Arsenal 5-3-2 to win UEFA League: Xhaka Deep, Auba/Laca Up-Top, Ozil/Mkhi to Complete Midfield

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):

submit football lineup

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?

By TotalArsenal.

20 thoughts on “Arsenal 5-3-2 to win UEFA League: Xhaka Deep, Auba/Laca Up-Top, Ozil/Mkhi to Complete Midfield

  • TA

    Very interesting and it’s my strangle the game and look to counter from the middle 20m of the field approach. I think we are less successful dominating in the opponent half, but a more open field with Xhaka and Ozil slicing opportunitistic longer passes would maximise our mobility up front. The 5 back and backwards pointing midfield will stifle teams just into our half and thus allow more “length” for our counters.

    It would be interesting to see!

    Cheers — jgc

  • Cheers Geoff and thanks for sharing your itinerary the other day. I hope you are enjoying your time with the family in NZ.

    Yes a more careful and disciplined approach has suited Arsenal before when we needed result after result. We just have to embrace the defensive side of the game a bit more, I reckon.

  • Refreshing angle, TA, to draw from the rejuvenated performance of the Oranje after a losing first friendly. The formation proposed looks to me like a variant of 3-5-2, with the wing backs being more focused on defending first before the offensive side of the approach. The thing with that is it need not be deployed for every opponent since there are teams which simply invite you to batter them and you have to oblige.

    Again, I feel we need to retain some unpredictability too as we gun for the Europa league. Say, we keep our opponents guessing each game as to which way we will turn out and then spring your variant of 5-3-2 on the opposition in the FINAL, hoping we do make it to Lyon; that will be fantastic, especially if it surprises the opponent enough to give us the victory. For his strength and work rate, we have to find a role for Danny Welbeck in there somehow.

  • Nice piece, TA. 🙂

    Aubameyang can’t play UEFA league so we’ll have to find another partner for Laca and his flaute. Hmm, this sounded much better in my head. 🙂

    I was surprised with the result from Geneva. I had always thought that Holland could beat their Angstgeigner Portugal 3-0 only if Portugal fielded an ineligible player – knocked out of WC qualifiers 2002, knocked out at EURO 2004, knocked out at WC 2006, beaten in the EURO 2012 group stage… I thought Holland would rather play Ze Germans than Ronaldo’s lot if they had to pick between two difficult opponents.

    Also, I think the state of Dutch football has never been worse since Michels brought the light to Dutch football. It’s not just that Dutch clubs have been doing a poor job in Europe for years (Ajax’ UEFA Cup final nonwithstanding) but in the last few years Dutch managers have also looked either out of depth (i.e. Bosz at Dortmund, de Boer at Crystal Palace, Koeman at Everton) or past their best (Van Gaal, Advocaat, Hiddink).

    To make things even worse, Dutch footballers are no longer the most talented in Benelux as the Belgian ones are pretty hot on the market. There is no Hazard or a De Bruyne in this generation of Dutch footballers and I’d struggle to find even a Lukaku.

  • Thanks TA for ushering back FOOTBALL. It’s time to fasten the seat belts.

    With Auba at the tip, your post gives my dream formation. But I doubt if we have the personnel to make the most of it ….. ie with very attacking wingbacks and all hard working midfielders.

    However I suspect that with the season nearly over Wenger would be more concerned with getting back on the grove of our last 3 games as quickly as possible. Kind of ‘don’t fix if it ain’t broken’. So I expect same 4:2:3:1 formation.

  • Cheers Eris 🙂

    Interesting point about keeping opponents guessing in terms of which formation and style we will be playing. I reckon this would also count for our own players and right now what we need is certainty and trust in a system that gets the best out of the team and the best possible results. Wenger often goes for this towards the end of the season when a certain objectives has to be achieved i.e. when the UEFA league.

  • Admir, good point about Auba being ineligible for the UEFA games. I guess it will be Welbeck’s chance to impress in such a formation then. Yes the Portuguese are our angstgegner and that made the victory extra special.

    The state of Dutch football is the result of being robbed of their talent time and again without them being able to fully develop first in the Netherlands. In terms of defenders the Dutch have hit the jackpot it seems but it is up-front where there is little talent to pick from. Depay can become a top-top player if he continues to develop further at Lyon; Kluivert junior is a bright prospect too. More talent could come from the fabulous Ajax youth system. All is not lost and under Koeman a new team could well become solid and hard to beat.

  • Yes, TA, three successive wins is too small a sample for us to hurrah. I pin my hopes on the combination of Ramsey, Jack and Mkhi in one team (absent all season) being the catalyst that raised us to a new level.

    I’ve had a very romantic attachment for Dutch football ever since Rinus Mitchels revolutionized football with Johan Cruyff as the ultimate symbol of totaalvoetbal plus their golden generation of the Dutch Masters. Capped for me by that fabulous Ajax team that had the best in the world (at the time) Finidi George (right wide man) and the young gangling Kanu Nwankwo both from Nigeria. There seems to be a dip at the moment. Would they come up again? I don’t see why not.

  • It would be great to see jack, Rambo and Mkhi helping us to silverware this season, PE.

    Finidi George and Kanu were great players for Ajax (and the latter for Arsenal of course); they fitted in really well and were a big part of the team’s successes in the early to mid nineties.

  • Angstgegner! Is that like Dutch for ‘bogey’ team? Intriguing to think that Portugal have been that dominant over the Netherlands, seeing how the Dutch always seemed to produce great teams over the years until, recently.

    As for the Arsenal, whatever we need to do to restore confidence and determination should be explored. If a formation change, so be it. However, I still feel we can adapt to different teams, as the games come. Don’t forget, the manager has alluded to the team training with different formations and has switched things midway, when we needed to chase games. I think it will be important (even fortuitous that he doesn’t have to worry about Auba) to have Welbeck able to play more in the Europa league.

  • Oh really, TA. Nice to add that to my vocabulary (if I can remember it with ease 😉 ). I guess “fear opponent” can have the same meaning as Bogey team, for this purpose then.

  • I find the Laca/Auba conundrum so difficult to crack.
    1). Sit £50M on the bench?
    2). Play 2 strikers?
    3) Sell a “world class” after not too many games?
    4). Use one of them as a midfielder?

    They all sound so un-Arsenal/un-Wenger.

  • Steve bould actually mentioned that Lacazette could play as a number 10 with Auba on the field.

    Imagine that a number 10 who can shoot like a CF.


  • Hmm

    Laça at #10 just moves PEs question into the next £50M man in Ozil or the similarly priced Mkhi… :/ … not sure yet how it will all fit. However, we are set for bear for teams that invite us in, as someone up above put it, … Like TA, I feel some balance missing. Or perhaps it is here but hasn’t expressed itself to us yet. So, put me in the patience camp, wherever that sits. I think it says play them all and we what happens… not exactly a super refined viewpoint / strategy

    Cheers — jgc

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