Will there be a middle 3 better than Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta?


 ‘The Power of 3’ by @The_Zama

Since its introduction most notably in Spanish football in the 90s the 4231 formation has become increasingly widely used across the world. So much so that it could be argued that this formation is now prevalent in the top leagues in Europe and in South America. It is of course a far cry from the traditional British 442 with a big man little man combination in attack.

At Arsenal it seems to me that Wenger adopted the new style to accommodate the players he had and their particular talents, as much as due to an acceptance of what he had lost. He lost one of the best No.10’s in the history of the EPL in Bergkamp, as well as the most prolific main striker the league had seen in Henry. However at the same time he had watched the emergence of the most naturally gifted central attacking midfielder in Cesc Fabregas.

I have strongly argued that Arsenal should also use 442 or 4411 on occasions and get frustrated when so many argue that teams cannot play this formation against an opposition that has adopted the 4231. Claiming it does not work anymore and they will be outnumbered in the centre of the pitch. I do not hold with this argument because Arsenal always had narrow wide players in Pires and Ljungberg and later Rosicky and Hleb who were not naturally wingers and were equally happy to drop inside and support the 2 central players when required. One only has to look at Manchester United in 10/11 and Manchester City in 11/12 to see both adopted hardworking 442’s for their championship run in.

However that is an argument for another day as today I wanted look at the central midfield element in particular of the 4231. This is the system we play and I thought it might be topical to assess this in light both of Diaby’s injury and Wilshere’s potential return. I considered it might be worthwhile to consider the ability and talent available to the other sides, as well as Arsenal, who are likely to be challenging for domestic honours this season.

Now you will of course debate my exact choices here but what I am keen to illustrate is perhaps the relative strength in depth of the 4 squads, in relation to the 3 positions in question. Firstly though let me clarify how I see the positions. Most of you will know by now that I am not in favour of an old style tough tackling ‘Defensive midfielder’ and if I used a term for the deepest lying player it would be deep lying or holding but in reality what we play is a variation of the Spanish ‘double pivot.’ The 2 players in front of the back 4 in Spain would usually see one responsible for breaking up attacks and be more of a tackler and the second more of a distributer. For us at Arsenal and perhaps in the EPL in general there is usually one with more discipline and dare I say intelligence, a game reader, who players slightly deeper and a second who plays a tad further advanced and has more of a box to box license.

No 1 Arteta and No 2 Wilshere?

A head of these 2 will be the central attacking midfielder, the advanced playmaker, who will play in between 2 wider playmakers. The central player should be the creative force and will have the freedom to play close to the striker.

Now as I have said only Arsenal and Chelsea play this formation every week whilst Mancini and Ferguson tend to be fluid in the selection. Certainly early last season when Man City were playing this formation it saw Aguero as the CAM will free license just behind Balotelli or Džeko.  When Man United have adopted it this year it has been with Kagawa as CAM, his favoured and most effective position just behind RVP. The point I wish to demonstrate is strength of squads in these 3 crucial roles.




Team Arsenal Manchester City Man United Chelsea
Holding Arteta Barry Carrick Obi Mikel
Box to Box Wilshere Toure Scholes Ramires
CAM Cazorla Aguero/Silva Kagawa Oscar




Team Arsenal Manchester City Man United Chelsea
Holding Coquelin Garcia Fletcher Romeu
Box to Box Diaby/Ox-Chambo Rodwell Anderson Lampard
CAM Rosicky/Ramsey Nasri Cleverley Marin/Mata


There will be arguments about some of the above particularly around the CAM roles. I am for example aware that Hazard would love to play there but the fact is he has been deployed wider to date and it would seem that Oscar is first choice with Mata and Hazard either side. Some will also argue correctly that Manchester City have played Toure at CAM and Silva, but the former is usually moved there is a match is going against City and the latter has more frequently been deployed wide in the 3.

I am more interested at this juncture in the double pivot, or ‘Holding’ and ‘Box to Box.’ For years we fans have bemoaned our lack of depth, and gazed forlornly at our bench in relation to our stronger, richer peers. Why would Wenger not spend? Why this reliance on youth? Why sticking with players who obviously could not cut it at the very top? Well I think we have a strong case in these pivot roles in particular to say things have changed and for the better. The days when injuries to Denilson and Song in 2009/10 saw Craig ‘Nandos’ Eastmond playing away at Shaktar in the Champions League are long gone my friends!


From Donetsk to Colchester via Millwall


So here we go for GoonerDave rose tinted glasses time, but I am being serious because this is the engine room for any top side hoping to challenge for honours. When fully fit would you swap Carrick and Scholes for Arteta and Wilshere? Would you swap Obi Mikel for Arteta?  Would you swap Rameres for Wilshere?  Would you swap Arteta for Gareth Barry or Javi Garcia? I assume or suspect the answer to all the above is NO. Please note I am not foolish enough to suggest Wilshere or Diaby are in Toure’s league at present but you take my point.

There is no ‘Force’ in this OBI

Our second string players are also in the main stronger for me.  As a stand in box to box midfielder I would happily take Oxlade- Chamberlain or Abou Diaby, assuming Wilshere does regain full form in fitness this autumn over Rodwell, Anderson or an aging Lampard.  I have seen enough to suggest that Francis Coquelin has enough about him to step in to Arteta’s boots every bit as well as Garcia, Romeu or Fletcher could step in for their clubs first choices. Garcia simply could not handle the match a few weeks back against the Arsenal.


Garcia has one cap more than Mikel – Good luck with that then Spain!

Now I am aware that there is an element in this that allows for Jack Wilshere returning to the engine room the same player he was in 2010/11. We as fans cannot know his position, so we can only take Wenger’s contention that he envisages him returning as the same player if not better.  I am not saying Jack’s full return this will be next week or even next month, but titles and cups will not be won in the winter of 2012 but in the spring of 2013. 

I am however fortunate to have a first hand view of Jack’s come back on Monday v West Brom from Greg Birch who went to the game. (Check out Greg on twitter @GregBirch1982 and his incredible collection of Arsenal shirts.)

Greg: ” Jack looked okay, all things considered. Needs a few games before the first team I’d say but that’s expected. He looked rusty but strong and played further forward than he has done for the first team. He shirked no tackles, showed some good touches, although probably over did it on occasion but that is understandable.”

Jack’s back – Monday v WBA U21s

 David Hytner in the Guardian:

“He lasted 63 minutes of Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat by West Brom and, if it was far from a vintage performance, it did not matter. To Wilshere and everybody connected to the club it was a positive step forward. Caution must remain the watchword and Wilshere can expect to play for the under-21s again. But the target is to have him on the first-team substitutes’ bench by the end of the month. It feels achievable.”

 I believe we have the depth of squad now to stay in contention close to the top of the league and if we do and we stick with the 4231 I leave you will one simple question?

Do any of our rivals truly have a combined first 3 names on their team sheet in the centre of their midfields as strong or as talented as Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santiago Cazorla?

I know my answer!

Until next time thanks for reading.

Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitterhttp://twitter.com/goonerdave66


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  1. Its completely strange how our best player Tomas Rosicky is not even included. Rosicky is alone better than all 3 of them

    1. LOL This comment is only 2 lines but i agree 200% with it instead of the 100 lines in this article. Well said mate. The way Rosicky runs at opposition defences and releases mindblowing passes, turns, shoots and doesnt give defenders time to settle plus his pace, he’s absolutely amazing ! Arsene Wenger described him as a player of remarkable and extraordinary vision. Against Man city last season he left Yaya Toure completely clueless, and the only way he could stop him was fouling. Both Toure and James Milner got booked in that game for fouling the unstoppable Rosicky. He should have got atleast 4 assists in that game I remember

  2. I love Rosicky guys and if you look back to see blogs in Feb and June I championed his cause. However Wenger has bought Santi and he is world class. He is the man with the shirt and if you are suggesting TR7 will come straight back in I disagree.

  3. obviously we have major streght in depth in midfield of which our 3 best combination is better than our rival’s combination…..the only place we might loose out is jack to toure but even then our 3 would be the best, aside that we are better in every position in midfield to any of our rivals, even rosicky will struggle to get game time

  4. Think you’ve really underrated Javi Garcia. Was fortunate enough to see him play a bit last year and he is quality. Not sure Wilshere was ever much better than Ramires is at the moment – seems like he’s one of those players (similar to Michael Owen or Hargreaves) whose reputation is enhanced by a long absence.

    Having said that, Arsenal’s midfield is clearly much stronger this season than in previous years. Cazorla is truly world-class but there is also a much stronger unit around him than Cesc enjoyed for many years. I’d actually argue that Arsenal are stronger on the wings than the other top 3 – certainly they have more strength in depth what with Podolski and Gervinho filling in those roles admirably when required, as well as the likes of the Ox, Walcott, Arshavin, Roskicky (sort of).

    Exciting time to be an Arsenal fan that’s for sure but Diaby will be absolutely indispensable this year.

    1. I actually do not feel it is about his absence I actually feel he is that good. Not seen anyone before or since boss Barca midfield as Jack did.

  5. Love tr7 he is magic sadly he will never get a decent run in the team through injuries he collects. I feel he would be a super impact player for when games are tight and be able to cover for santi etc when they are slightly bellow par as against the chavs

  6. Great blog as always dave. I have only one qualm about this topic. We all saw an english 19 year old boss the barca midfield and its all very well theo saying he’s still got it but can we really expect jack to bring that kind of form to the fore this season after so long out?

  7. There is an answer to this problem and i believe wenger is touching on it already. i am currently trying it at one of my youth teams. it is basically a 4132 which is obviously a variation of 44 it can appear to offensive but as long as the defensive an offensive midfielders are intelligent enouvh and disciplined enough it works. i believe wenger will look to implement this once rosicky and wilshire are fit. in this formation you look to the full backs to provide the width and get beyond the opposing full back where possible. we have already see jenkinson and gibbs doing this to great effect. the way i see it is arteta will be the main dm with coquelin and frimpong providing him rest. wilshire cazorla rosicky diaby ramsey chamberlain and arshavin will compete for the 3 offensive roles though obviously those that can get back and defend will have an advantage over those that cant. walcott gervinho podolski giroud and chamakh contest the 2 forward roles. for me this formation is proving successful. its different as going forward we can have up to 7 players pushing forward yet defending if the offensive players do their job properly we can have 9 players comfortably behind the ball plus we start are defending in the opponents half. i honestly think that in this formation we could see arteta wilshire cazorla and rosicky or diaby or chamberlain or ramsey or even arshavin.

    1. Which as you know as a regular reader is the formation I have suggested for ages. Hope you are right

  8. Rosicky has been a long time favourite of mine but who do you take out? If Thomas were fit he would be in the mid field for tonights game, but so would Arteta, Wilshere and Diaby. I can`t imagine a better trio in our present squad than Wilshere, Carzola and Arteta although he`ll be a great back up for Jack until he finds full form.

  9. When we have everybody fit,I don’t see wilshere displacing diaby.dunno why people underate this guy.his injury record is terrible no doubt,but when fit,he’ll always be the first name on wenger’s sheet.he offers something to the team that only him can offer.wilshere is good,but a fit diaby is in a different class in my opinion.

  10. Tr7 is class yes, but when everyone is fit and jw10 is showing the form of 10/11 I don’t think even Diaby can get in the team before him. Absence makes the heart grow fonder maybe that’s why we all have so much hope in jw10, but all you need to do is go thru all his videos since he was in the academy, right thru to his stint at bolton, and his first team brilliance. Its absolutely magic… We just have to be patient; class is permanent!

  11. The combination of arteta-wilshere-cazorla is very good but still I think its not the best in the epl, even when wilshere is fully fit and in form. Arteta, to me is without a doubt best in his role in the league. As good as wilshere and cazorla are as we know, but they lack the height and muscles in the middle of the park. Was Diaby not made up of glasses, he would have been without doubt the best box-to-box midfielder in pl by now…but that is a complete different debate for now. however, what I mean to say is we need to have someone like Viera/YYToure/FitDiaby-esque midfielder in box to box role if we are to really win and just not challenge.
    Nevertheless I cant wait myself to see arteta, wilshere and cazorla in the starting 11.

  12. Thanks very much Dave. I think AW has so much choice st the moment. What a great position to be in. With Rosicky & Jack coming back. There is plenty to look forward to.

  13. I agree that if it was not for diaby’s injury prone he wld be the best box to box player as he showed it against liverpool this season at anfield, however with jack coming back n rosicky only 3 weeks or so away to return I think a formation which accomodate atleast 2 of them wld be fruitfull. Africa we are watching come on arsenal

  14. It’s spot on again…
    Realistically i don’t think anyone can live with Yaya when he’s pushing forward,it’s an unfair comparison really,comparing circus midgets to a very fast marauding elephant really..
    But to see a comment to say that Wilshere is only being called good because of his absence (by a reader not you Dave) is ludicrous.
    That night in camp nou for example he didn’t look out of place at all in there with Xavi and Iniesta,first time i saw Xavi’s head spinning,but not looking for a pass,he was looking for Jack..
    My only fear is that Santi might get pushed too far forward,ala Cesc in his last year or 2 with us,almost played as striker,thus taking his strength’s out of the midfield battle,but it hasn’t happened so far,and for me world class doesn’t go far enough with Santi…
    So very happy with the 3,and with the back up’s,theyre almost not back ups really,i think all are good enough now,for the team to be picked to suit the strength’s weaknesses of the teams we play/resting purposes ala Ferguson..i think he changed his team for something like 50 + games last year,with nothing to do with injuries…so we have the strength,now use it,don’t wait til 1 of the 3 is injured or burnt out, a week leading up to a top 4 clash…

    1. I couldn’t agree more “woody”..

      “Dave”.. great article once again (y)..
      the answer is no to me, no one can match the intelligence of these three <3. However, you can't depend in the intelligence of the three of them only in all the matches, in some games you will need to throw Coquelin along-side with Mikel so you could have the strength in the defensive midfield, in other games you will need Tomas Rosicky along-side with Santi in the attacking side of the midfield. So, in my opinion in many games we'll need to add a fourth midfield player "which Ramsey filling it at the moment" and it's definitely should be either Coquelin or Rosicky !!

    2. Great comment and observation Woody. Thanks. I equally hope AW starts to rotate but he never has in 16 years.

  15. Another bloody good, thought provoking article mate, well done.

    I think that when all are fit we will have an abundance of riches but don’t put too much pressure on JW. We have seen what has happened to Rambo and it’s taking a long time for him to get back to his old form but I do think it’s slowly coming (ignoring the last 5 minutes of his last game). But it’s not the midfield that is causing the Arsenal difficulties.

    My biggest problem with our formation at the moment is (again) the defence. Why are we still playing zonal marking? In my opinion it just doesn’t work. As an ex defender (many years ago) I knew who I had to mark. He was my man, my responsibility. Where he went (within reason) I went because he was MINE. With zonal marking who do I mark? The person that comes into my zone? Hang on, suddenly there’s 2 of them, which one is mine? If I take him, who has the other one? Should I back off and try to watch the 2???? No. That’s not how to defend and before we look at the intricacies of midfield and up front, we need to DEFEND.

    Remember that at every kick off we already have a point, it’s then up to us to defend that and if possible make it 3. Pretty football is fantastic to watch but gets us nowhere if we let goals in. You build a team from the back.

    1. Thanks Pat. Agree the centre of defence still a cocern and last night’s soft goal proves it. I said in my season preview much as we all enjoy sight of Koz of TV5 rampaging forward with our midfield flair there is no need.

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