Over the last few years, I have bemoaned Arsenal’s resistance towards changing the way they play depending on the opponent they face.
Changing it up
Whilst the commitment towards winning football games ‘the right way’ is to be commended, there have been too many times where not being able to change tactics during a game has cost us valuable results, both at home and away.
If the start of the season is anything to go by, then things are definitely starting to change on this front, but I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons.
Arsenal have played three games at home this season and have managed to win all three, yet have also managed to end all three games in both a different formation to the one they started in and from each other.
Again, this doesn’t sound like a bad thing when put that way, as it implies that Arsenal had a Plan A, saw it blow up in their faces and went to Plan B in order to gain a result. Indeed, against Leicester City in the home opener, this is precisely what happened. Arsenal started with three at the back, got caught on the counter over and over again, went 3-2 down and changed to 4-2-3-1 in an attempt to overrun the opposition.
But Thursday night’s win over FC Köln showed the difference between having two plans available and choosing one that best exploits any opposition weaknesses, having one plan that you want to use no matter what, and only using your second option when it’s clear that your preferred plan isn’t working.
For last weekend’s win over Bournemouth, Arsenal picked a team that had everyone playing pretty much in their preferred position (I know, Özil isn’t a RW, but he’s basically got a free role up front, which is perfect for him) and the team looked balanced as a result.
It was the right team with the right tactics for that game.
Against FC Köln? Not so much.
Yes, rotation is needed when playing games on a Thursday with a Sunday game to follow, but this playing the likes of Maitland-Niles as a wingback makes no sense when he’s shown all of his potential as a centre-midfielder.
As for Iwobi as a box-to-box midfielder? I have slated Jose Mourinho for playing Paul Pogba in the same role when he’s clearly better off being deployed further up the field, and the same applies here.
Iwobi’s ability to create for others is based on clever balls through the middle, not by long balls from deep.
So, with that in mind, why didn’t Arsenal line up like this against a team that is currently bottom of the Bundesliga?
If there was ever a time and a place to play four at the back, then this was it.
We saw in the second half how the team improved simply by having more players playing in positions that they were familiar with.
Yes, Kolasinac came on at the start of the second half and played left back with Rob Holding making way, but Iwobi was far more involved in the game without having to worry about leaving space behind him, whilst Maitland-Niles showed with one clever run through midfield why he should have started there in the first place.
With the players selected to start the game, this is how they should have lined up. But they didn’t, and it’s baffling as to why.
It can’t be because Wenger thinks his team can’t play this way any more, because he reverts back to this formation any time he needs to come back from behind during a game.
If it’s because he thinks starting with four at the back is too offensively minded, then he might have a point when playing Xhaka and Ramsey as a midfield pair. But Elneny and Maitland-Niles is a far more conservative pairing, and were more than capable of shutting down the Köln attacking play around them.
Next, the small matter of Alexis