‘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.
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|
|Box to Box||Wilshere||Toure||Scholes||Ramires|
|Team||Arsenal||Manchester City||Man United||Chelsea|
|Box to Box||Diaby/Ox-Chambo||Rodwell||Anderson||Lampard|
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!
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.
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.
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.”
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 Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66