Watching the Arsenal first team recently hasn’t been pretty. It’s plain to see that despite some early optimism, we aren’t title contenders. It’s also disheartening to see that despite the quality in our side, we’re losing to teams like Norwich and struggling to beat QPR. The match against Manchester United on Saturday further highlighted the issues facing Arsenal Football Club, and perhaps the most alarming nature of our recent matches has been the actual performance of the team. There appears to be a lull in confidence, and a lack of any sustained fight and purpose. Against Norwich, Schalke and United, we failed to register a shot on target until after the 80th minute.
There is quite clearly a problem at Arsenal, and rather than dwell on off-field issues and the state of our bank balance, the most important thing at any football club is what happens on the pitch.
I’m not a tactician and I don’t see how our players perform on the training ground like Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff. However, I do see what happens on the pitch every weekend and I don’t think I’m being too reactionary in questioning whether a change of approach could yield better results for our team.
This is a team that is simply not creating chances.
After some false dawns and early praise, our defensive solidity is starting to unravel; In Kieran Gibbs absence our left flank is continually exposed, and our captain in particular has made some very poor individual mistakes.
Yet I’m not worried about the defence as I’ve come to accept that any Arsene Wenger team will always prioritise attacking prowess over a tough defensive. A leaky defence, whilst not ideal, isn’t exactly a new development.
What is harming this current Arsenal side the most is our inability to create chances. With the greatest of respect to Norwich, Schalke and even United so far this season, their defences have hardly been water-tight, yet they’ve all managed to contain Arsenal with relative ease.
I would argue that our inability to create chances actually started long before this season. We created far less than the Wenger teams of old last season (Fulham and Swansea at home, Bolton and QPR away, spring to mind) and were fortunate that a mercenary Dutchman was clinical enough to convert the chances we created(or he himself created).
One solution to our current plight may be to change the way we play. We’re playing a system that was designed around Cesc Fabregas, and then latterly Robin Van Persie. Playing the 4-3-3 allowed Cesc the best platform to create, and we continued with the formation as it perfectly suited a player of Van Persie’s technical ability and movement around the box.
Those players have departed, and anyone who has seen how disjointed and pedestrian our football has been recently would be right to wonder if our current system is still the best way forward.
Here’s a fact: Every trophy Arsene Wenger has won at Arsenal was playing the 4-4-2 formation.
In addition, the nearest we’ve come recently to a sustained title challenge also came by playing 4-4-2, as Cesc’s brains complimented Flamini’s hustle in the 2007/8 season.
Put simply, Wenger’s best teams have all played 4-4-2.
Arsenal started playing the 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation in earnest around the start of the 09/10 season, with a midfield 3 of Denilson, Song and Fabregas, with Nasri and Arshavin flanking Van Persie. When Van Persie got injured that season we then witnessed the Arshaving as a centre forward experiment. Since then we’ve stuck to this formation resolutely.
Our earliest foray into abandoning the old 4-4-2 formation came in 2005/6, when despite playing a 4-4-2 for the domestic campaign, we played 4-5-1 for the entirety of our route to the Champions League Final. Ljungberg and Gilberto played in the midfield holding roles, Cesc was through the middle, with Hleb and Reyes out wide and Henry alone up top. It seemed Wenger trusted this formation in Europe but not in the Premier League. Now it’s the only system he trusts.
For Arsenal to come out of our current malaise, we need to start scoring goals. The two best goal scorers in the team are Giroud and Podolski; both scored around 20 goals last season. Currently we have Giroud in and out of the side, and then when he does play he looks isolated playing upfront by himself. According to Steve Bould, Podolski is one of the best finishers he’s seen in the game; well Steve, he’s not going to be finishing chances when he’s playing left wing.
Giroud is far more than a big and burly target man. Yes, he’s good in the air but his link up play is strong and he’s technically much better than he’s so far been given credit for. Let’s give Giroud someone who can play off-of him and start converting some chances. In recent games I’ve seen Giroud win countless headers, only for the opposition to scoop up the resulting ball as there have been no Arsenal players around him. Contrast this with Ramsey’s goal against Olympiacos when Giroud won the header, flicking it on for Ramsey to go clean through on goal. Imagine how lethal Podolski could be in he finds himself regularly on the end of Giroud’s flick-ons. It’s time to play Podolski in and around the penalty box rather than out wide.
For those among you that publically clamour for our other proven goalscorer, Theo Walcott to get some game time upfront, a player of Theo’s incredible pace would also benefit from Giroud’s movement and flick ons.
Ultimately, it’s all about playing to our strengths, and at the moment we’re playing Giroud in the same role as Van Persie and trying to get the same result. They’re two very different centre forwards, and we should be adapting our forward game to accommodate Giroud’s strengths. We’ve only got one centre forward in the team so let’s utilise him the best way we can.
In midfield, Wilshere has the engine and ability to play in a midfield two, and Arteta is the perfect fulcrum to the side, anchoring the midfield with his almost perfect pass rate and reading of the game.
Which then brings us to the Cazorla question. Santi Cazorla is our best player, and our most creative. He’s probably the first name on the teamsheet. Why should we play him out on the wing(where he has played before) when we could have him in the middle?
Wenger’s best sides have always had players in the free role. Robert Pires wasn’t strictly a left winger, from 02-05 he basically had a free role as he cavorted around the field as he pleased. Freddie Ljungberg played a similar role. Cazorla’s name would be listed on the team sheet as a winger, but he would basically have the freedom of the pitch as long as his team mates covered for him. It worked in 2002 and it worked in 2004. Did you ever see Pires track back? He rarely needed to, and Cazorla has a much better work rate than SuperBob anyway.
On the right you can take your pick from anyone of Walcott, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Gervinho, Arshavin or Rosicky.
A shift in formation could also be used to give us more flexibility. On Saturday our game plan was thrown out of the window when we conceded after 3 minutes. If we’re chasing a game, we could be far more effective if we seamlessly changed shape from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 during the game. Not only is it a defenders nightmare but it gives us a multitude of options, and it doesn’t require any change in personnel.
I’m not trying to say that the 4-4-2 is the answer to all our problems, but I do think it is at least worth exploring. Our current gameplan isn’t working, it’s as simple as that. The 4-4-2 has served both Arsenal and Wenger very well in the past, so there’s every reason to think it could do the same in the future.------------
If you’ve been having problems accessing this site on your work computer using the URLS globalgooners.com and gossip.globalgooners.com should sort that problem for you.
Get your free LadyArse app here for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Windows phone
Get your free Arsenal wallpaper, Facebook covers and Twitter headers here