We can and should play Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil centrally and here’s how.

It is possible
It is possible

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?

160 Premier League outings and ZERO ASSISTS!
160 Premier League outings and ZERO ASSISTS!

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.

87-91 Not a DM in sight!
87-91 Not a DM in sight!

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.

Where the journey began in 2011 - Not either/or but both
Where the journey began in 2011 – Not either/or but both

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?

Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66

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



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  1. Great article.. Finally someone who believes that defenders should do the defending.. Lets stick to horses for courses and players being played in their best positions. Let the midfielders get up and down, let the wingers play out wide and let the creatives do what they do best without moaning at them for not getting back or having to play a role that they are unaccustomed to. Arteta is certainly no DM and is not a better footballer than Ramsey, Wilshere, Ox.. etc etc.. neither is Flamini but either one and occasionally both of them keep out far superior players.

  2. Great blog as always. First, I think we’ll concede less with that line-up which will be nice for once. Second, with our front 6 chemistry growing we’ll obviously score, so its bring back one-nil to The Arsenal.

  3. Excellent article..but does this match with Wenger’s philosophy of converting wingers into folk backs?? Gibbs started as a winger so did Bellerin..Will need a mighty change in philosophy..

  4. Mourinho emphasises on Defense but Wenger rarely does.. especially after the invincibles season.. hope he changes 😛

  5. Just seen the team and no surprise to see Arteta back in, Ozil on the wing and 4/5 wingers on the bench. What the hell does The ox have to do to get a game?

  6. I completely agree with the writer that Arsenal’s full backs have delivered zero in attack.

    For this reason I was relieved that Sagna left. I would have liked to see Serge Aurier replace him, but I think Debuchy has looked really good and will offer more danger but only if he dares to turn the corner on opposing full back a bit more.

    This is also probably why Bellerin is so highly rated by Wenger and is being fast-tracked.

    On the other side Gibbs has what it takes. The coaches need to work with him to dare to use his right and cut inside more. Having that credible threat will allow him that half yard to be able to get outside the full back and make cut-backs and start racking up assists.

    In midfield, I disagree with the author.

    First, Jack Wilshere is getting better but is by no means the solution to Arsenal’s problems. He is indisciplined and dribbles in places he should pass and move to receive. IN short he is still where Ramsey is 2 years ago. If you want Arsenal to move forward, you cant put that kind of player as a starter in midfield. I still think Arsenal needs a bigger player there, not only for tackling but also to offer more defensive solidity at set plays.

    I really would have tried Vermalen there. Dunno why Wenger was so rigid. As it is our best hope for the next 3 months is that Diaby recovers.

  7. I don’t know about the seasons before 13-14, but last season, sagna assisted twice in the prem (mert at etihad, giroud at southampton) and gibbs once (podolski against swansea). The two of them had 4 assists each in all competitions. Added to that, jenkinson and monreal also assisted twice and once respectively- all in the prem.

    These are not glowing numbers by any stretch of imagination- but the fact that you chose to ignore them weakens your argument. True, our full-backs do get caught out of position a lot of times and gibbs still has a lot of work to do on his final ball but completely ignoring their attacking contribution is not the way to go about it.

    Where I completely agree with you is their positioning in big away games. Some semblance of discipline is required in those games, at least in the initial stages, if we do not wish to be torn apart.

  8. That’s a good point. I’ll definitely do this in my FIFA 15 career mode but just because the fullbacks don’t assist doesn’t mean they don’t have a purpose. They provide the width so we can have more creative players in the center of the pitch. This helps us retain possession and, if/when we click, will be deadly against almost any team. Having at least 3 players on the field who can absolutely destroy a team with a single pass is an amazing asset. Also teams would still be counterattacking against a single, flat line; not to hard to beat a flat line. Having defensive midfielders staggers our defenders and makes it harder to play passes through (in theory). I guess you could fix this by doing a sweeper stopper sort of thing but…yeah good thought!

  9. I agree to an extent. However, I’ll say that it need not be tit for tat balanced on both sides. What I mean is, Gibbs, for one, has the pace to cover a great deal of pitch, and can both get forward and recover. In fact, his pace actually allows for Ozil to play a nominal left wing but actually set up shop in a left central #10 role. But on the other side? What’s now Chambers? Yes, absolutely he should stay home. His overlapping was playing right into Spuds’ tactics. And there was no need. The Ox had the beating of their left side by his lonesome.

    As for your other point? No sorry. I disagree. Wilshere and Ramsey are redundant box to box forward moving players. They cannot play together.

    1. To be honest Wilshere is a playmaker who couldnt make the grade at the top level, forcing Wenger to spend 42 million on Ozil. Leaving Wilshere competing with Ramsey, but Ramsey is much farther ahead.

      Also Wilshere’s work rate is lacking. He does not get back quickly enough to help the DM, so not really “box to box” actually. See Dortmund first goal. And then just plain lazy sometimes eg vs Southampton look how slow he is to challenge Clyne’s shot – AND he then wasnt brave enough and jumped out of the way of the shot.

      Then he is indisciplined and spends too much time getting in little scraps and arguments. Far too short a fuse. I remember Fabregas targeted for far more and still managed not to take the bait.

      Plus in posession Wilshere dwells on the ball to long, leading to either losing it or getting tackled.

      I think he just is not smart enough to be an Arsenal quality starter. He has the technical qualities, enough strength and enough speed for central midfielder, but mentally he is simply just not good enough.

      In short I would not go around messing up Ozil, just to get Wilshere in the side.

      That said, I think the real reason for the 4-1-4-1 instead of 4-2-3-1 is not that Wenger distrusts Ozil’s work rate. I think the real reason is Arsenal is increasingly using a more aggressive pressing game so the team need one more midfielder pushed up to try and steal the ball back early. Ozil has good mobility so can do that job better than Cazorla.

      But I think the solution there really should be to use Ox as the other winger in addition to Sanchez. Drop cazorla and let Ozil stay central.

      For this pressing game, it would help even more if Arteta was on the bench and a more mobile DM in place. maybe Coquelin worth a try, since Wenger not willing to pay up what it takes to get Bender, Carvalho etc. But that’s asking too much. Instead he misuses Ozil and gives Wilshere a starting jersey he really doesnt deserve.

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