Since the introduction of the 3:4:3 formation, Arsenal have played six matches, winning five and losing one. The only loss was away to in-form Tottenham, playing on their small pitch which suits their high intensity style. We will wait to see how they fare on the big Wembley pitch next season,. Meh I guess. Arsenal’s last two performances have been their best so far in this formation, indicating that they are growing into it. I lament that it has come rather late in the season, but still, it is a source of cheer, and–you can bet–a source of hope also as the FA Cup final approaches. The 4th place trophy is now tantalizingly close. The formation clearly has enhanced the performance of some players while diminishing the importance of a few. For the team as a whole, it has been a resurrection; the team has come back from the dead.
AARON RAMSEY: Top of the list of those the formation has benefited is Ramsey. Ramsey has always been a versatile and hard working player. As a member of the double pivot in the 4:2:3:1 formation, however, he exasperated no end with his seemingly total disregard for the defensive shape of the team as he foraged upfield with every attacking move, invariably leaving the team exposed defensively. A 3-man defense guarantees greater security thereby affording Ramsey a lot more latitude to join the attack. This freedom maximizes his peculiar gift of a monstrous engine which permits him to operate in one breath as a central midfielder and an auxiliary attacker without undermining the overall shape of the team. Thanks to the 3:4:3, the talents and tendencies that made him a liability now make him an asset. A Frank Lampard, one of the loveliest ever, has come into our midst.
GRANIT XHAKA: Maybe because of his square and powerful looking jaw lines, many can’t get it out of their head that Xhaka is not a beast of a defensive midfielder, crunching tackles and all. Xhaka is a deep lying playmaker with good spatial defensive awareness–full stop! If we envision a 3-man defense as a 2-man defense in which a defensive midfielder has dropped deeper to fall in line with the back line we immediately recognize that the need for a classical defensive midfielder is diminished. This takes some load off Xhaka’s shoulders so he can concentrate more on what he does best. The Xhaka for whom Wenger paid so much money emerges in the 3:4:3 and, partnered with Ramsey, the central midfield crises that had vexed us since Santi’s injury are resolved.
OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN: He seems to have shaded Bellerin and moved inward from the periphery of the team. Ball on his feet, he is threatening to be world class or is he already? He needs to include runs without the ball in his game. Also, with a 3-man defense, it’s easy to imagine him playing in the central midfield with Xhaka or Ramsey and holding his own.
NACHO MONREAL: Possibly the most experienced player in our squad, it is this quality that allows him to fit smugly into different positions: full back, wingback, central defense and–you bet me–central midfielder as well. At left back in the 4:2:3:1 one thing worried, his pace against speedsters like Adama Traore and Antonio Valencia. With a 3-man defense there is better security for a trailing Nacho in the wing back position. As insurance for him, now that he is on the wrong side of thirty and being a such a versatile player, the 3:4:3 has flung wide open another space as a central defender. We wish him many more years in the Arsenal fold.
PETER CECH. The back 3 gives Cech better protection but not only because it allows fewer attempts at goal. The presence of an extra central defender has mathematically reduced the time the opponents have to steady themselve to shoot at goal by an average of about 17%. In other words, shots at goal on average are more hurried, bettering the chances of the keeper saving those that are on target. Also, the extra man has afforded Cech an additional option for playing the ball out from the back and his pass success rate has gone up dramatically. We have a new Cech since the 3:4:3 came to town.
KIERAN GIBBS:- The 3:4:3 has favored him in the sense that with Nacho deployed as a central defender, the left wingback is automatically his. (Aould that continue when all our central defenders are fit?) I love his runs without the ball but he has to improve his game in the final 3rd of the field. On the other hand, Wenger might persist with Nacho in central defense because he is the only left footed defender in the squad. So, hurrah Kieran! Just don’t cut in, cross the ball; you hobble on one leg, you must always remember.
ROB HOLDING:- The demand for an extra man in the central defense has opened the door for Holding to showcase his talent. And has he taken it. After his back pass error in the United match, he remained composed, corrected himself, and, without any sign of panic, has continued ever since to deliver solid back passes to the keeper. With ice cold nerves, he appears a boy who learns fast. Compared to Gabriel, who, after giving away the penalty against Spurs, looked too scared to make even the simplest tackles, Holding is loaded with well sourced confidence.
THEO WALCOTT: Walcott’s main strength is staying wide and running off the shoulders of the defenders. In the 3:4:3 the wide areas are for the wingbacks. That robs Walcott of about the only strength in his game. I Am convinced Wenger keeps him on the bench in case a need for the 4:2:3:1 arises if we must chase the game.
OLIVER GIROUD.: The 3:4:3 is tilted towards a counter attacking style. Conte’s Chelsea have perfected it, using the pacy trio of Hazard, Pedro and Costa. Even though Wenger has experimented with Giroud leading the line in four of the six games, everything points to the fact that he is not a good fit for the formation. He is too slow and prefers to play with his back to the goal. However against teams that sit back, encouraging a high defensive line from us, Giroud might have a role in the crowded opposition defensive area. Bang! A goal by Olivier against So’ton. See what I mean?
BELLERIN: He is only affected because the Ox just about shades him in the right wingback role. But, for what is left of the season, fate seems to have smiled at him. I’ve got no doubt he would keep the smiles Ox has given us on our faces.
FRANCIS COQUELIN: A 3-man defense diminishes the need for a defensive midfielder whose passing skills are limited. Count on the flying block, however, whenever we want to kill a game.
ALEXIS SANCHEZ:- In the 3:4:3 Alexis remains an important member of our starting eleven. The question was whether he would remain our most influential player in the new formation. In the 4:2:3:1 he stays out wide, cuts in and still has that left corridor to operate in. In the new formation he is tucked in at the inside left forward position, and, when he cuts in from there to put his marker off the goal side, it takes him away from that left corridor. He quickly runs into the crowded central areas, far away from the left wingback who has made a run. Alexis has first to extricate himself and quite often loses possession. Since we went to the 3:4:3 his performance seems to have gone one notch down. I am of the school of thought that wants Ozil and him to interchange their lateral positions. An inside right forward position might give Sanchez more directness to goal and create a better connection with the right wingback. On the other hand, it could be argued that the deeper lying Ozil operates better from our right side of the field. As a compromise, on-field interchanging of the lateral positions between Ozil and Sanchez should be encouraged. I know I must be sounding like a perfectionist indulging his art. The pragmatist would say “Why fix it if it ain’t broken”. Meanwhile, let time itself halt so we can celebrate Sanchez’s curtain raiser against So’ton. It was luscious.
A new system must come with its faults. The Important thing is that the team has started to rediscover itself in a new shell; may we have peaked by the time the FA Cup final arrives. And may our new found proclivity for mathematics hit fever pitch as this weekends results cascade in. Who says there is no 4th place truphy!
by Pony Eye