TACTICAL MUSINGS: IS IT TIME TO REVERT TO A 4-MAN BACK LINE?
Most football followers consider the 3-man defence as providing a greater defensive solidity than a 4-man defence, though the numbers say differently (3 versus 4). It is a popular belief fuelled by the potential of the 3-man defence to transform into the 5-man defence when under attack thereby creating a numerical superiority over the 4-man defence (5 versus 4). Note that the critical word in the last sentence is “potential”.
The efficiency with which the 3 transforms into the 5 is therefore critical. Clearly, the solidity of the 3-man defence depends on the quality of the two wing backs. If they are regularly caught upfield when the back line is under attack, then the 4-man defence with dedicated full backs is defensively superior. On the other hand, when the wingbacks operate with high tactical intelligence, the 3 invariably transform into the 5 when necessary, to give it a superior defensive edge over the 4-man back line. The 3-man is therefore a more sophisticated (adaptable) formation, but it’s balance sits on a knife edge.
For comparison, we look at our stats over the last 6 seasons (17/18 inclusive) after 16 premier league games (FM = Formation).
17/18——-3-MAN—–16——30 —–20—- +10——-29——5th
Goals against (GA) column shows that we have actually conceded more goals in our only season using the 3-man defence than in any of the other 5 preceding seasons where we used the 4-man back line. However, this is not enough reason for us to revert to the back-4. What we should be comparing is the effect that changes in formation have on the overall performances of the team and not just on the defensive numbers. Points garnered and even more so, the goals difference (GD), are better indicators of the performance level of a team on the whole.
Let us then compare the stats of this season (3-man) with the average stats of the preceding 5 seasons (12/17) after 16 games.
The table shows that after 16 matches, playing with the 3-man back line, we had conceded more goals (20 to 16), scored marginally less goals (30 to 31), garnered marginally less points (29 to 30) and achieved less goal difference (10 to 15) than we did with the 4-man back line (for a period covering the 5 preceding seasons over their first 16 matches).
Are these enough reasons to declare our 4-man better than our 3-man defence? Not necessarily so. Rather, it is the kind of personnel we have that should determine which is better for us to use. If we revert to the flat-4, the wingbacks revert to fullbacks which, being essentially a more defensive role, means to me that Debuchy should supersede Bellerin and Monreal placed ahead of Kolasinac. Smooth transition at the back if you ask me. The problem area, however, would be the central midfield where Xhaka and Ramsey are our first-choice pairing.
The 3-man back line suits Ramsey to a tee, so much so that he should be one of the first names in the starting eleven. In the 4-man formation Ramsey needs a partner who is competent in the defensive part of the game, obviously not Xhaka. On the other hand, the back-4 that goes with front wingers suits Xhaka’s long raking passes (observe that those long passes have all but vanished in the 3-at-the-back formation). In my opinion, the flat-4 back line demands that our central midfield be manned by Ramsey or Xhaka and never by Ramsey and Xhaka. The big question is who should partner either of them. I have looked around for that suitable partner and I think he is somewhere in the market. But meanwhile, Coquelin is decent enough but should never be used against the high pressing teams. Apart from him my first choice, from our present squad, is Mr Consistency. He defends well. He passes well. He reads the game very well. He knows when to take a card on behalf of the team. Ageless Nacho Monreal, the full back, the wing back, the central defender and now the defensive midfielder. Desperate times
need desperate measures if we want to return to Europe’s elite competition.
If we can get our selection right, it is back to the back-4 for me. It’s beginning to get ridiculous the way we abandon the back 3 and scamper to the back-4 at the sound of the first shot, each time.
In our midweek match against West Ham at the Olympic Stadium the team (with Ramsey out injured) that I would like to see is;
SUBS: Ospina, Chambers, Bellerin, Coquelin, Wilshere, Welbeck, Giroud.
Gooners, we all have a way of seeing the same thing differently, so what’s your take on these?
By Pony Eye.