Arsenal Back to Basics: 3-4-1-2 With New Blood in Attack and Proper Nr10

With nine points to be won or lost in six days, now is the time to make a change for Arteta.

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Three at the back. Everybody who can count to three knows that Mikel will have to fall back on his previous formula for success. The right side of the team is not working well, we don’t have a top quality nr.10 and also miss a CF that can do it all. But we have a very good set of players to sit a bit deeper, control the game at the back and create enough chances to win most of our games.

The latter is much less sexy but Arteta simply has no choice at this juncture: the current style and set up is not working and remaining in the bottom half of the table is untenable. Something has got to change.

Going back to basics is not something to be ashamed about. There was no proper summer break to really work with the team and establish a new way of playing football. C19 has truly messed everything up and every club is in survival mode and hoping for the best.

Playing 4-3-3 attacking, beautiful winning football is the end game, the apex. Mikel tried but until now failed, and it is time to put his plans on hold for a while. Try again in August. Now it is time to start winning games again. We have three PL games in six days coming up next; that is nine points to win or lose. Imagine if we win these games – two home games against Burnley, Southampton and an away game at Goodison Park – how different our position in the table would look like?

Arteta is young and he has learned so much in the last twelve months. By the end of his first calendar year as manager he will have faced both Jurgen with the Teeth and Slap Head Pep a whopping four times in all competitions. It is truly amazing that he has been victorious over both of them already – both teams of exceptional quality and fully developed to conquer all. Neither Wenger or Emery pulled this off. But he really cannot afford to keep losing winnable games because of a change of philosophy/ an apparent stubbornness to see through his vision and will, come what may. For this he is too young and inexperienced and our fan-base is simply too impatient.

So what would our strongest team look like with three at the back? Would it be 3-4-3, 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2? Let’s discuss this on the blog today.

I have given it some thought and came up with the following formation and line-up:

All of a sudden it seems we have plenty of players who will compete with each other to make it into this set-up; there is quality in all positions and by moving the line of five in midfield effectively between defence and the two central attackers we should be both solid when we are defending AND on the turnovers, as well as aiding the attack much better.

The above team would use the whole of the attacking area much more and focus less on continuous, narrow and claustrophobic wing-play on either the right or left. This is tiring and also very un-Arsenal like. We have always been a team that has a strong and dominant midfield in the good Wenger eras (and then use the wings too of course). Arsenal have the players to dominate midfield and to use the area in front of the opponent’s ‘D’ much better. But Arteta has to play with a nr10 and it is exactly what he has been doing recently. In an ideal world he buys a beast of a nr10 who creates and scores bag fulls of assists and goals. But this may have to wait till the summer and we have a few players who may well turn into such a beast: Willian has the experience but is still to find his form; Martinelli could revel in that position once he is fully fit again, and of course we have ESR too who now is knocking hard on the door for first team opportunities. I also think that Saka in the hole could work a treat.

By playing more through the middle we are less reliant on aerial qualities of our CFs, and thus use their strengths much better. They need to be mobile and link up well with the midfield. And maybe that is the biggest challenge for Arteta at the moment. Many may think that Giroud is missed most for his aerial ability but his hold up play was equally important: it created space and a solid passing opportunity for other attackers and both Sanchez and Ozil profited from this continuously.

Auba and Laca are not great at playing the ‘Giroud-role’ and playing both of them just does not make sense to me anymore. Here Arteta may have to be bold and force into the team the likes of Balogun, Eddie or even Moller. And when the TW opens in just a few weeks time, he can get us a Giroud like player on loan or permanently, so we have a plan B again and those wonderful crosses from Tierney, Saka, Soares and Willian will not go to waste.

Anyway, those are my thoughts but what are yours? How can Arteta quickly get back to winning ways?

By TotalArsenal.

72 thoughts on “Arsenal Back to Basics: 3-4-1-2 With New Blood in Attack and Proper Nr10

  • Excellent analysis TA. I also think that we could try Luis in what you see as the Xhaka/AMN role. He could provide some of the penetrative passes that we are missing right now.

  • Agreed and good points, personally would put Laca in the 10 spot with Balagoun and Auba in front. I would also have Partey and AMN or Chambers in front of a three of Gabriel Luiz and Mari. Don’t want to see Xhaka, Bellerin and others you’ve mentioned no where near this team ever again…as you say, it’s a short term measure to bring some stability and points till Mikel can fix things permanently. As you say of late I think he/Mikel got over confident and trusting of the dross we back to what worked for now.

  • Good post Total, 3 4 1 2 then?

    Is Willian effective enough to play between the lines as that was probably how Arteta saw him when he arrived and if he can’t do it consistently then maybe Smith Rowe can if he can stay fit, or maybe Pepe even?

    Aubameyang and Lacazette got us to Baku playing as a pair in the summer of 2019, can they do it again in 2021, maybe? But if we get good offers in January it’ll be very difficult to refuse given where we are financially and with all the young talent we have that needs exposure.

    If Balogun stays as I really hope he does then we could have as many as 5 young strikers for Arteta to use and keep happy – Martinelli, Moller, Balogun, Nketiah, John Jules – and if Auba stays then how will that work it’s way out?

  • Less than three weeks before the January Window opens, what will the club bring us?

    For me, I would like to see us sign another big, fast, powerful, physical centre midfielder to aid and cover for Partey. We can’t pin all our hopes on one player he needs some assistance just as Patrick Vieira needed his Emmanuel Petit, 50% of the load. Latterly we saw Paddy teamed with Edu and Gilberto and that’s when we were at our best.

  • OX10, agreed Luiz in midfield next to Partey would be nice to try. Mari and Gabriel can play central CB and the combined leadership of Luiz and Partey could give the midfield real balls. I am a big Xhaka fan but maybe he would play best as a left CB going forward.

  • Cheers Steve, we differ about Xhaka but I am open to new ways of doing things. I think Arteta has been messing with his role recently and we are not seeing the best of him. Chambers in midfield is attractive too.

    I am not so sure about Laca in the hole. Plenty of energy and aggression but it is all so frantic with him. A nr10 for me has an element of calm and calculation about them… stillness in the eye of the storm, and Laca for me is a hustler. I see him as a good nr12 – supersub. Somebody to add to the attack when we are desperate for a goal and are pressing the opponent really hard.

  • Cheers Kev, I would give Willian the spot for at least 5-10 games, but a few youngsters, including ESR, may convince Arteta that they are ready.

    Agreed that letting Laca go would make sense this January

  • Not sure re getting another central midfielder, Kev. IF Arteta plays a nr10 then he can allow both central midfielders to work together and operate as a wall, rather than needing to stretch them vertically in order to help the attack (for which we paid so badly v Spuddies for example).

    What do you think of playing AMN, Luiz or Chambers next to Partey or Elneny?

  • Good one, I like the 3-4-1-2 or a 3-5-2 it will make us solid again considering that we seems to have lot of CBS wiht chambers and Mari coming back. It alos gives a young striker a chance to alongside Auba which will be good. ESR could be given a free role as 10 others could be tried too. Cup games offer enough games to try different players in these positions. I think this season would be a up and down season with lots of experimentation. Hoping that we get the requisite 40 points fast , yes iam nervous about the dreaded Relegation word.

  • That is a good point about the 40 points, Madhu. The longer it takes before we will a couple of game the more nervous everybody will get, with the risk then of it all spiraling out of control.

  • Best mode of play should be what he used towards the end last season, it was ugly but got sweet results. I know for a surety he prolly thought they are there yet in terms of quality, that’s why he’s been playing in the recent mode and it’s also clear they can’t cut it with that kind of play, they just don’t have that type of quality yet!

  • Thanks TA for this set of ideas, ideals. Been pining for a return to a 3-back set for several weeks. Little has changed with the makeup of the squad, but the formation.

    Long been a student of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school. I’d continuously use advantage until proven wrong. Keep doing it, until they stop it. And I kind of get why Arteta felt he could accelerate his process. Everything had worked until Week 4. If he could coax a mediocre team out of their doldrums– and transform them into overachievers? Then maybe they can be good at where he wanted to go to next.

    Just that he had motivated this group to their collective ceiling. Mikel was able to extract the best from this group of players– within the confines of their respective abilities. He put round pegs– in round holes. Gave guidance within a narrow structure tactically, minimized defensive exposure, and relied on a red-hot goal scorer. Which worked as a tried and true template nearly 4 months.

    What I ‘get’ about Mikel’s perspective? Is his belief that he could use this same set of players in a more open attacking formation– and ‘coach them up’. To get the best from them again. Except. It was now square pegs into those round holes. The crossing and switching of the ball that made the attack unpredictable and effective in a 3-back (3-5-2), was now, in a 4-back (4-3-3) setup compressed into the final third so tightly that it narrowed crosses down to acute angles. Instead of having five players in the final third– often now there are 6 or seven. Never anymore the switching or long passing from the back that had become a staple from Luiz and Tierney to Auba. Or the overlapping runs into the corners by AMN or Saka– or even Tierney with Xhaka dropping into defense.

    In my version of the 3-5-2 — I’d aim to see something as close to the one that played together through the Summer and early part of this season:


    In AMN and Saka you have a pair of players who have held down the fullback spots on their respective sides in a 4-back. Elneny and Xhaka have been deputized as defenders too. In that 2-bank set of eight– you have several good long- and through-ball passers. This group had been so very good at drawing the opposition out from playing a low block. Making defenses commit more players into midfield.

    By decompressing the final third you allow Saka/Tierney to cross from less acute angles– as well as make space for Pepe to cut in. All of it to give Auba more room to move. Along the touchline with space to run at or behind defenders.

    Wasn’t so long ago– this worked like a charm.


  • Fine comment, Jw. You have indeed partly inspired this post. I like your formation too but am less keen on Ceballos in the centre. I think we have better options.

  • Niles is definitely worth a punt alongside Partey but I’m not sure about Luiz as he’s going in the summer so I’d be more inclined to use him less, Chambers is an interesting option but for me I’d be looking for more quality and I think we’d have to bring that in.

  • I’m broadly supportive of the manager, he’s had a lot to contend with and by and large done everything that we could have expected from him although his inexperience has maybe surfaced a tad during this recent period since losing to Aston Villa.

    My biggest criticism has been his conservatism with his subs, now I know that there’s a lot of politics, ego and seniority to deal with in a big squad but I’d like to think that he’d have the strength of character to use some more imagination with his 7 subs.

    We shall see I guess….

  • Good topic for discussion, TA. Well, something has to give and if it means going back to what we were successful at/with, then so be it. I don’t subscribe to some of the (knee jerk) near wholesale changes someone (or two) has proffered up here; all we need is a tweak in formation and personnel and to go one game at a time (OGAAT). It is the right thing to look to win those next 3, get 9 points and see where it gets us. Arteta needs to bring back the winning spirit to the team and I feel if he can shake it up a bit, we should be good.

    The formation, I agree with TA, should be 3-4-2-1, or variants of it but with the 3 at the back: Luis, Gabriel, Tierney. The 2 at the base of the midfield should be Xhaka and Elneny, with Partey coming in for Xhaka (I like and appreciate the work he does but am afraid he is starting to get flak again and I am not sure he won’t break soon), when fit; let the fans miss him a bit. The rest of the 4 would be AM-N and Saka. The front 3 (two roving between flank and midfield: Nelson/Willian, Pepe & Auba. Of course, Auba is the goal scoring forward, but it helps him to drift in and out, tucking in from the left and allowing Saka to bomb forward down that flank, thus creating an overload of forward men to pick out in Pepe, Auba, Nelson and maybe, AMN.

    My concern is whether Arteta will show that much respect to Burnley and play with 3 at the back.

  • The blog will be 10 years old in Sept 2022. I know that is a while but if we are still going then we will have a little party in London, or Canada if GN5 is not willing or able to travel 😊- TA

    Well, that sounds like a plan! Worth looking forward to….

  • This post was exceptional T. Lots covered and great ideas, suggestions. Same for the comments.

    I have to say I love JWs characterization of things. It’s exactly what I felt, that Mikel using conservative setups to maximize our personnel, he squeezed everything he could out of it, and those successes were basically our ceiling.

    I think to aim for a very, very competetive top 4 spot, he rightly felt we needed to be a bit more expansive, and we just aren’t ready for it. Partey alone was not nearly enough. Plus there are a few mistakes in how he used the players we have.

    I could only add so much to what’s been said. At the back , I only like Luiz in the middle of the three. I think he’s less mobile than Xhaka so I don’t like the idea of him in midfield, especially at this stage of his career. Xhaka to me seems only useful playing deep as an extra defender and distributor. Many of us seem to agree it might be time to phase him out. Ceballos, I think has uses and would try him as a more creative midfielder who is also more dynamic since he’s played deeper mostly. His use would depend on the system and circumstances. His best performances have been when we are chasing games and his task was more to create than hang back.

    I love the calls to use the young guys like Smith Rowe but I’m afraid Arteta won’t promote most guys to league games. I want to see Nelson more, who’s not such a novice. I don’t think he’s likely to try Balogun, if at all. Ainsley adds a lot and I don’t think he gets enough use. So basically I’m afraid that what we’re all calling for is less realistic unless Arteta changes his style somewhat.

    His way may be the more slow, mature path, and we may all be impatient. It’s easy for me to suggest taking chances on kids but maybe a little flexibility on his part might find a good middle ground. I don’t think we suggest anything too outrageous. With Partey out, using AMN in the league is not too much to ask if others arent doing the job.

    I hope we can add some quality in the windows, but I don’t like to expect too much, and that’s another reason why we need, out of necessity, to give the youth more chances to fill holes that we might not be able to afford buying to fill.

    Eris, I’ve always told my gooner friends that if I visit London I hope to meet some of my blog friends in person, so a gathering would be a dream to attend.

  • Honestly as an arsenal fan, it’s very sad to see arsenal in the position they’re with the squad it contains, it doesn’t make sense the way we’re loosing games compared to how we’re playing the game, I see every position is occupied by the right and talented player, in addition every position theres more than player for that particular position, and if its number 10, we have a lot of players that can play the number 10 role, in the likes of willian instead of playing him in the wing, we have Dani Ceballos who can fit in comfortable as well as Lacazette, Aubameyang is a great goal scorer in the world, a world class goal scorer, what he luck is a supplier, the whole team rely on him to score goals, it’s true that if he doesn’t score, then there’s no goals, people are critising auba because he is not scoring, or he is out of form, that not the issue, auba need a supplier who deliver that sensational pass to him, and I personal I believe he can deliver that exceptional, because he is capable of that, but who is there to feed him, arteta must stop childish reactions and bring back Mesut Ozil at the number 10 role, then he can do the rest of the squad the way he wants it, I believe it can achieve, we need to do whatever it can take, but something must change in the team, if Ozil can’t be included in the team, then arteta needs to shuffle the team, we have nothing to loose, we have lost it all already with the first team home and away, so we can try the Europa league squad and maybe it can build the momentum and encourage the superstars to focus on where they’re failing, if winning options can be far from being achieved, if I was arteta, I could bring back Ozil in the squad, I believe jus only two of ozil touches in his involvement in the game, can change the whole game. Its time to put aside personal issues with players and focus on how we can save the team, Ozil still under arsenal contract, and he is a player who wants to play, we all know ozil, he is not an athletism on the pitch, he is lazy all that, but he have something special that I believe can bring what is missing in the squad. Another thing that I saw in the spurs game, Arsenal lack that aerial individual who will go for the high balls as well as the beautiful crosses being delivered in the box by bellerin and the sensational Tierney, we miss Olivia Giroud for sure, because he was an all purpose striker, when it comes to aerial balls and any kind of delivery inside the box, that’s where giroud is better than aubameyang, I have a formation for Arteta if he can try to build the team from my point of view (1) Leno (2) Three defenders, that is Holding on the right side, Mari at the center and Gabriel on the left, Then Xhaka and partey in the defensive midfield role and (bellerin/Maitland niles on the right and Tierney on left) (wingbacks) then Ozil/willian/Ceballos in front of xhaka and partey, the twin strike with auba and lacazette, try my team Arteta and see the outcome, iam an arsenal’s great and long serving fan, its time to see arsenal back in winning ways. That squad is more than enough to deliver the happiness around arsenal family

  • Great ideas. I would like to see Willian and Ceballos compete for that number 10 role. With the Arsenal goal drought ongoing, two strikers may be what we need. There’s plenty of options up top: Auba, Laca, Pepe, Eddie N., Balogun, and Martinelli. Any mixture of those combos who are in form should get the nod to start.

  • Asher (great name) … interesting what you say that each position is occupied by a talented player… that, I agree, but the right player, not exactly. Sometimes I don’t feel the talents are being used right, and when it comes to the attack, I blame the manager more than the players. He would certainly be more fairly judged if he was able to buy to support his vision though.

    I don’t think Auba necessarily needs perfect passes fed to him, but he’s not even getting decent ones and I can feel his frustration. 40 crosses in a game by us is cutting down so many of our possessions where we could be trying to work the ball in for much higher percentage attempts. Not just from PEA, but also Lacazette and everyone. Even Tierney, who is an excellent crosser of the ball, shouldn’t be so limited, because he’s also a great passer in general, he can be a little more like Nacho around the opponents box.

    I don’t think bringing in a Giroud type player is what we need. We need to change what we’ve been trying since we already have lots of players who excel with the ball on the ground.

  • About the 3 left footers, TA, it won’t be the first time those three start as the 3 CBs at the back, you know. That was the back 3 against Wolves, for instance till Luis had to be withdrawn at half time. Luis is able to use both feet, actually.

    Jync, same thought I expressed about the suggestions for wholesale introduction of the kids in order to improve results. Arteta won’t be doing that because that is a huge step up for those young players. Saka, Nelson, AMN and Nketiah have been longer around the first team and should all be getting the games they need.

    Anyway, I am glad I am not the one who has to make those decisions for a living. Tough job for Arteta.

  • A few unexpected results in the EPL today. In making predictions for the games, somehow I forgot Villa had Emiliano Martinez and Everton had Ancelotti (an ex-Chelsea Manager). 🤷🏽‍♂️😇

    Still, no skin off my nose for both losing sides (Wolves and Chelsea).

  • I also think that the the.lacks footballing intelligence. Dare I say the same about Arteta. I alos question is is man management or may be his initiation. What I mean is that he was under Pep and has learnt from him and.i believe is his Achilles. The reason i say is that Pep can afford to banish someone from the team and the others will respect due to his career. Pep can play the way he what’s every game as he has players to do that. Unfortunately Arteta has neither nor the career or the players to be play the kind of football he wants to. The likes of viera, Freddy is doing the hard way. Thye are probably more pragmatic and knows the hard yards of being a football coach.
    The players doesn’t seem to have any footballing intelligence. Take for instance Partey going away. It’s almost nearing half time, the attack is the same side as you were, take a card if need be just take the man out for the team. Either ways you are not playing for sometime. Alternatively shout at your mate to cover you. Xhaka knows he is not fast why does he goes to opposition third leaving CB’s isolated when you know that Suits are playing the waiting game. You have to question the footballing intelligence of players.

  • Bellerin is a right back who in a 4 can’t defend ie tackle , and in a 5 cat cross ie poor final ball. Hasn’t had 3 consecutive games were he is above 6/10 in the five years since Sagan departed .Bacary was always 6+ / 10 every game he played. A proper right back .Why does a club of arsenal stature not recognise this .

  • Bellerin is a right back who in a 4 can’t defend ie tackle , and in a 5 can’t cross ie poor final ball. Hasn’t had 3 consecutive games were he is above 6/10 in the five years since Sagan departed .Bacary was always 6+ / 10 every game he played. A proper right back .Why does a club of arsenal stature not recognise this .

  • Hi Eris, didn’t know Luiz is properly two footed. Still he has to play central for me and I prefer a right sided CB on the right.

    Indeed some good results for us yesterday and let’s win our game tonight?!

  • John, Sagna was a different class and we have had a log patience with Bells. We did the same with Gibssie and it cost us too. Hector is a really nice guy but unfortunately not cutting the mustard.

  • Howdy everyone, just catching up, Asher and Fakunle, if Arteta brought Ozil back after everything that has happened then he would lose all credibility from his squad, he would in essence be finished.

    I understand that many fans love Mesut, but his time has gone, we as a fan base just have to accept that…

  • John B, before his recent injury Bellerin was one of our best players as was Holding, Bellerin under Emery was literally patrolling the entire right flank on his own, with little or no support. He played almost every league and cup game because we had no alternatives in the squad at that time, he played when he should have rested and it cost him a year of his career. It’s a long slow road to recover from an ACL as we will discover when Martinelli returns, I hope he isn’t discarded if his level is below what we remember.

    I personally think that Hector is stale, I think he needs a new challenge, maybe Italy or Spain – it happens, it’s life, but for Arsenal we need to maybe look at Ligue Un. They are currently in crisis over TV funding and there are some rich pickings to be had if our ownership gives Edu and Arteta carte blanch to take advantage.

    I’ve been told that there’s a really good right back at Metz, there is also Max Aarons at Norwich and Todd Cantwell is a good player. Arsenal are a bit slow in signing these players, we could have got Grealish or Maddison or the boy at Salzburg or the at Lyon if we were proactive in the market, but now it’s too late, therefore we should be sourcing the next generation, moving for them before they make a name for themselves as we did with Saliba.

  • I’d always be scouting Ajax players Total, I think we missed out with Ziyach… (?)

    The line up Totes, hmm same old -same old I’d guess with hopefully some imagination on the bench?

  • If I was picking the team Total it would be 3 4 3.

    Tierney Gabriel, Holding
    Niles Xhaka Ceballos Bellerin
    Saka Aubameyang Willian

    I’d have Nketiah and Balogun on the bench, Lacazette, Elneny, Chambers, Smith Rowe and Runarsson.

  • The good news guys is that Legall has been in touch and he is okay after what sounds like a worrying C19 related time in his family. All is good again so that is a great relief 😌

    He hopes to comment on BK again soon 😊👍🏿👍🏿

  • Nice to hear LeGall is alright, TA. Look forward to his posts. While at it, perhaps if PE is willing to share his contact with you, I could look to call on him, now I am back in Nigeria.

    Kev, your 11 looks the likely pick by Arteta, except for Elneny (for Ceballos). Personally, I’d drop Bellerin for Maitland-Niles, but that won’t happen.

  • Unless it’s a fitness issue, I see no point in having a guy who is leaving next summer in Mustafi on the bench and omitting Chambers and/or Mari. In fact given the height in the Burnley team I’d I’ve thought that having Mari to come on is quite beneficial…

  • Leno,
    Bells, Holding, Gab, Tierney
    Elneny, Xhaka, Saka
    Willian, Laca, Auba


    Holding, Gab, Tierney
    Bells, Elneny, Xhaka, Saka

  • Arsenal
    Leno, Bellerin, Gabriel, Holding, Tierney, Xhaka, Elneny, Saka, Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang

    Subs: Runarsson, Ceballos, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Willock, Nketiah, Smith Rowe.

    Pope, Lowton, Tarkowski, Mee, Taylor, Westwood, Brownhill, McNeil, Brady, Wood, Rodriguez

    Subs: Peakock-Farrel, Pieters, Long, Dunne, Benson, Vydra, Barnes.

  • Will be nice to get the 3 points and a few goals by Auba. He’s scored more vs Burnley than any other EPL side. Let’s hope the lads help him get the first of many tonight.

    Looks like a 4-2-3-1, or some variant of it.

  • Of course, this can change to a 3 at the back, depending on the mood of things, with Saka and Bellerin on.

  • After what Pepe did this amounts to sabotage by Xhaka on this one I knew VAR was going to take a look and that he would be sent off.

  • Arsenal and arteta need a win. Don’t worry, the captain and former captain will step up, oh wait…

    Can’t make this stuff up.

  • Arsenal should go back its traditional line up of 4.3.3, it was going well, they should play Niles number 2 let Berelinbe benched, and the captain is NOT doing much, and I knew when emilano was sold arsenal will get a problem with Leno, let Leno first be on the bench. Ateta made a blander to sell the keeper who had at least brought competition. Ozil saga also.

  • Xhaka just did what made guendozi out of the team…. I’ll wait to see if Arteta will have that muscle to freeze him out of the team too. They can only get back to winning ways when özil is back to the team. For now, they can only try their luck. Next game, play only the Europa boys…. Let Auba rest and reflect on himself and the team, he still got a lot to give.

  • Other teams are not under pressure as you say, so arsenal is the only team hit by covid 19? I think arteta is not not fit enough to stand out for this great club.

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