Come on you know you have missed me writing about Arsenal switching back to the old formation to bring back the glory days. Where has Gooner (442) Dave66 been?
The Champions League Final this Saturday brings it all so sharply into focus for me and it has been on my mind constantly since Bayern humiliated Barcelona over 2 legs in the Semi-Final. It is lovely for us Gooners to have pride in beating Bayern in their own backyard, just as we love talking about the glory night at the Emirates when we came back from the dead to defeat Barcelona in 2011. Reality of course is that Barca then and Bayern now are better than Arsenal but it is the new German efficient machine that interests me the most.
There are two things that have truly struck a chord with me about the German giants who have conquered all domestically.Both observations make me draw comparisons with the Arsenal side of 2002-04 and both are things that many had consigned to the football dustbin, primarily due ironically to Barcelona.
The first observation revolves around size and physicality. For me as an impartial football supporter the semi between Barca and Bayern was like watching Arsenal and anyone in 2003/4. By this I mean 9 times out of 10 our opposition were beaten in the tunnel before the players even crossed the white line. The sheer size and presence of the Invincibles intimidated any opposition barring the very top sides and games were won before a ball was kicked. Vieira, Gilberto, Henry, Campbell were towering figures and even Bergkamp and Pires were 6 footers. It is why so many of our games in that era were won in the first 20 minutes.
However as well as being giants they were of course superb footballers and technicians of the game. I see the same in the Bayern side of 2012/13 and in particular through the spine of the side with Dante, Van Buyten, Martinez, Schweinsteiger. Muller and Mandzuikic. However good the nimble skillsters of Barcelona are, and we know they are the best; I never felt they could live with the pure force of Bayern. All through the first leg in the Allianz as I ran on a treadmill at the gym I was thinking this is just like watching the Arsenal team of 2002 to 2004. It showed that 2 in central midfield in a disciplined team formation can if they are the right 2 dominate 3. Let’s not forget those 3 are Busquets, Iniesta and Xavi as well.
Arsenal of course, since the premature break up of that great 04 side have increasingly gone for smaller, trickier players capable of playing anywhere wide or in midfield. Rosicky, Hleb, Fabregas, Nasri, Cazorla are all players in the mould of a Barcelona player and of course the tactics and formation has shifted the continental style as well. Does this trend need to be reversed and do Arsenal need a tad more physicality and I am not just talking about one big lad in midfield here? (Morgan Schneiderlin anyone?)
The second main observation and you knew this was coming is that I would argue that the Bayern of 2012/13 are playing our exact system of 2003/4 with very similar results. Saturday night will indeed see the Arsenal formation of 2003/4 as modelled by Munich doing battle with the Arsenal formation of 2012/13 as modelled by Dortmund. Consequently as a Gooner I find the encounter intriguing on more levels than as an exciting final.
I am told by many that 442, or variations of it simply don’t work in the modern game. We can argue all day on it but from my perspective a fluid 442 played well by a disciplined well drilled side can still flourish as we have seen with Bayern. Indeed we have seen Bayern overcome the might Barcelona and on Saturday night we will see the ultimate battle of the games most popular formations on the world stage.
I was listening to Rafa Honigstein, the German football pundit on the radio telling how the signing of Javi Martinez, although it seemed expensive at the time has completed this Bayern team. Schweinsteiger is not really a holding midfielder nor is he an attacking midfielder but having Martinez just sitting behind him allows him to prod and probe, find his passing range and control the tempo of the games. Well Rafa you could have been describing the relationship between and the resulting impact of Gilberto Silva for Patrick Vieira.
Many will say the Bayern formation is more 4231 like our current system but I have spoken to a few German fans I trust who say different and to me it is different. It is more a 4132 that changes when the side is on the defensive. It was the discipline of their performance and how obvious it was that each player new their roles so well that impressed at the Emirates in February. They did not so much out play us as out think us and out discipline us. When the side is on the defensive Muller will work back from his second striker position into the midfield just as Bergkamp did for us and I have to say Rooney does so effectively for United.
The graphic below illustrates how I see Bayern shaping up versus Dortmund on Saturday regardless of the fact their opponents will play a more classic Arsenal like 4231. Safe in the knowledge that in defensive mode Muller can drop back slightly into the midfield and Schweinsteiger can drop alongside Martinez. As I said previously it is all about discipline and each individual totally understanding their own role.
Perhaps the formation looks familiar in the same way that Martinez and Schweinsteiger are the modern day Gilberto and Paddy. Here’s how we looked in 2003/4:
In the same way as Schweinsteiger and Muller drop when out of possession Viera and Bergkamp did for Arsenal 9 years ago. Intelligent and dominant players who back then for the Gunners and now for Bayern knew/know exactly what is required both with the ball and crucially without it.
As I have said on many occasions I am not advocating a complete reversal to our side of 2004 both in formation and in physicality but I would be keen to see us mix it up. What I can say with some certainty whatever the result on Saturday is that Munich have proved beyond all doubt that their version of 442, 4132 does work in 2013 both domestically and in Europe. Do we have the players now to make the Bayern system work for Arsenal? Possibly not. Are they available? Yes I am quite certain that they are.
Not sure which way to call it on Saturday but I am sure the best bookmakers for the Champions League will know. For my money the powerful 4132 of Bayern Munich (Arsenal 04) will edge the more artful Borussia Dortmund (Arsenal 13) and what I hope will be a thriller.
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