would mean losing some goals, inevitably.

skysports-aubameyang-lacazette 4657151

It’s a complex situation because Unai Emery has two wonderful strikers, who excel in a central position but have very distinct profiles: playing one or the other completely changes the team and the way we need to play to make the most of each.
Ideally you would like to play both but the solution adopted so far is to push Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang wide to accommodate Alexandre Lacazette through the middle – which is wrong and ineffective.

To make the most of our wonderful strikers, you need to play them both through the middle.

Playing two strikers up front became outdated at some point, in favor of a plethora of false-nines, of fluid systems and so on; the old-fashioned 4-4-2 became obsolete once Barcelona started dominating European football with their 4-3-3 formation and their specific style.
Maybe it is time to make it popular again, especially if you don’t like playing an advanced midfielder to connect the dots and rely on your full-backs and wide players to create goal-scoring situations.

We all know that Mesut Özil is no longer in Unai Emery’s plans and, with Alex Iwobi sold and Henrikh Mkhitaryan loaned, we do not have a proper number ten anymore; instead, we have some very athletic and powerful box-to-box midfielders: we have Mattéo Guendouzi, Dani Ceballos, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles who can breeze from one end of the pitch to another, driving the ball forward or hounding opponents to win the ball back.

The main issue here would be to find the right balance in midfield and avoid being too exposed if we lose possession of the ball: if the plan is to push the full-back high in the final third, to have the winger cutting-in to combine with the strikers and to have a central midfielder make late runs in the box, then you definitely want someone in there to cover for that, a more defensive-minded midfielder who could sit back and has the physical attributes to cover ground and get stuck in to win the ball back.


Enter Lucas Torreira.

His name is the first that springs to mind when thinking of a dynamic defensive midfielder who could make things work: he has the grit, the energy and the defensive ability to close opponents down, sniff away counter attacking situations but also recycle the ball effectively, when called upon.
Other teammates could fill in, too, like Mattéo Guendouzi – whose defensive awareness is improving – Joe Willock or even Ainsley Maitland-Niles, whose physicality and tackling ability are outstanding.

One name that definitely does NOT come to mind is Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international doesn’t have the pace, stamina or tackling ability to fill either role and would be totally out of place in this system.
Would Unai Emery contemplate the possibility to drop his freshly-appointed captain? I don’t think so, unfortunately, but if forced to do so he might never have a chance to put him back in the starting XI.
Perhaps a yellow card is all we need for this to happen…

We covered the attacking line, we covered central midfield and now it’s all about the wingers.

Last season we didn’t have any proper winger and it showed: Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi played there, Danny Welbeck did so but none was the out-and-out winger we needed. We ended upon playing wing-backs to add width to the team but ended up being too conservative, especially after Héctor Bellerín season-ending injury.


Enter Nicolas Pépé.

His arrival from Lille brought a new dimension to the team, who found someone who can take on players and create numerical advantage in very dangerous positions; at the same time, the sudden emergence of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, combined with the return of Reiss Nelson from his loan spell in Germany, gave Unai Emery plenty of options for the wide positions.
The coach’s favorite style usually have wingers played opposite to their favorite foot (inverted wingers) in order for them to cut-in and make room for the full-back to overlap, something that can be easily applied in this 4-4-2 position; we would have Nicolas Pépé and Héctor Bellerín on the right and Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka or Reiss Nelson on the left, with both wingers extremely comfortable at cutting-in while the full-backs attack the byline and play cut-backs to a very crowded penalty box.

It sounds mouth-watering to me, especially when playing mid-table or low-table opponents, either at home or away.

Would you give it a try, if you were Unai Emery?

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2 Responses to Back to the future with 4-4-2: how Emery could transform Arsenal in one easy move…

  1. Victor Thompson October 15, 2019 at 2:32 pm #

    Andrea, so much of what you say here is spot on. I only have one reservation about Abamo and that is that I don`t think he is a hard and fast centre forward because he is most dangerous at reaching the danger zone fast and having his attempt to score already in mind. I agree he is not a gifted dribbler, but he has his own method of beating fullbacks by feinting to go one way and going the other, all done at speed. Lacazette, though is comfortable in the box and his close control earns him many goals. It also assists him to play one-twos With Abamo. They have both said that they enjoy playing with each other, so I would play Lacazette in the middle and allow Abamo the space to arrive at the killing ground like a flash.

    I am annoyed that Ozil has lost his place in the team by his own lack of effort because with our current attackers he is the missing link who could provide the amunition for our preditory forwards to bring chaos to opposing defenders. When you think of the list of excellent talent you have named it would make your mouth water.If Pepe settles down and gains some confidence then Tierney and Pepe should supply exactly the crosses that Abamo and Lacazette will thrive on.

    I agree that if Zhaka cannot speed his game up, he cannot be part of a midfield where speed especially is the prime requirement tp link with all these new fast players.

  2. ArsenalWenger October 17, 2019 at 11:21 pm #

    Mouthwatering in deed! This is the way to get the absolute best out of our team as it is now. Personally I would love to see a 442 with Bellerin, Papa, Holding and Tierney in the back 4. Papa and Luiz are 2 quite similar players but I believe Papa is the best choice. Luiz is a loose cannon sometimes. Papa’s attitude and aggressive look is what I like. Luiz is a very good player, but believe he is over the top… In midfield I would love to see a combination of Pepe, Torreira, Guendouzi, Saka/Nelsson. With these players we will bring the best out on the pitch. Guendouzi’s drive is massive and has definitely become a box to box player! And with the defensive skills and game controlling style in Torreira we have a solid partnership in the middle in the lack of the most creative players as Özil for example… Saka have really stepped up his game this season and been a creative side on the left that can cut in as you mentioned. And Pepe will very soon get the self-esteem he needs to play at his best. We all know it took Henry some time to take the step up and be the player we all knew we would get! You are spot on with our strikers. Laca as the player that can meet the ball and Auba clearing up defense with runs from behind. The opponent will struggle to stop us I think. But there is two players I haven’t mentioned that can be our wildcards. Willock and Ceballos could bring in alot of creativity in the middle. But taking out Guendouzi in the form he is in would be madness! He is for me the player that lifts the whole team to the next level with his work rate and runs box to box. Definitely become a better player forward this season! I love it alot how the youngster have developed Torreira have so far been used in wrong position along with a couple other players. Don’t forget Chambers in the back. He will have a big impact in our team from now on. Not sure Bellerin is ready for full 90 mins yet.. And I most definitely would like to see Martinez as our goalkeeper. His authority is huge and I actually believe he is a step better than Leno. Better reach, authority, smartness, field work and how he is structuring the defensive line is top notch. And I think he really deserves it!

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