A New Season, New Signings and New Hope. After a nightmare season for both the team and the fans, Arsenal had a fresh start to the new season through a mouth-watering match against Leicester City to win 4-3 on their ground. And one may wonder what Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal has kept in its armoury to survive this season. So, here goes a peep into the tactical approach that Arsene’s Arsenal may aim for this new season.
The second half of last season witnessed a disastrous, yet under-performing Arsenal under Arsene Wenger fighting for a top four in the premier league, AGAIN. Arsene Wenger being labelled as the scapegoat, Arsenal had suffered continuous defeats in the league at the hands of Watford, Chelsea, Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace, plus a champions league defeat against Bayern on a scoreline of 10-2 in aggregate at both legs between the months of February to April is something every Arsenal fan like to forget and that is when all hell broke loose. Social media flooded with Piers Morgan tweets, plane carrying ‘Wenger Out’ banners flying over the Emirates, Arsenal Fan TV rampant and the list goes on. One cannot deny that the rage was not just outside the Emirates but it effected the Arsenal dressing room as well. To add on to that the stalling Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil contract situation kept Arsene awake at night.
It was then Arsene Wenger had decided to bring a change in the formation of the team for the first time in 20 years when he had opted to field three defenders at the backline of Arsenal. He experimented the 3-4-2-1 system which Conte brought for the first time in the league in that season, against a Middlesbrough side only to win 2-1 at the Riverside Stadium. It was not just a win but a bold response against the criticisms that the team and the manager had received and Wenger put an end to it by securing 5 consecutive wins and winning the FA Cup later this year. Keeping the contract situation of Sanchez and Ozil aside, the big question we face for this new season is that will Arsene Wenger deploy the 3-4-2-1 system throughout the season?
Arsene Wenger had not deployed this tactical system since 1997 for the match against Derby where Arsenal won in the scoreline of 3-1. One may agree with Martin Keown when he had said that ‘ it is not something that you can simply adapt to overnight ‘ beacuse it is true that Arsenal had only practiced the new formation twice before facing Middlesbrough last season. And it was that continuous practice that helped Arsenal to end the season on a decent note. During the preseason, Arsene said “We’ll test many systems. At the start of the season we will certainly play with three at the back”. Later, Arsene has kept his word after Arsenal used the same formation throughout the preseason, Community Shield and until recently against Leicester City in the EPL opener of this season.
At the Community Shield against Chelsea and the EPL opener against Leicester, Arsene had to shuffle the Arsenal backline for a suspended Koscielny and an injured Mertesacker and Gabriel. The player who benefited from these shuffling was Rob Holding. He looked solid in the 3-4-2-1 system for a young player of age 21. The guy took advantage of his opportunity and showed some maturity against the difficult sides.
For a manager like Wenger who offer his players a lot of freedom to roam around at the attacking front, the new formation provides an aid to do that in the most effective way possible. One other player who excel at this new formation is Granit Xhaka. Though the guy is neither the quickest nor skillful as Santi Cazorla, he has managed to spray the ball up front to make the Arsenal front three to look more deadly. Cazorla’s injury and a poor display from Coquelin has helped Xhaka to move up the pecking order and improve his game at the central midfield. Xhaka thrives in the new system infront of a three defenders backline manuevering the Arsenal front three by creating more chances. The game against Chelsea in the community shield shows the importance of the player in the 3-4-2-1 system. Arsenal had proved that they can win without Alexis and Mesut Ozil but to cope without Xhaka will be difficult for Arsenal this season as he has now proven to be more crucial to the team than anyone else is.
Another aspect that helps Arsene with his new formation is to execute his way of ‘pressing game’ against the opponents when the team finds itself without the ball. For the 3-4-2-1 system to take its solid shape, Arsene need his forwards to press against the opponent defenders in such situations. The forwards fail to do that is when Arsenal look more vulnerable to concede an attack from the opposition team. Without pressing, the wider forwards remain far too wide which prevent the wingbacks from pressing high at the ground, considering Wenger’s idea of bringing his wingbacks into the attack. That leaves Arsenal with five defenders at the back forcing the central midfielder to move forward leaving huge gaps at the centre.
One should believe that it is the same reason why Welbeck has found himself above Walcott in the pecking order. It is evident in a player like Sanchez as we have seen it before a lot of time during a game but not when Wacott is upfront. Unlike Theo, Welbeck make sure he is better positioned at the front by pressing forward, forcing the wing back to move forward to support him, leaving the team with a solid 3-4-2-1 system with three defenders at the backline and no gaps at the centre. The game against Chelsea in the community shield is an example of that. And for a forward like Lacazette who can make clever movements at the front, to press high against opposition defenders is no surprise because that is exactly what Arsene Wenger would want his forwards to do more often in the game.
Arsenal’s next two fixtures at the bet365 Stadium and Anfield can prove to be more crucial to know more about the new formation and Arsene’s thoughts about using them. With the formation bringing much more fluidity and success among the front three of Arsenal, the question still remain unanswered, Will Arsene Wenger and Arsenal use the formation to survive the season and mount a serious title challenge this time? No one can answer that but Arsene, yet there’s a saying at Arsenal – ‘ARSENE KNOWS’.
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