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Arsene: Time To Switch To 4-4-2?

Two years ago, Arsene instrumented a major change in the way Arsenal play. He reshuffled the team from his preferred, traditional 442 and implemented a new, modern 433 strongly based on Barcelona’s approach.

The change was implemented across the whole of Arsenal football club, right down to the grass roots and pre-teen sides. The change seemed to give many players a better chance to express themselves, and, most importantly, Cesc had less defensive responsibilities and could the focal point of our attacking play.

My version of 4-3-3 from 09/10

The system also relied on Alex Song maturing into the holding midfield role – which he did admirably- as well as pressing from the midfield so as to stop long balls over the top of our high line. Most important though was the role of the lone striker, but in Robin Van Persie, we soon discovered that we had a truly world class player in our ranks.

It seemed to work very well at first after a 6-1 win away at Everton, and we enjoyed free, fluid attacking football as well as the hope of a title challenge. Van Persie’s inevitable injury did hamper the campaign, but we were still free-scoring and only carried out our classic collapse towards the end of the campaign.

Over time, due to Cesc’s increasing influence but also the introduction of Wilshere too, the system slowly adapted into more of a 4-2-3-1 with Jack giving the team a perfect balance and Nasri, Arshavin and Walcott, providing multiple goals and assists from the flanks.

However with the new system, we have still enjoyed the same old problems, and at times our defence looks more vulnerable than ever. The wingers fail to provide enough protection for the fullbacks – a factor which compromised to Clichy’s many errors and I think subsequent departure – and we fail to have enough people in the box.

My version of 4-2-3-1 last season

Sure you can argue we have beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona with this formation, but our main problem lies in the Premiership, where time and time again we fail to break down teams with 11 men behind the ball, especially at home.

That is why I think that next season we should implement a 4-4-2 formation. Not in every game, as last season we adequately showed we were capable of beating anyone with our 4-2-3-1 formation, but in games against lesser opposition where teams don’t even bother to attack. The home games mainly and when we use our second team in the cup.

The more attacking formation would provide more entertaining football and should produce more successful results. Last season we managed to lose at home to Newcastle and West Brom (two newly promoted teams) and went through boring 0-0 draws against Sunderland and Blackburn as our title challenge faded. If we had started those games with a more attacking 4-4-2 we may have fared better, and who knows what could have happened?

Possible 4-4-2 next season (rather include new striker+ centre-back though, and Cesc)

4-4-2 also has defensive benefits, as the fullbacks have more protection and the central midfield works hard defensively, and in attacking moves. In Song and Wilshere, we could implicate a similar partnership to the Vieira Gilberto one. Song carries out defensive duties, whilst Wilshere plays a box to box role.

If Cesc stays too, despite people saying he cannot play in a classic 4-4-2, he can slot in to the midfield easily. After-all I am suggesting that we use this formation against the so called “lesser teams” where we will be attacking for most of the game, so Cesc would not have to rely too much on his defensive duties anyway. He has also had one of his best seasons in an Arsenal shirt in a 4-4-2 alongside Flamini, where he managed 13 goals and 22 assists in his 45 appearances, not too shabby for a 20/21 year old.

Among other players, Van Persie would also benefit from the system. Whilst he has coped more than admirably in the lone striker role (and arguably improved as a player) his best position lies in the second striker role, where his creative play can be expressed to the best of his ability.

Moreover, given Walcott’s recent statement of his desire to play up front in the coming season, now could be a perfect opportunity. With quality on the wings from Nasri (hopefully), Arshavin, Rosicky, Vela, Gervinho and possibly Miyaichi; Theo’s position could be under threat, so a switch to up front could bring many answers to our questions on squad selection.

Having two formations can also give us a plan B in times where we are struggling. We only have to look at Manchester United to see the benefits of rotating the squad and formation to fit the opposition, they are one of the most tactically astute teams in the world and their trophy cabinet speaks volumes about it’s advantages.

This Arsenal team has the chance to go as far as it wants to, but Wenger’s task is how to find the way for the players to best express themselves and 4-4-2 could give some players that chance.

Here’s to next season!

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  1. Benson Dotun

    July 25, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I really like this analysis

  2. Bogz

    July 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    We can only do this if cesc goes. You mentioned his stats during the 07/08 seasons as a pointer to him being able to play in the middle of a 4-4-2. You seem to have forgotten that the only reason why we did so well, and why Cesc did so well was due to Flamini’s ability to run for days on end and cover the space Cesc left. When it was Gilberto and Cesc in 06/07 you can see that we didn’t do that well, since Gilberto didn’t have the stamina to do a two man job in midfield on his own. Flamini gave Cesc the opportunity to bascially forgo his defensive responsibilities, and then after he left, we went to the 4-3-3, to once again let Cesc ignore his defensive responsilbities.

    • Davi

      July 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm

      I agree on flamini, but since he left, we’ve never looked as good on a consistent basis, even with a 3-man midfield. Imo, the only way 4-4-2 would really work is if cesc changed position, either to RM or as more of a 2nd striker, which I actually think he could do well.
      I had hoped we would sign this vidal character with cesc leaving. Then we could have had him and song in the middle with wilshere on one side and nasri or gervinho on the other as I still think jack is better as an attacking midfielder with more freedom than the central midfielder he really became last season. In any case, vidal joined Juventus now, but a similar type of midfielder would be nice, whereas we seem to be linked with fabregas-style players as replacements.
      I really hope we do switch formation nonetheless because I really think walcott would be miles better up front, and vela could cover for him – I’ve never seen carlos play badly as a striker in a 4-4-2, it’s his position and he is brilliant at it.

      • tuneric

        July 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

        arsenal make some players look useless.who told you song cannot do the job?if given the responsibility,i believe he can.Vidal does not have his guile,strength and speed!
        check out likes of Alonso,basquet,Gilberto and even song @charlton on-loan.

  3. Jack

    July 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I doubt very much we’ll change formation. We don’t have the strikers for it and would upset our blossoming midfield three.

  4. Cosmos

    July 25, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    4-4-2 is dead will not work with our possesion play. 4-2-3-1 lets us form more triangles, hence someone is usaully open for the pass. Won’t happen in 4-4-2, it might work with lower teams, but not against top 4 opposition.

    • Davi

      July 25, 2011 at 8:20 pm

      But we haven’t had any real success with this formation. Sure we can pull it off every now and again against the big sides if we play a little more defensively, but that was always the case. We would often switch to a 4-5-1 formation in the past, sometimes due to injuries, and it usually worked pretty well.
      Our fullbacks were voted the best in the league last time we had a 4-4-2 formation with some good players in 2007/08, but they’ve been relatively poor ever since. They haven’t become worse players, they just don’t get the protection they need.
      The formation we play only really suits fabregas and arguably arshavin and theo. RVP has adapted well (as he always does), but I don’t think it really plays to his strengths or anyone else’ in the squad.

  5. Albert

    July 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I actually think it is time for a reassesment regarding the 4-4-2 however unfortunately the players we have are not correct for the formation. We simply do not have the wingers for this formation. Our team is now stocked with central midfielders and forwards, people like gervinho and arshavin are simply not midfields who will do what you hope the 4-4-2 will provide, namely protecting the full backs.

    • Davi

      July 25, 2011 at 8:27 pm

      I don’t think that’s true about gervinho – that’s not what I’ve heard about him at least.
      Btw, we always used to play with CMs rather than wingers. Ljungberg was a CM and Pires was never a winger. We always played with attacking fullbacks and wide midfielders who were more comfortable moving inside. We of course had the odd winger over the years like overmars and arguably walcott, but that’s not traditionally how we have played under wenger. Players like nasri, arshavin (and wilshere) are perfect wenger wide players, and I think gervinho is well capable of running inside as well as down the wing.

  6. pacman

    July 25, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    We should use 4-4-2 against lesser sides at home.. Othervise it should stay as it is.. Against top teams we did ok at home with the 4-2-3-1.. Our away record in the league was the best no need to chance that..

  7. woodyd

    July 25, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    4-1-2-1-2 without Cesc. Song and weakside midfielder rotate to cover wing and deep center on counter. Nasri plays in the hole supporting Van Persie and Walcott. Ramsey mf right and Wilshire mf left.

  8. bradster

    July 25, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    I’d prefer if we played a 4-1-3-2. We can have our overlapping backs, a solid hard working defensive mid. A centre mid with 2 attacking mids wide and 2 strikers.

  9. Waleed

    July 25, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Your whole argument is based on the premise that 4-4-2 is somehow “more attacking.”
    It’s not. Formations are neutral. It is the style and the type of players you use that determine how attacking or defensive you are.
    And the formation matters more when teams are defending, not so much when teams attack anymore. We play a very fluid system where our players take up a variety of positions. Replacing Cesc with a striker will not change much in how our players move against a parked bus.
    It will however affect how we press and defend and that could mean that teams, instead of parking the bus against us, actually are able to compete with us in midfield and make a game of it.

    4-4-2 is certainly not the answer and will not solve our problems against defensive tactics.

  10. Adeleke fataih

    July 25, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I prefare cesc to leave than nasri and we need better who will play along nasri

  11. Arsenal4Life

    July 25, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    We can play different ways, each formation will suite different players!

    Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Gibbs
    Song Wilshere
    Walcott Nasri Gervinho
    Robin v. Persie


    Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Gibbs
    Gervinho Song Wilshere Nasri
    Walcott RobinvPersie

    or (I would like most)

    Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Gibbs
    Nasri Song Wilshere Nasri

    • olsen

      July 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm

      Surely Nasri cant play on both flanks??

  12. arsene

    July 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    442 isnt necessarily a more attacking formation than 4231. as long as the central midfielders make runs into the box, which ours rarely do, parked buses can be broken down

  13. Abrokinla

    July 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    I think we should stick to our previous formation. But we should beef up our defence.

  14. armagharsenal

    July 26, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Iv been saying this for a long time but we need a box to box midfielder. De Rossi is the man for me with Song as back up and Wilshere in the middle as well. Lett Wilshere have more freedom to move up the pitch and we also need to sign a natural winger like Mata.
    Sagna Cahill Vermaelen Cissoko
    Nasri De Rossi Wilshere Mata
    V.Persie Walcott or Gervinho

  15. Waleed

    July 26, 2011 at 3:42 am

    Oh and PLEASE our 433 is NOT based on Barcelona’s approach. Our style is not the same as Barcelona’s.
    Wenger played 433 in the 80s with Monaco long before Barcelona ever adopted it. So it is Wenger’s formation not something he copied from Barcelona.

  16. arsenal4eva

    July 26, 2011 at 5:48 am

    Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen Gibbs
    Gervinho RvP MATA

  17. arsenal4eva

    July 26, 2011 at 5:50 am


  18. Aussie Jack

    July 26, 2011 at 7:35 am

    I`m no expert at formations I`ll leave that to others but watching the Barcelona v Arsenal game from Spain last season I was impressed by the way Barcelona retained pocession and gave Arsenal a footballing lesson by working in small triangles. Each triangle seemed to pass the ball about four times then it would move on to the next phase, another triangle. The repositioning had the Gunners chasing shadows. Just my observation I`m not offereing an opinion.

  19. Calabar boy

    July 26, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Logical analysis, i think it will help us alot when we need a plan B in an evolving game

  20. Mike

    July 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I don’t value your opinion as you’ve said that song has developed into a great holding midfielder. Anyone who has been watching Arsenal will tell you positionally, the man is a fool. He spent half his time ahead of Jack and sometimes even Robin! Defensively he is no better. He becomes over excited and clatters into back of players blaming Koscielny for the foul. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get a new DM to strengthen the defense. His role on an opposition counterattack is to either stop the move before the halfway line or become a third CB as the LB/RB would be further up the pitch. He can’t do either.

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