Wenger hints at 442 but how could this work in 2012/13?

Wenger determined to bring in fresh faces

 Wenger hints at a 2 striker system.

Sorry for the absence but the 2 week break from writing might have come at the right time. The summer season is a tricky one for quality blogging and the Global Gooner passion series, of which you will see more, had sustained ‘1nildown2oneup’ through June and July, but I was personally struggling for inspiration.

So with batteries recharged this return is a collective of thoughts based on the past few weeks I am catching up on, but is particularly inspired ,which won’t  surprise regular readers, by Wenger’s comments about playing with 2 strikers to fit in our 2 new boys. I know so many of you believe the traditional 442 to be dead and you may or may not have a point but please bear with my thought process.

Arsenal under Wenger won 3 titles, and 4 FA Cups playing effectively 442 or 4411, with for the most part Bergkamp just behind Thierry Henry. Subsequently we came closest to a title in 07/08 still playing a 442 but apparently the system is now outdated and does not work in the modern game?? For me that is quite frankly rubbish and apologies if I offend those of you who maintain that the traditional formation is dead. Those of you who follow this blog regularly will have read many pieces from me suggesting variations of this theme and ways to fit players from our current squad into the system that won Wenger so many honours.  Most recently it was in May when I suggested Santos minus a few stone and with a pre-season under his belt could pay on the left of a 4? He played there versus Man City and when he came on to turn the decisive game against West Brom on the last day of the season, although this is in our current 4231.

Guys tell me that we cannot only have 2 in the centre of the midfield when other teams have 3, but I fail to see the logic in this. In the glory years if we were defending or without the ball Bergkamp would just drop off and join the midfield to assist, just as Rooney does so effectively now for Manchester United. It is about players knowing their roles in defence and attack and with and without the ball. It is here we have fallen down in recent years and not because we do or do not have a particular formation. A feature of Wenger’s successful teams was not just the fluidity but the fluidity combined with the discipline and it is this we have lost.

In reality as I have discussed with a few on Twitter and have written here before the older Wenger, 442s were without wingers in the conventional sense. The only real winger in any of our title winning sides was Overmars. In 98 we played Ray Parlour, a central midfielder on the right and in 2002 and 2004 our first choice wide players were of course Pires and Ljungberg both highly technical players with great engines, but neither a traditional winger. Indeed Freddie had not played out wide before he arrived at Highbury. In 07/08 before his injury it was Rosicky and Hleb and after Rosicky was injured often we player Diaby out wide. Here again we see 3 highly technical central midfielders being asked to play wider midfield roles in a 4 but NOT wingers.

A closer inspection of the set up that saw Arsenal flourish shows that in all these seasons there was one player of the four sitting deeper. Many would call this the DM role but for me I see this has a holding role. In 98 this player was Petit and in 02 the roles was rotated between Grimandi, Parlour and Van Bronckhurst and of course most successfully it was Gilberto in 2004. Indeed the fact that Grimandi, primarily a centre back started so many key games as the holding midfielder in 01/02 illustrates the importance of that position in this formation.  All these players sat behind a rampaging and dominating Patrick Vieira. The reality was however that the four therefore was more of a 1 and a 3, as none of the wider players was a conventional wing man. Certainly Ljungberg and Pires were never hugging the touchline in a more conventional 442, as say Etherington and Pennant might for Stoke or Bale and Lennon do for the Spuds.

So perhaps it would be fairer to describe our glory formation as a 41311? Certainly when the team was attacking say in 2004 this set up would be a fairly accurate reflection.

One tactical point here and a key one for me, which perhaps Steve Bould will address for this season, is for this to work the central defenders must be just that. Whilst we enjoy seeing Vermaelen and Koscielny bring the ball forward in a swashbuckling style, if a reversion to our old formation is to work today this must be curtailed. It would have been rare to see Adams or Campbell running though the midfield with the ball at their feet.  If Verminator is as expected to be installed as our new skipper he must, as Adams did lead by example as a rock in the defence and allow others to replace his goals, aside from set pieces.

Hopes: Vermaelen wants to be part of a truly great Gunners defence

Lead by example with discipline from THE BACK


I reiterate for those who worry about the midfield Dennis Bergkamp was always swift to drop back into the mix to support his midfielders and the player stepping into the No. 10 role in 2013/12 should Wenger select this system for certain games of consistently would need to do the same. In addition whoever takes the Gilberto role will have to demonstrate the same maturity, discipline and reading of the game that the great man did.

Before I move on to looking at the players who might fill the variable roles from our current squad I would like to put one thing to bed once and for all from my perspective at least.  There are those of you reading this who feel we need an out and out tough tacking DM and that in the modern game we must play with 2 deeper lying midfielders, as we have predominantly since 2008/9. Most of you know I feel we just need the one Makelele/Gilberto style intelligent anticipator and I feel Arteta is prime candidate. Putting that to one side shall we just examine the actual facts? I am accused of over using stats and we all know they can be manipulated but the following don’t lie and have not been massaged to suit.


Season Formation Premiership Goals Conceded
2007/08 4411 31
2008/09 Mostly 4231 37
2009/10 4231 41
2010/11 4231 43
2011/12 4231 49


I think the facts speak out loud and clear. The longer we have persisted with the new formation with the 2 holding/defensive midfielders, one CAM, 2 wingers and a sole striker the more confused we have got season on season and the worse we have become defensively. Now this is the formation everyone continually tells me is the present and the future and that ensures we are not overrun in midfield and makes us more solid? Sorry chaps the facts suggest the formation and disciplne are the issue because no one is suggesting the likes of Koscielny, Vermaelen and Sagna cannot defend are they?

I won’t convince all of you I am sure but what is certain that there are certain players at present who are struggling to find their niche in the current system and there are others who are well suited to it. However it is a squad game these days and the successful sides and managers select starting elevens and formations not for seasons but to win individual matches. Wenger used to do it playing 4411/41311 in the league and 451 in Europe bit since 2008/9 he has been very rigid in the system. I hope his recent quotes suggest a new approach for 2012/13 because I think we have certain players who will flourish and grow in the 41311 I am suggesting from 2003/4 and earlier.

I am sure you are beginning to match players to positions in the midfield and attacking roles but here are a few examples from my view point.

Holding/Defensive Midfield 1 –  Arteta, Coquelin,  Song

Midfield 3 RM –  Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gervinho, Ramsey, Rosicky

Midfield 3 LM –  Podolski, Santos, Gervinho

Central AM – Wilshere, Diaby, Song, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky, Aneke

Second Striker No 10 – Giroud, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla? Podolski, RVP??

Advanced Striker – Walcott, Podolski, Giroud

  Play him in Henry role at last ?

For me all things being equal I think the formation I propose which closely mirrors our ‘Invincibles’ set up will work best with pace at the sharp end as the creativity and the through ball will be to the fore. For this reason I would play Theo Walcott just in advance of Giroud. I would also, having seen his work rate for Germany make a strong case to see Podolski in the Pires role and I would like to see Ox or Gervinho in the Ljungberg role. At the start of the season I would play either Diaby or Song in the Vieira role ahead of the main man Arteta in the Gilberto position. The full backs can selectively bomb on and overlap as they have always done safe in the knowledge that in this system Arteta and the 2 centre backs will always sit back and retain discipline.

I doubt this formation will be played in all games but I think there is a very strong case for it to be played at home and against weakers teans and more static defences. If we can get back to the fluidity and pace of attack we had in the early Wenger era, and turn defence into attack in the blnk of an eye, as his teams playing this system did then this will be one happy supporter.

Until next time thanks for reading.

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  1. Great post Dave! I’ve always supported the 2 striker system too and the 1 Holding midfielder instead of a 2. I hope Wenger changes this 4231 that has kept our trophy cabinet dusty for sometime now. It may seem old-school but no one will call it that when Vermaelen (our next captain) lifts a trophy next season. Keep up the good work.

  2. Interesting article. I’ve thought for a while that this is the way we should (probably would go) – we only changed from 442 in order to get the best out of Fabregas who wasnt the best at working back in the centre of a two. We couldnt do it last year as the players were’nt available (i.e. the strikers we’ve bought and Wenger wont just buy anyone). It’s interesting how Gervino has been used as a striker in training this pre season and in the last game. Perhaps Wenger is counting on him as one of the two – personally I can’t see him, or Walcott, ever playing up from alone (or Joel Campbell for that matter), but in a two they could potenitally thrive, though I think others will be first choice if we do play two up front – we can always play with one winger like Walcott (as we did with Overmars) if another player is tucked in on the other side and we have plenty of protection on the wingers side.

    Having said all that, I think that this kind of formation depends on RVP staying and playing in the Bergkamp role. IMO he is the only one in our current squad (apart from an on song Arshavin who I think could be great in the role) who could play naturally as the second striker. Rosiky, Wilshire, Podolski etc could all do a good job there but it’s not their natural position or enough to really base a season on. Players in the Bergkamp postion are rare, hence the lack of teams using the formation. Incidentally, I think Wilshire / Rosiky would be great in a Pires style floating role starting on the wing but moving about unmarked to influence the game.

    One small thing I disagree on. Adams in his later days loved bombing forward with the ball! I definately agree though that these defenders need to think differently and that their job really is all about defending and that they’d rather die than concede a goal even at 4-0 up, just like the famous five used to.

    Good article man. Nice to see some intelligent work on a blog for a change 🙂

    1. Thanks for taking the time. I feel this formation can work as long as 2 CBs and DM stay disciplined.

      1. Actually the statistics stack up well for left foeotd players as they are generally better in their positions. Techinque is better and they are harder to get on to their weaker foot. They are also harder to go past around the outside as it leads to their stronger leg. You’d have to cut into their weaker side but would have more players in that area to get past. Think going past Vermaelen and running into KoscielnyThere are also far fewer left foeotd players compared to right, so it all just adds up to a better team. You actually find that on the left wing are generally right foeotd players but they are playing their to just get into a team.All in all, this bodes well for us. 37 2

  3. Thanks Dave, what a co-incidence, Only yesterday I feel it is a necessity now to read from you and asked you for it in twitter and here I am enjoying your article in full:-). I quite like the formation 41311, It is like 442 or 451 according to the situation/opponent. Still we don’t have that supporting striker (or attacking midfielder) to play in the hole if RVP is to leave, unless we have Santi. I’d like to see szec-sagna,boss,tv5,santo-song-rosicky/diaby (whoever is fit) 8eta/wilshere (whoever is fit), Poldi/gervinho-AM/Chambo/rvp-giroud/walcott. It’d be a great team if we have Dempsey for this ‘hole’ role.
    Thanks again

      1. That is indeed the qutesion. Will this make RvP sign up. It’s not like this hasn’t been in RvP’s mind fro the last few weeks since he has known longer than we have, probably.RvP still looks up for it, as much as he is a professional, if he was thinking of leaving he may well have been less enthusiastic at Stoke, it’s not like he has to try hard to get picked for the Dutch squad this year.Signing Podolski will have pretty much been the clincher for RvP as much as having had his best season for years. I just hope we give him the financial incentive because the other reasons are all there, ready and waiting. 11 0

  4. Good article, however, I genuinely think that if Arsene is going to use this formation, he should have played this formation in pre-season games.
    I do hope he will use it this season though, we have plenty strikers!
    It’s just I can’t be convinced if Arsene does not use this in pre-season.
    And Gervinho is a striker, too.

  5. Gotta say it’s horses for courses, I’d say Gervinho n Walcott would be kinda marginalised in this type o formation. Btw didn’t Santos start the West Brom game @ lb?

    1. Not quite sure how Theo would be marginalised playing where he has being asking to play for 5 years

      1. I am becoming very woerrid about our beloved team. I think we need to take a step back and question some issues here. Do we really have a development at all at Arsenal? If we believe that we do where are the products of our development? If our board remain adamant that they want to keep all profit to themselves is okay but can they for the sake of the supporters ensure that we have a very formidable development structure. How many times of late have we had of Barcelona looking to sign this person or that person? They normally bring in maybe one player per season just to complement the current squad. Barcelona is playing the way they are today because of the development structure. With a good development, the players will have Arsenal DNA. Look at Jack and some other very few onces that came out of our development their DNA is purely Arsenal DNA. They are prepared to die for the cub and they are contract rebels.We should pay attention to our development and not just blame Wenger for everything going wrong in the team.

    2. I know everyone’s made up about the aarrvil of lukas, concerned about finishing 3rd and the captain’s contract. Myself included.However, something else happened in the last couple of days. Sol officially’ retired. I’m confident blogs will do a nicer piece on him but I wanted to say a bit. Sol (for me anyway) was the last of the gladiators we had at Arsenal. Time will tell whether we have others. I remember him walking with arsene after signing and I was like what the fuck!’ I mean I heard the rumours he might sign for us but didn’t in a million years thought he’d be our new CB. The spuds reaction was hillarious and expected. To this day in fact. Because they knew what he would do for us. Invincibility.Everyone will have their favourite sol memories but mine will be his performances when he came back for a bit recently. We were all suffering and had got used to plastic fighters and used to being bullied. We had forgotten what champions we had and he reminded us what it meant to wear the shirt. I remember going to WHL with a decimated team low on confidence and he was awesome. He took absolute dogs abuse that day, from absolute dogs but he made me proud to be a gooner. There was 60 yard run he done charging down everyone, knocking spuds left and right. And combine that with when we went to the shittania and Lenny broke Rambos leg. We went on to win that game and sol’s celebration was epic. Sol was fucking massive. If you compare that to eddie’s leg snapping at brum, and we bottled it and gallas cried. There are others (like old Trafford- hugging wiltord and when we won the league) but in my opinion its in adversity you find out who will bleed for you.That’s what I meant by gladiator. The man was born to win, A legend whose presence should be made apparent to all CB’s wanting to defend’ our home. An invincible. Well done Sol and thankyou. 143 0

  6. Nice article (and nice site, visiting for the first time). However, my opinion is this:

    Our 4-4-2 worked wonders primarily because of the quality of the front two. Bergkamp and Henry were BOTH phenomenal players, the sort of which we do not possess now. Our struggles in the Champions league away games, when we played the same formation, but had one less incredible talent on the pitch, bears testimony to that. At present, assuming that Van Persie leaves, the likes of Giroud and Podolski are good, but not quite extraordinary.

    In terms of personnel, our first XI would be somewhat inferior (but the gap is not as big as the media would like us to believe) to a team like Manchester City. That we are able to dominate teams like City when we meet head to head is down solely to our high defensive line-intense pressing-keep the ball style. The question is: can we replicate that style with a 4-4-2?? Theoretically, its possible, but it would take a very different type of 4-4-2 than what the Premier League is used to.

    Manchester United, with Rooney playing as part of a front two (and dropping deep without the ball) consistently get ripped apart by technically superior mid-fields (Basel, Bilbao, City, and with their new acquisitions, possibly Chelsea this year).

    However, the 4-4-2 that could work for us is the one that Villareal played a season back (and the key man in that was, of course, Cazorla). Two holders, two midfielders starting narrow (narrower than Pires and Ljungberg ever were) and cutting further inside, and importantly, 2 pacey strikers who can make runs in behind the defense, would drift out wide and, even track the opposing full back’s surges forward. In Podolski and Walcott, we’ve got the strikers to play that formation. And we’ve no shortage of midfielders who can do the job (Rosicky, for example, is at his best in the inside left channel). But Giroud would have to sit on the bench.

    1. For me the arrival of Santi enhances our option significantly but the key if not to select a system and stick to it but be able to shify formations an systens either during games or for appropriate opposition.

      1. The contract is singed, the fee agreed and medical complete but you can’t get the transfer papers singed by the FA/UEFA (can’t ever remember which when it comes to international transfers) until the window is open. As soon as it opens, the player would be able to transfer in a matter of hours. Most players aren’t singed randomly during the season as there is a chance it will disrupt theirs and your teams season. Podolski hadn’t finished, hence why they kept it unconfirmed but now FC Koln have basically got their position, it’s safe to release this story.Hope that answers the question 30 1

  7. good article, buh ability to change and adjust when need be, is the key factor…in all i wish wenger all the best

  8. i guess the close season is a good time to increase the bookmarks. playing catch up now.

    it certainly seems as if we need to get back to a 442 and all the signs suggest that its going that way. very excited about how this new team will look come oct with a bit off luck with injuries.

  9. Park Chu-Young is a quality pleayr. I’ve seen him play for Monaco and South Korea on a number of occasions, and he doesn’t belong in the same bracket as Chamakh. Just because he hasn’t featured yet much doesn’t mean he’s shit. Wenger favours Arshavin ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain, despite AOC looking a far better pleayr pretty much every time he’s played this season.Haven’t seen too much of Matias Suarez but certainly looks a better option than Chamakh from what i’ve seen. Would still hope we sign Podolski, though.

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