All statistical analyses have shown that the three center back formation has not improved us defensively, but has instead lowered our offensive numbers. That, however, is not the overriding reason why there is a need to consider reverting to the back four. A back three demands at least six central defenders in the squad, especially as we are saddled with three matches per week for most of the autumn. What do we have there?
1) A 33 yr old Per Mertesacker whose legs are beginning to tire.
2) The marvelous 32 yr old Laurent Koscielny who is dogged by a chronic achilles problem and currently is out injured.
3) Shkodran Mustafi, a German international, out for a period of about 6 weeks with an injury.
4) Nacho Monreal, a 31 yr old converted full back who is also needed as cover for the wingback position.
5) 22 yr old Calum Chambers who has played only 45 minutes so far this season in all competitions.
6). 22 yr old Rob Holding, full of potential but still fragile in confidence.
That looks a bit of a rickety collection which smacks of a lack of ambition for a team that is expected to compete for honors everywhere. The color of the group dramatically improves if we revert to a back four which demands only two central defenders.
Are there other reasons to employ a four-man back line? I should think so. When Chelsea manager Antonio Conte introduced the 3:4:3 formation last season the Premier League was totally unprepared for it. It took the league by storm and Chelsea swept past everyone. We made the same switch late in the season and went on a similar rampage. The trend this season seems to indicate that premier league teams have acquired an antidote: stop the wingbacks stretching the field and the attack goes limp, starved of numbers. This is particularly so for a team like Arsenal which propels its offense with quick combination passes featuring multiple movements. With two instead of three central defenders, one more body can be released and fully integrated into attacking areas, with their movements more difficult for the opposition to handle. Poor Alexandre Lacazette, our most expensive acquisition, poorly serviced and hardly ever supported by enough bodies. He cannot be enjoying our 3:4:2:1 system. He–and the team–need a 4:2:3:1 that allows the swagger in our DNA to express itself. Against Watford we looked… meh.
Our attack was devoid of creativity, which is exactly why we need a player like Mesut Ozil, whose cross of a fragile personality we all must bear. He can only thrive when he is loved. The Germans know that and get the best out of him. I wish we could accept him for what he is. His performance started sliding when it was demanded he add goals and show more fight in his game. He now looks broken under those pressures. Ozil cannot be the lead singer. Get the chorus in voice, however, and watch him thrive. Jack Wilshere’s comeback program now needs to be sped up to help Ozil shine again. Our attack also needs Alexis, the X-factor man. As long as Ozil and Sanchez are still with us we need them. Every match is vital.
When we square up against the top teams, particularly away from home, we should use plenty of hard workers to disrupt the opponents’ game. Ozil can then be sat on the bench. That’s pragmatism. It worked against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Against Watford and other lesser teams, we must always don our toga of possession, creativity and style with the likes of Ozil, Sanchez and Wilshere. It’s nauseating and demoralizing to lose ugly to the smaller teams.
At Watford, I found it curious when we substituted Lacazette for Giroud given that we were already failing to attack with numbers and finding it difficult to penetrate the opponent’s box, the one place Giroud excels. Instead, I thought our transitioning structure was what needed to be rejigged, either with a different substitute or a change of formation.
A final comment. What an exquisite passer Xhaka is, but, as the saying goes, the strength of a chain is that of its weakest link. Xhaka has an incredibly slow motor response that will keep causing us dearly. Is it time for us to cut our loss? Big decisions lie ahead.
By Pony Eye.