There was a stretch in the 2016/17 season where we lost 7 out of 10 games in all competitions, winning only 2. The fans were confused, angry, and in a self-destruct mode. The players were not far behind us. Suddenly our form reversed. The team changed formations from 4:2:3:1 to 3:4:2:1 and our results switched gears.
Numbers-wise, what stank about the 4:2:3:1 formation was conceding too many goals. The team was scoring enough but letting too many in. In those 10 matches we conceded 26 goals, the same number Tottenham gave up in the entire Premier League season. Something had gone wrong with the team and the subsequent revival showed that what was wrong was the system being used, or, put more accurately, the way it was being used.
The flaw in the use of the earlier formation was that our full backs were operating as wing backs. That means the real formation, identified by the average touch position of each player, was in reality 2:4:3:1, not 4:2:3:1. This gives a front 8 that scored sufficient goals and a back 2 (less the keeper) that let in the huge number of goals. This situation was further compounded by the fact that our central midfield was manned by players who were not good enough defensively, or, when Coquelin (a good defender) played, there were still too many other players who were lacking on at least one side of the ball.
Apart from its lopsided and offensive nature, this 2:4:3:1 (4:2:3:1 on paper) creates an uneconomical on-the-field positioning of players as displayed below.
The above are theoretically the average positions during play. It can be seen that Walcott is in the way of Bellerin and Sanchez in the way of Monreal as each pair occupy the same vertical strip too close to one another. This jam was mitigated by the fact that Sanchez usually cut infield and Walcott frequently used the channels for his off the ball runs. Invariably, however, over 90 minutes, they got in each others’ way, tactically speaking, more often than in the 3:4:2:1 detailed below. The Must/Xhak and Kosh/Rams same vertical strips (refer to the line-up above) did not matter as the central defenders’ vertical movements are essentially to adjust to the space between their lines and the central midfielders. Also, in the central areas, there is greater freedom for lateral movement than at the wings.
On the other hand, the use of the 3:4:2:1 formation employs a front 7 as opposed to a front 8, as well as a back 3 vs a back 2. This arrangement–by numbers alone–increases the defensive security of the team. Observe that the vertical arrangement of players is much more economical. Below is a 3:4:2:1 formation with tucked-in inside forwards (Ozil and Sanchez).
This gives a perfect use of the vertical strips of the field which gives extra efficiency to help compensate for the loss of an attacking player. Remember, small percentages can make all the difference.
Wenger’s game hinges so much on full backs bumping forward to join attacks and therefore a 3-man defence system with wing backs becomes a better balanced arrangement than our (so called) 4-man defence. Of course, there are other factors at play, but this analysis is focusing on the weak point in our defensive use of the 4:2:3:1.
With this analysis, we should expect Wenger to continue with the 3-at-the-back system as his Plan A. We should also expect him to use Monreal, the only left footed defender we have, as his first choice starter on the left side of our 3-man back line. Kolasinac’s signing as a replacement for Monreal at the left wing back position is therefore a consequence of this tactical reshuffle. That augurs well for Gibbs retention in the squad as left wing back cover.
The 2017/18 Premier League fixture list is out and a notably thorny part appears to be that 5 of our 6 matches immediately following our Thursday night Europa League games must be played away from our home stadium. I am sleeping easy. Wenger is likely going to prioritize the Premier League over the Europa League–at least in the group stage. If you take a look below at what our “B” team might roughly look like, your worries may leave you too. That “B” Team can bloody any nose and Arsenal should be given a relatively easy group by virtue of UEFA’s coefficient of teams in that competition.
BENCH: 3 “A” team players plus 4 under-21s: Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Kelechi Nwakali, if I am to guess.
Further signings have not been taken into account in the illustrations and allowance has been made for some players leaving. (Note, there are a few names missing from the line-ups.) The composition of Teams “A” and “B” tells us fairly accurately the players we need to retain. Of course, adjustments to both squads should be expected with any further top signings.
In my estimation, our “B” team can comfortably see us to the knockout stages of the Europa League, after which a game to game strategy might become necessary. This means that we can afford to keep our “A” team fresh for at least the 1st half of the Premier league season, a luxury the teams in the Champions League cannot afford. Coupled with League Cup games, our “B” players should be kept happy, fit and more able to slot into the first 11 effectively when the occasion arises. Meanwhile I keep hoping and dreaming of Lacazette and Fabinho signing on to help strengthen us.
For me, the 17/18 season is suddenly full of promise.
by Pony Eye