Arsenal's Arsene Wenger Has to Take Action and It Starts with Changing Formation
That's not to suggest that simply altering the alignment is a magic fix-all. It's certainly not unreasonable to suggest that individual performances are more important than specific formations.
However, none of that alters the fact that Arsenal's current tactical structure isn't working. There's no other way to explain one goal in three EPL games.
In fact, Arsenal have been held scoreless five times this season in the league. That is not the Arsene Wenger way and the problems stem from the formation.
In Saturday's tame showing against Swansea City, the issues were clear. The Gunners began with their now-familiar and risible 4-2-3-1 mess.
Gervinho took the central role with Lukas Podolski beginning on the left. At around the 20-25 minute mark, the two swapped positions.
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Nothing wrong with that initially, but what happened next was quite revealing. Later in the first half, Gervinho appeared to be beckoning Podolski back over to the left. Gervinho made his move back towards the middle, but Podolski didn't comply with the shift. Gervinho sheepishly made his way back to the left flank.
This sad little incident emphasised the problem with Arsenal's formation. Too many players are vying for the same position. There are also too many content to remain in static positions.
Against Swansea, it was difficult to identify a clear pattern and structure of the midfield. Santi Cazorla spent too much time wide, while Jack Wilshere operated too deep.
It's clear that players are uncertain and in some cases, unhappy with their roles in this tactical design.
This was true of Theo Walcott, who reverted to type on Saturday, staying wide and waiting for the play.
Players are not taking it upon themselves to influence the flow and direction of attacks. There is little to no natural and intelligent movement.
That's a staggering indictment of a team containing midfielders like Mikel Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla. The root of the problem is that the formation is too rigid.
Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 has wedged players into roles that are too specific and ultimately limiting.
It was the hallmark of Arsenal under Wenger to emphasise fluidity and speed. Players like Robert Pires and Marc Overmars were only left midfielders by name.
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They moved to attack central areas, operated as false nines and switched flanks on instinct, rather than instruction. That's because Wenger's 4-4-1 formation was fluid enough to allow this freedom.
That's because players no longer play with a sense of freedom. The midfield is filled with labels like "holding player" and "box-to-box." These carry limiting responsibilities that encourage an inherent inflexibility in Arsenal's shape and movement.
This has become a team that emphasises what it doesn't do particularly well—namely, working the ball out wide and firing supply into the box.
When done often enough it will occasionally yield results. Yet teams have realised that when denied space and width on the flanks, Arsenal run out of ideas.
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When Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri dictated Arsenal's play, people often complained that everything went through the middle. It may have done, but at least Arsenal created chances and were likely to score in every game.
The reason the duo were so creative was their movement. Fabregas operated in the boundaries between central midfielder and supporting striker. Nasri began wide but did his best work when drifting centrally.
They made Arsenal free-scoring from both 4-4-2 and 4-3-3.
The Gunners' struggles to score this season make them fair game against any opposition. After Aston Villa and Everton, this author pinpointed lack of quality as Arsenal's biggest problem. That is still the case.
There was endeavour against Swansea, but no creativity to go with it. Eventually Swansea's neat, assured efficiency overcame Arsenal's laboured efforts.
Wenger has to re-discover the team's style. That means quick passing, sharp movement and bright ideas. Whether it's a three-man defense, or four in midfield, or two central strikers, Wenger has to take the gamble. He has to risk losing the numbers battle, or lacking sufficient muscle in midfield.
He needs to fill the team with his best ball players. He must align them to encourage the natural partnerships and combination play his teams used to thrive on.
Right now, Wenger at the very least, has to be seen to be doing something to arrest Arsenal's slide.
The simple fact remains this formation isn't working, so why not make a change?
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