Barring the usual negativity about Wenger’s failings in the transfer market and the thinness of our squad at the back there is one major talking point among the Arsenal fan base at present.
Any of these comments would be common place:-
- Ozil is wasted out wide and looks disinterested.
- Why but the ‘World’s best No.10 and play him out wide?
- There is no place for Ozil in Wenger’s new 4141!
- You cannot play Ramsey and Wilshere together in central midfield as neither is a DM.
- As soon as Arteta is fit one of Ozil or Wilshere must miss out.
- If we play Ramsey and Wilshere our centre backs will be exposed horribly!
- Wenger is messing with a tried and tested formation just to accommodate Jack.
I could go on but you will all be familiar with the above and most of you will agree with or have made similar statements.
On the face of it and looking at it based on the way Wenger has Arsenal playing in recent seasons I can agree with and understand all of the statements. Equally however and more and more find myself fundamentally disagreeing and looking at the dilemma, if it is one, from another angle.
My disagreement is based on one fundamental of Wenger’s style of play – The use of the full backs. Wenger since adopting 4231 had encouraged attacking play, width and overlap from his fullbacks. An admirable and exciting tactic when you have fast defenders who can cross a ball and provide assists. A less admirable tactic if the full backs in question do not necessarily contribute enough going forwards and are frequently so far out of position when we are hit on the break it is ridiculous. Sorry to agree with Shearer but we all know he is correct.
In the past 3 seasons Sagna featured in 86 Premier League matches for Arsenal and was so integral to our attacking play that he provide a grand total of ZERO assists and was out of position and unable to get back in time on many more occasions. Over the same 3 campaigns Kieran Gibbs, ex winger has been involved in 73 league matches and also contributed ZERO assists. Without being too simplistic, although football is a simple game, is the attacking full back ploy working for Arsenal?
For me it is not and has not for some time. Indeed the last campaign when our FBs were contributing to goal assists significantly was the 2007/8 season when Sagna and Clichy both had the legs and we played 442.
So why does this bug me so much and why is it critical to the title of this article? Simply because the need for the DM we have all been crying out for and Wenger perhaps has or has not bemoaned not securing, is only needed to protect our centre backs because our full backs are too far up the pitch. Yes Arteta may well be to slow to cover the full backs as is Flamini but this is only an issue because the bloody full backs are not there!!
Take yourselves back to the glorious campaign of 1990/91. Arsenal under George Graham played with care free abandon scoring 74 goals and only conceding 18 in the entire season. For 25 of the matches the first choice central midfield partnership of Paul Davis and Michael Thomas appeared in tandem. Neither were defensive midfielders to any real degree and they had attacking wide men to their left and right in Limpar on the left and Rocastle or Groves and latterly Merson on the right . Davis was a skilled ball player and creator and Thomas a box to box dynamo but neither sat in front of the back four. Only when either was injured and Hiller played did we have a naturally defensive minded centre mid.
Now you can argue the game has changed, it is quicker and the formation was different to 4231 but none of that is relevant. What is relevant is that Arsenal’s defenders in those days were there to defend. We had enough attacking talent in the 6 playing ahead of them to create and score the goals required. And please for the younger readers do not confused this Arsenal team with the mid 90s 1 Nil to the Arsenal team. This team was dynamic, exciting and full of flair and capable of brushing teams aside every bit as much as the ‘Invincibles’ did. However Dixon and Winterburn in the first 20 minutes had clear instructions to be no further than 10 yards from their centre back and in big games against top sides, 5 yards. IT WORKED!
So that brings us to the crux of the issue and the questions we are debating currently. By now you will be seeing my logic I suspect. If Wenger were to change the emphasis of what is required for his fullbacks and lessened their responsibilities in the opposition half and instructed them first and foremost to defend our outlook might change?
From now until Jan 1st we cannot bring in a Morgan Schneiderlin or anyone else so we are left with Arteta or Flamini, if we persist as we are. Both of whom have differing merits but both of whom lack the true pace to cover for the advanced full backs. This as we all know leaves Mertesacker’s even worse lack of pace exposed and because no fans seem to be allowed to question that, we all scream at the deep lying CM.
So here’s the crazy alternative which is to adopt the old Arsenal philosophy of having the 4 defenders play as defenders – RADICAL CONCEPT!
Thereby allowing the midfield and attackers to do what they do best and create and score goals – OUTRAGEOUS!
So the question I guess is this? Do we or Wenger think that a front 6, without a DM, of Wilshere, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez and Welbeck can manage to create and score sufficient goals without Debuchy/Chamber and Gibbs/Monreal? Somehow I think they might don’t you? (SARCASTIC FONT ASSUMED.)
Conversely do we think a back four predominantly defending with the full backs not required to provide the width provided by Alexis, Theo or Ox can manage without a Flamini or an Arteta? Again for me the answer is a resounding YES.
So I am sorry for Mikel who has been a solid and valued servant to the team but the future is Jack and Aaron. This way we certainly will not negate our attacking style and both Ramsey and Wilshere can play with the shackles off, both where they want to be and where they should be. Of course they will have to counter balance and use their intelligence but I sense that chemistry is there and have done since the 1-0 win over United a few years back.
The knock on effect is that is our 2 young box to boxers are both free to play in a pivot where one is not forever worried about covering an attacking fullback then Ozil can come back to where he should be an where we all want to see him or Santi indeed. Behind the central striker pulling the strings and finding the runs of the striker and the 2 speedsters.
The theory holds even more weight me for me if Calum Chambers, a more natural defender than Debuchy is to be our right back for the next few months.
There I will end and that is my case for a system that can allow Ramsey, Wilshere and Ozil to be a central threesome which I suspect we all want?
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If you wish to read about Arsenal legend Geordie Armstrong please also check out the website for the new tribute book available to pre-order now