Arsenal Transfer & Tactics: 4 Dream Formations for Next Season with New Players
Despite Arsenal's latest setback—the 2-1 defeat to Wigan—the team's recent form indicates that if Arsene Wenger makes strategic signings for next season, Arsenal could go from also-ran—their story in the last half-decade—to genuine contenders for the Premier League title.
Already, Wenger has indicated that his ambition for next season is to win either the league title or the Champions League, or both.
But while the current team has come a long way—from the early season shaky start, to overhauling a huge deficit to challenge neighbors Tottenham Hotspur for third place—to consolidate this remarkable turnaround, Wenger must supplement the current squad with a few solid signings.
Balanced purchases for me will include, perhaps, a couple of Europe's brightest stars and one or two experienced players, players with the kind of pedigree and experience both Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun brought to the current squad.
Accordingly, I sketch four dream formations that include possible transfer purchases for next season in the following.
These are mere dreams, what the reality will be like when the time comes will be another thing altogether.
4-4-2 with Podolski
Let's assume the rumor that Lukas Podolski and Arsenal already are in a transfer agreement is true, and let's assume that Robin van Persie decides to stay on at Arsenal. In that case, Arsene Wenger could have the option of exploring the 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) formation from time to time.
In FC Köln's latest match, the 3-0 loss to Borussia Mönchengladbach, Podolski played deeper than usual. From what I could see, it was an example of the role he could play at Arsenal—the Bergkamp role. The reverse of the role could happen with Van Persie playing behind Podoski in the playmaker role.
Here's how the selection would look like.
I should note that I'd prefer Francis Coquelin over Alex Song in this case, since I envision that the formation would require players to adhere strictly to their roles. Song's game and strength is in exploiting the spaces upfront. This formation would require players staying put in their relative and respective spaces.
The strength of this formation is its directness.
I'd use it against the Premiership's sturdier teams such as Stoke City, Aston Villa, Fulham, QPR, etc. Plus, Arsenal can abandon the formation any time they like. Structural modulation is coming more and more into vogue as managers seek to outwit one another.
We saw this in one of the recent Clásicos and between the two Manchester clubs when Roberto Mancini changed formation to stifle United in a match the latter threatened to run away with. With 10 men, Mancini subdued United and almost turned the tables on his rival.
This formation could modulate to Wenger's preferred formations, in which case Song would come on for Coquelin and Rosicky for (or another playmaker) Podolski.
Notice here also how I assume that Arsenal will buy Jan Vertonghen. In this case, he could partner Coquelin in place of Arteta, within the second band of four. Note though, that I'm assuming that with such a rich squad, Wenger would be embolden to rotate the team more.
My opinion is that a title-winning team can't but rotate the team from time to time, which means each member of the squad must be privy to and comfortable with the way the team plays. Moreover, each squad member should be adaptable to any given position within their particular specialized space in the formation—attack, midfield, defense.
It is why I sneer when I hear players complain about being played out of position: duh, welcome to the modern game.
3-2-3-2 Formation with Hazard/Eriksen/Kagawa
Against Wolverhampton Wanderers last Wednesday, Wenger experimented with the 3-2-3-2 formation, with Bacary Sagna pushed high up the pitch in touching distance of Theo Walcott.
This allowed Walcott to drift infield very close to Robin van Persie. The combination of these three led to two quick goals for Arsenal.
Someone might say, "well and good, but this was against a weak team." To which I respond, against whom else do you try out your formations, Barcelona?
Talking Barcelona, for those who follow the team, you'd notice that Pep Guardiola always is experimenting with formations in his away travels. It is because he plans ahead for the big games, which is why no team as yet has really caught up with Barcelona.
If you are the cutting edge, then you must innovate ahead of others.
Followers of Arsenal have noticed how Arsenal's style is gradually modulating. That's because lesser teams are finding ways to be destructive against passing teams like Arsenal. This forces idealists like Wenger and Guardiola to search for ways to elude these opponents.
In the following, I recall a 3-2-3-2 formation that incorporates Arsenal's anticipated purchases.
Here Sagna is a wing-back, more an attacking player than defensive players. His very important role pins back the opposition's winger.
The resultant three-man defense involves the combination of Thomas Vermaelen, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny. The right center-back (Koscielny or Santos) pushes forward in attack to close up the space left behind by the false-11.
The false-11 here is Lukas Podoski, a role he plays more or less for Germany, so he should be able to fit seamlessly into this formation.
Alex Song and Mikel Arteta or their deputies (and this could be Jan Vertonghen) are the holding player. In this case, Song reprises his role as a deep-sitting and marauding playmaker.
The pivot role goes to either Eden Hazard, Christian Eriksen, Shinji Kagawa or Tomas Rosicky. Had Arsenal money to buy one more striker, beside Lukas Podolski, then we could pencil in Demba Ba at the apex of the formation.
Let me stress the earlier point that winning teams must be able to not only modulate their formations at will, but also to rotate their players without a problem.
The Midfield Diamond 3-1-3-1-2 Formation with Yann M'Vila
This is the classic Barcelona formation, employing three defenders at the back, a wing back on the right, and a midfield diamond comprising a holder (Busquets), an influencer (Iniesta), a passer (Xavi) and the roaming playmaker/striker (Messi).
Upfront, the main striker is positioned high on the left (Villa) while the supporting striker skews to the right (Pedro/Sanchez).
Now notice how this formation evenly segments the pitch, a fact that allows the players to win back possession very quickly, as each of them knows which way to go to collapse around the opponent's possessing player.
The position of the main striker is disguised, which is why he seems like a winger. This, I believe would fit Lukas Podolski like a glove at Arsenal.
Another decoy in the formation is the false-nine, the Messi role. This is so because this person refuses to be defined. Now he is a striker; now he's not. Now he shifts right, and now he falls deep.
Can Robin van Persie play this role at Arsenal? This role belongs to the game-changer per excellence.
The strength of this formation, though, lies with the midfield diamond, who must work tirelessly to control possession, the tempo and rhythm of the game.
As I interpret the formation for Arsenal, the playmaker role is skewed leftward (Abou Diaby). Here you can pencil in whichever playmaker you desire for Arsenal in the coming season.
I give the holding role to Arsenal's possible summer purchase Yann M'Vila.
Again, the beauty of this formation is the way every inch of the pitch is accounted for in terms of domination. It is a different interpretation of the previous formation.
The 4-3-1-2 "Y" Formation with M'Vila, Vertonghen, Kagawa
Let me use this forum to state that if given the choice between Shinji Kagawa and Christian Eriksen, I'd take Kagawa, based on their current form.
Here, I accommodate Kagawa into a 4-3-1-2 "Y" formation (note the Y in bold yellow lines). This is the AC Milan default formation, one they used with devastating effect against Arsenal in Milan, and one Wigan Athletic adapted for their purpose to beat Arsenal at the Emirates.
Note that the "Y" also works in the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 formations. All these are counterattacking formations. The potency of this formation against Arsenal in Milan owed to the manner in which the two front men were employed.
They are positioned wide to receive the ball in areas of less pressure when the counterattack commences. The supporting player, the player in the hole, is key. As employed by Napoli, this is the man that brings forward the ball. In this case though, Napolis' two front men usually sit deeper than Milan's.
To work, Milan's formation depends on the middle three men. They are the collective pivot between defense and attack. The middle person within this band must be a destroyer per excellence (think Mark van Bommel) and the outer two liaise with the player in the hole as well as with the full-backs and the front wide men.
This formation, like the previous, is parsimonious in the way it segments the pitch.
As I envision it for Arsenal, the middle man will be the creative midfielder on the day (Rosicky, Kagawa, Hazard, Diaby etc). In the holding position I envision either Yann M'Vila or Jan Vertonghen. Arsenal's current squad members can be played in this role as well.
To win trophies next season, Wenger must try hard to retain both Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie. In addition, he should try to buy a few solid players such as Lukas Podolski, Shinji Kagawa, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Yann M'Vila, etc.
Tactics wise, good things already are happening at Arsenal. I expect more malleability from Arsenal next season.
Furthermore, the squad must be deep and qualitative enough to allow seamless rotation. Rotation, I believe, is key to doing well in long seasonal campaigns.