4-1-4-1: Wenger’s Total Harmonica Football Formation?
Victory Through Harmonic Harmony.
It is interesting to listen to the TV and keyboard pundits praising Arsenal and Wenger for the disciplined defensive performance against Citeh. They all seem so genuinely relieved we played with a defensive set-up and smashed the Northern Oilers via breaks and set-pieces. It is not the first time we have played with this approach: for example, the games against the Chavs, at home last season as well as at Stanford Bridge this season, were approached exactly in the same way. It is fair to say, it is not the Arsenal way of playing a game, but Wenger has demonstrated once again that a) he does have a Plan-B, and b) he knows how to make tactical changes to get a result from a game.
In general he prefers to play a system of football that is set up to conquer all and does not need much, if any, tactical tweaking for each and every match. This desire will never change as, in the end, he loves free flowing, attacking, total football too much – and don’t we all? It is also the reason he could manage any club in the world, except the Spuds of course. 🙂
On the other hand, the 4-1-4-1 formation seems to offer formational and tactical flexibility during the same game.
Like a harmonica it can squeeze in and out: becoming solid and compact – 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 – when we need to be, as well as very attack-minded and multi-dimensional up-front as per our normal, default system of football: 4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3.
In order to do this successfully, we need: tactical discipline, on-field leadership (especially in midfield) and brilliant, multi-skilled midfielders.
We only have to remind ourselves about the first ten minutes of the second half against Citeh to realise that varying the styles of football and formations within the same game is not easy. We lost our compactness and defensive discipline and spaces opened up everywhere during this phase, and we almost paid for it. Luckily, it was us that scored the all important second goal of the match, and after that it was relatively easy for us to revert back to our original, far more defensive formation. Citeh, without Yaya and Nasri, were unable to give Silva much support in creating gaps and thus opportunities; and we also defended the wings fantastically well.
It was great to see the team having such fantastic discipline for the majority of the game. Coquelin got a lot of praise, and rightly so. Playing compact suits him very well, and the same goes for the defence. Defence orientated players hate space around them, and especially behind them. If there is little to no space around our defence then everybody starts looking so much better, and that includes our DM.
The Chavs’ Cahill, Terry and Matic are no better than Mertesacker, Koz and Arteta/Flamini/Coquelin, but, as a starting principle, they always ensure they play compact and avoid risks at the back. That’s what makes them look good and our lot regularly not so good, often being left over-exposed by their (too) attack focussed colleagues.
What is absolutely paramount for a solid defensive team display is the role of the four midfielders/attackers in front of the DM, and especially the two central midfielders. They need to curb their attacking instincts to a large extent and be able to both support the defenders and build attacks from a crowded, highly pressured back.
Both Ramsey, and especially Cazorla, mastered this very well, and Ox and Alexis also offered superb defensive and ‘get out of jail’ support throughout the game (and so did Rosicky once he came on for a tired Ox). And with Ozil and Jack, we have two more central midfielders who can do this very, very well. Arsenal are blessed with such players which is a great reason to play a ‘harmonic’ 4-1-4-1 system of football.
When we play fellow direct competitors for silverware away, and maybe also at home, we should more often position our team deeper and more compact, in order to give ourselves a good chance to get a result and avoid painful mega-losses (as per last season).
But, with the right players, we can gradually become stronger and stronger at playing a harmonic 4-1-4-1 formation. Key is to have all our players fit and play together regularly. Another prerequisite is a solid and mobile DM, who will also be strong when our team is stretched forward. Arteta suited this part reasonably well, but I have always felt a need to improve in this area to move us to the next level (and so have most fellow Gooners).
Coquelin is looking really good and I hope we can sign him up to a new deal, and we need to sign one more quality DM to provide depth and competition. Key is that we add real leadership in this position; and, in recent games, Coquelin – finally escaped from his chrysalis – showed he might be able to offer this going forward as well.
But the most important and exciting part of all of this is who we will play in the two central midfield positions of the second ‘4’ of 4-1-4-1.
We can pick, in no particular order, from Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere and one or two youngsters. I can see Ozil and Cazorla play together there, especially in games where we feel we can play more attack-minded and advanced. The likes of Alexis, Theo and Giroud (Ox, Welbeck etc) will be licking their lips at the anticipated service they would get. The idea that Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together is therefore wrong.
I can also see Jack and Aaron play there and rock the place; and we all know how valuable Rosa still is for us. Arsenal are blessed with super quality in these positions and are no doubt the envy of many, if not all, PL clubs with regards to this.
Cazorla, and Ramsey despite his rustiness, showed how well and disciplined they can play in this formation, and it was their ability to squeeze in with the defence and out with the attack that made a huge difference on Sunday (supported by the ‘mid-wings’ of course). Our transition worked really well, given the pressure we were under; and with more practicing, our 4-1-4-1 harmonica could become an all conquering system of football. It will even allow us to play Cazorla and Ozil together – or eventually my favourite combination: Wilshere and Ozil. 😉
Happy, harmonic times could be around the corner. 🙂