343 might not be the formation we like but it is the formation we need!
The imminent arrival of Willian from Chelsea sparkled lots of debates about his age profile, role, suitability, wages, resale value and Gooners all over the world had lots of different opinions about it.There seems to be one thing everyone agreed upon, though: Mikel Arteta intends to move to a different system, next season, and the acquisition of Willian confirms it.
It’s a generally accepted idea that Mikel Arteta played a 3-4-3 formation because he had to, not because he likes it.That was the best he could do with the personnel at his disposal after taking over from Freddie Ljungberg. With the likes of David Luiz, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolašinac and Rob Holding at the back, all he could do was to throw in an extra body and hope for the best.
It’s another widely-accepted idea that, come September, we will see the Arsenal revert to a back-four defensive line and structure the team in a more modern 4-3-3 shape, with midfielders bombing forward from deeper positions and full-backs overlapping while the wide forwards cut inside.
With what players, exactly?
I doubt we will have the time and resources to initiate a proper revolution within the squad, especially in such a short window between the end of last season and the beginning of the next one; Mikel Arteta will surely have some of his wishes fulfilled but I highly doubt we will see the complete overhaul that a change of system requires.
Also, we improved our results under Mikel Arteta, won an FA Cup in spectacular fashion and overall provided some solid performances against teams that normally would have beaten us; is all of this worth throwing away?
I understand that we didn’t offer enough against defensive-minded team, attacking-wise, but we were solid at the back, reliable in possession and got the most out of the majority of our players: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was stellar from his left forward position, Kieran Tierney was sensational in his hybrid centre-back/left-back role, Dani Ceballos grew in his midfield-patrolling position and Nicolas Pépé was starting to make his mark from a more central position, not to mention Héctor Bellerín and Ainsley Maitland-Niles as wing-backs or David Luiz at the heart of the three-men defensive line.
The Brazilian had his Luiz moments of course, but was magnificent at times, especially in the FA Cup semi-final and final; his sweet right foot is an absolute asset in the build-up and his leadership is very important in a makeshift defensive unit.
Is it really worth throwing all of this off the table and starting from scratch again?
We’ve all seen how febrile and shaky our defensive line, and overall structure, was when we played a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation under Mikel Arteta, that should return a fair idea of the magnitude of the work that the Spaniard must do to make us as solid and as much reliable, compared to the way we look in a 3-4-3 formation.
Are we sure that this specific summer, with limited time and resources, is the ideal one to start this deep rebuilding?
I believe that if we play the same 3-4-3 formation over 38 games with a slightly better personnel available, we would end up in the Top 4: we already have Willian Saliba and Willian added to the ranks, there are talks of Thomas Partey joining and we will have Gabriel Martinelli, Pablo Marí and Calum Chambers back from their long-term injuries.
Although Liverpool and Manchester City will remain out of reach for any foreseeable future, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Leicester and Tottenham are not really better than us; the damage was done early in the season, rather than later on, and the final position in the league table doesn’t really reflect the major improvements brought by Mikel Arteta, through the rather unpopular 3-4-3 system.
I’m not as much confident that, should Mikel Arteta decide to swap formation, we would have the same success and that might have some heavy repercussions on the belief that the head coach built since his appointment, killing the momentum built since after the defeat at Brighton.
The 3-4-3 system might not be the formation we like but for this observer at least, it is the one we need.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.