Three at the back was fun for a while, but it’s time go back to the drawing board at Arsenal.
When I look at Arsenal’s squad, I don’t see much strength or quality in the defence.
There are certainly good players back there, but not so much quality that I instantly think we need to play five of them at any one time. The back three plus wing-backs may be en vogue right now, but Arsenal aren’t, and never were, in a position to follow that trend.
The formation a team plays should ultimately suit the personnel, and not the other way around.
When Arsene Wenger is playing a left back as one his starting three and is relying upon a 32-year-old, perpetually crocked right back and two midfielders for cover, you know that Arsenal shouldn’t be trying to play with three centre backs.
Equally, when there are only two first choice wing backs in the squad, and cover has to come from a 20-year-old midfielder and a 17-year-old winger, you know we shouldn’t be trying to use wing-backs, either.
Arsenal will have tactical problems no matter what they play, because a good tactical approach to the game is more to do with coaching and preparation than it is the formation.
Every formation has strengths and weaknesses, but playing a 4-3-3 or a 4-4-2 won’t fix everything wrong with Arsenal’s approach to the game. What it might do, though, is grant Arsenal greater fluency by having players in more familiar positions, and concentrating on the strong areas of Arsenal’s squad: attacking midfield and the front line.
The 4-2-3-1 served Arsenal well because it allowed them to field three attacking midfielders at one time. That meant Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez could play in their best positions, whilst one of Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott or Danny Welbeck could add something different to the attack.
The issue it encountered, though, was the midfield two, which is the most important part of the formation. It’s those two who provide the base for the attack to play off, and it must also be able to get the ball forward into attacking areas.
Arsenal struggled to find a combination that could do that, especially as one midfielder always went forward. Effectively, Arsenal were leaving only one midfielder behind the ball at all times, and that left them open and disjointed.
Any two man midfield Arsenal play will encounter the same problem, so long as Wenger’s instructions remain as they are.
Hence, there have been calls for a 4-3-3.
In theory, the additional midfielder would give Arsenal better balance, while also affording the front three the freedom to attack and break teams down. It’s a shape that, on paper, suits the midfielders at Arsene Wenger’s disposal, although the lack of a high quality holding player means it always be vulnerable.
Perhaps, more importantly, it allows us to keep the trio of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette together, even if does mean playing Ozil out of position. In the short-term, it might be the most sensible option Arsenal have.
Long-term, the departures of Alexis and Ozil would allow Wenger to reshape his attack.
Ozil’s arrival rather forced him to stick him with the 4-2-3-1 shape, and may have made him even more reluctant to play with two strikers as he did in the past.
The clue to how Arsenal may line up next season will lie in the fate of the 3-4-3 we’re using now.
Enduring calls for change, highlighting the lack of suitability to the team would be a big sign that it’s here to stay.