Arteta’s conventional 3-4-3 vs the hybrid 3-4-3
Guardiola, Klopp, Rodgers, Solskjaer, Bielsa and now Tuchel; a list of impressive managers who have come up short against Arteta. Whilst it’s been a horrendous season for the Spaniard, he once again showed his capabilities in setting a team up accordingly to nullify one of the top teams within the division.
The key talking point in Arsenal’s victory at Stamford Bridge was the decision to match Tuchel up by deploying the German’s so far successful 3-4-2-1. This was the first time the Arsenal manager has reverted to a 3 at the back system since their heavy defeat against Manchester City in the EFL Cup. But what’s interesting to note is that there are significant differences between Wednesday’s conventional 3-4-3 as opposed to the Gunners’ previously favoured hybrid 3-4-3.
The common trend throughout this campaign has been Arsenal’s in possession 3-2-5 set up, which was yet again utilised on Wednesday. The system compromised of three centre-backs along with a balanced midfield pivot just in front. Further ahead were Odegaard and Smith Rowe, who operated within the half-spaces and were given roles of facilitating progression. The positions the two attacking midfielders occupied allowed both wing-backs Saka and Tierney to advance out wide, with Aubameyang leading the line for the Gunners. The Gabonese international struggles to play with his back to goal but with both Smith Rowe and Odegaard roaming between the lines, this allowed the 31-year-old to occupy his favoured zone, the eighteen-yard box.
It was however difficult to see this shape for lengthy periods since the general pattern of play saw Chelsea dominate proceedings and camp Arsenal deep within their own half. The defensive shape was, therefore, more noticeable, with the Spaniard instructing his men to remain resolute in a 5-4-1 low block. Both Odegaard and Smith Rowe were given roles of supporting the two wing-backs in order to prevent numerical superiorities from developing through the wide areas, whilst Partey and Elneny were tasked with screening the three centre backs and maintaining strong positional discipline.
Similarities and differences to the hybrid 3-4-3
Arteta’s first piece of silverware followed by a victory against Liverpool In the Community Shield; the hybrid 3-4-3 brought the former Arsenal captain his first major successes as a coach. But it was also a system plagued with glaring deficiencies, which opposing teams were able to identify and has essentially been the reason why Arsenal are languishing in mid-table.
Certain similarities are apparent when comparing the hybrid 3-4-3 to the conventional 3-4-3, particularly when analysing the defensive organisation. Whilst the personnel differs the fundamentals are still familiar; defending in a compact 5-4-1 shape out of possession, with emphasis placed solely on preventing the opposition from creating high volume chances.
The differences between the two systems lie with the attacking play. What became problematic with the hybrid setup was the lack of balance. Arteta advocated the idea of using heavy left-sided overloads and whilst there were a number of goals originating from this dynamic, the overall structure became lopsided and predictable. Although promising partnerships were developing through this area of the pitch, particularly with the link-up play established between Aubameyang, Saka and Tierney, attacking potency through the right flank was impeded. In order for Arsenal to be secure in dealing with transitions, Bellerin predominantly played the inverted role, which meant that the right inside forward would remain isolated.
Not only this, but the fundamental flaw within this setup was the lack of creators who could promote final third activity. And with the likes of Aubamauynag and Pepe utilised as inside forwards, who both struggle with ball retention, Arsenal weren’t able to sustain effective pressure for prolonged periods.
On Wednesday however, there was a different dynamic. Rather than instructing one wing-back to tuck into midfield and the other to overlap, both Saka and Tierney were given the freedom to create width in transition. This is why the term ‘conventional 3-4-3’ is given since the common trend with teams who deploy this formation is the heavy reliance on the wing-backs to act as wide outlets.
The other major change revolved around the profiles utilised in the attacking third. Instead of selecting naturally tailored inside forwards, Arteta opted for number 10’s (Smith Rowe and Odegaard) who are capable of dropping deep to receive the ball and maintaining technical security in possession.
Generally, there was a greater level of balance through all areas, although the Saka and Odegaard partnership caused confusion. Both like to operate within familiar zones, which caused disruption as the two had a tendency to cancel each other out. Something Arteta will need to alter if he plans to use this system in the near future.
It’s very difficult to be confident in providing firm judgement on the current 3-4-3 since it’s only been on display once, and in a game that saw the Gunners have very little possession. But it does give Arteta a plan B, which could provide longevity in games against the elite, where the onus is essentially on the opposition to dictate proceedings.
But looking ahead, Arsenal’s objective next season will without a shadow of a doubt be to fight for a precious champions league spot. In order to achieve this aim, consistency against lesser opposition is required, both home and away. These particular games will see Arsenal trying to identify sustainable solutions to break down low blocks. This is why the 4-2-3-1 should be prioritised as not only is it tailored to the current players within the squad, it allows an additional creative option to come into the side, in place of a centre back.
“We want to move to a 4-3-3 but for that, you need a lot of specificity in every position but now in five or six positions, we don’t have it.” There is of course the potential possibility of a 4-3-3 which seems to be Arteta’s favoured formation, judging from previous quotes. But for this to come into play, investment is required.
When it comes to playing a back four in and out of possession, confidence particularly from a defensive point of view is required, which Arteta has managed to install. Looking at the table since Christmas, which was the moment the Spaniard abandoned the hybrid 3-4-3, there’s been a clear improvement in both performances and results. What’s now imperative is for the Spanish tactician to transition this form into next season, otherwise, fans will start to lose even more patience.
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25-year-old Gooner who loves talking and writing about football