The Dutch national team made a miraculous improvement in just three days. Against England they played two in midfield and were outnumbered and outplayed in that key area of the pitch. Against Portugal – played on neutral ground in Geneva – Koeman, the new Dutch national manager, played three in midfield, with, most crucially, one in the deeper midfield position. The Dutch call this ‘met de punt naar achteren spelen’: playing with the point backwards in midfield.
This is a big step away from the much favoured 4-3-3 by the inventors of Totaal Voetbal, in which the middle player of the midfield three is naturally ‘pointing forwards’, as in playing in the hole. This time round, in a 5-3-2 set-up there were no more pure wingers, but two mobile attackers and two wing-backs who started in defensive mode but came out to aid the attack when it was safe to do so.
This formation and tactical instructions worked a treat for the Dutch. They won the battle in midfield, frustrated Ronaldo and co when they tried to attack them and killed off the European champions before half time with three deadly goals. The second half saw the Portuguese reduced to ten men out of frustration and the score remained a very surprising 3-0. The Dutch seldom or never beat the Portuguese and, even though it was just a friendly, it was a powerful demonstration of how formation, tactical and personnel on the pitch changes can make a team so much better. Basically, Holland ‘out-Portuguesed’ their opponents, who in the past always loved to sit back against the Oranje and beat them on the break. Koeman gave them a ‘koekje van eigen deeg’… a biscuit from their own dough. 😀
It made me think about our Arsenal. It seems like we also play a lot better with a dedicated midfielder playing ‘met de punt naar achteren’. Especially Xhaka revels in that position close to the defenders with two fellow midfielders in front of him to pass the ball to (the Dutch played Brighton’s Davy Pröpper and he was a joy to watch). Our wingbacks, as most on here agree, are not all at the required level for playing effective wing play, but the likes of Kola and Bellerin can still improve further. Up-front we could play both Laca and Auba and that sure is a mouth-watering prospect!
The team could look like this for the rest of the season (you need to imagine Xhaka/Elneny playing behind the other two midfielders):
Key is that the full backs play both with discipline and are as effective as possible when they join the attack. Furthermore, Xhaka or Elneny also need to play with discipline and positional awareness and the two other midfielders need to link up well with them, especially when building up an attack from the back. The front two would have a ball and scare the living daylight out of their opponents with their movement and finishing qualities.
I reckon this would be a good approach for Arsenal to see out the PL season as best as possible and should get us to the final of the UEFA league. We may even win it after all we have been through!
What do you think?