The last time Arsene Wenger’s team mounted a genuine title challenge after going unbeaten in 2004 was in the 2007/08 campaign. That season, the Gunners led the table for two-thirds of the campaign but key losses to Manchester United and Chelsea were enough to doom the Gunners to a third-place finish.
At the start of that campaign, the Gunners lost club legends, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg, to Barcelona and West Ham respectively, while Jose Antonio Reyes returned home. In came Lukasz Fabianski, Eduardo da Silva, Bacary Sagna and Lassana Diarra (who later departed to Portsmouth in the winter transfer window of the same season).
The Gunners went all the way to the Carling Cup semifinals but were thrashed resoundingly by the eventual winners, Tottenham. In the FA Cup, Arsene Wenger’s side was comprehensively beaten by Manchester United but the Gunners went on to eliminate the defending champions, AC Milan, in the First Knockout Phase of the Champions League before losing out to Liverpool in the quarterfinals of the competition.
However, the Gunners had a breathtaking campaign in the Premier League winning 24 games, drawing 11 games and losing three games which amounted to 83 points but it was only enough to secure a third place finish as the league champions, Manchester United, finished the season with 87 points while Chelsea had 85 points.
Wenger started the campaign with Mad Jens Lehmann in goal but after costly mistakes against Fulham and Blackburn, he promoted Manuel Almunia to the first-team setup and the Spaniard never looked back. Almunia, in his funny blonde hair, played the best football of his career and his most treasured moment was that penalty save against the enemy.
The defense was an organized brick wall with Kolo Toure and William Gallas coordinating things at the back and they also complimented each other as Toure was the stopper that went for those balls in the air as well as charging the opposition attacker while Gallas was the cover that stayed a step behind the Ivorian to mop things up as a sweeper. Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna balanced their offensive and defensive plays admirably and it was no surprise when both players earned a place in the 2008 PFA Team of the Year.
In that campaign, Arsene Wenger used the traditional 4-4-2 with most of the work done by Arsenal’s Fantastic Four in midfield.
Mathieu Flamini was the enforcer who added a presence to the midfield and was responsible for breaking up play. Tomas Rosicky and Alyaksandr Hleb cut in from the flanks, but the defenses were unlocked by the through passes from the player at the tip, Cesc Fabregas. In attack, Robin van Persie couldn’t feature consistently due to his constant niggling injuries and Eduardo was in the form of his life before suffering that career-threatening injury in St. Andrews, but Emmanuel Adebayor was an ever-present figure and his 30-goal haul in that campaign remains his personal best to date.
As the seasons progressed, Arsene Wenger changed his tactical approach to bring out the best in his captain and Fabregas’ 19-goal tally in the 2009/10 season showed how much he had matured as a player as Wenger remolded him from a cultured central midfielder to an advanced goalscoring playmaker who played behind the striker.
Following the high-profile departures of Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the start of the 2011/12 campaign, Aaron Ramsey was burdened with the heavy expectations of replacing the captain’s form on the pitch and he clearly struggled for form and fitness. Tomas Rosicky’s resurgence in that position in the tail end of the campaign played a key role in securing a third-place finish.
Arsene Wenger currently fields the tactical 4-2-3-1 setup and he has deployed the formation this season as well, until the moment when he tore a script from the Stoke City-under-Tony-Pulis manual as well as applying the contents from a copy of Otto Renhagel’s Euro 2004 Greek Defending for Dummies handbook in the dying moments against Tottenham.
A vital cog in Wenger’s current formation is the double pivot at the base of the midfield, as the personnel in there are responsible for balancing the attacking and defensive side of the team’s play. With Mikel Arteta injured at the start of the campaign, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey were deployed in both positions and they failed to click against Aston Villa, as Gabby Agbonlahor exploited spaces with his pace to put the team to sword.
Both players began to understand each other better in the game against Fenerbahce but Wenger chose to rest Wilshere against Fulham, handing a deeper role to Santi Cazorla alongside Ramsey when the Gunners visited Craven Cottage. When Tottenham visited the Emirates, Wenger began the game with the Ram-shire combo but a stomach bug paved the way for the Flanimal to make his second debut, and he excelled admirably.
In the acquisitions of Mathieu Flamini and big-money signing, Mesut Ozil, Arsenal has added depth as well as quality into its midfield and you would expect the former Real Madrid man to walk into the team, as he’s odds-on to improve the team as well as spur his teammates to put up improved performances as well. The players needed a lift and were optimistic that the manager was going to make some marquee signings and in Ozil, they have found their man.
After the international break, Arsenal visits struggling Sunderland and will harbor hopes of securing all three points as they have a squad that should be challenging for the title, instead of scrapping for European places with each passing campaign.
Arsene Wenger would definitely maintain his 4-2-3-1 formation against Paolo di Canio’s charges and without further ado, here’s a potential starting XI the Gunners would deploy that will include its new star signing, Mesut Ozil.
The arrival of Emiliano Viviano seems more like a ploy to make Wojciech Szczesny understand that he has no room for complacency, so I would expect Szczesny to continue in goal against Sunderland as well as some other bad games as the season progresses. Viviano and Fabianski will definitely alternate between lower opposition and Cup matches or in a worst case scenario, in the wake of an unexpected injury to Szczesny.
With Thomas Vermaelen working his way to full fitness, it will still take some stuffing to displace Arsenal’s current central defensive pairing, Mertesielny, as their partnership was key in the Gunners’ surge for a fourth place finish last season. Even though Carl Jenkinson has shown his qualities in the appearances he has made thus far, Bacary Sagna will still get the nod ahead of him to start at right back. On the other end, the Kieran Gibbs v. Nacho Monreal battle will commence again as the season progresses but I’d expect Gibbs to feature in more key fixtures than his Spanish rival for a first-team berth.
After analyzing the defense, Arsenal’s starting back five will be Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gibbs.
This is the part of the Gunners’ squad that is blessed with a vast array of talent. When Arteta returns to full fitness after his long-term absence, his arrival will put the manager in an awkward situation, because he must be forced to make a bold decision on which midfielders to use in the double pivot positions.
Will he continue with Wilshere and Ramsey, leaving a key player like Arteta on the bench? Will he sacrifice the Gunners’ poster boy, Jack Wilshere, to play Arteta alongside Aaron Ramsey? With Ramsey in a rich vein of form, will he be benched for the manager to play Arteta alongside Wilshere? What would happen to a certain new recruit called Mathieu Flamini when Arteta returns?
The Spanish pivote is reaching his twilight years quite already but Arteta is a player who has grown to become indispensable. I’m certainly no Arsene Wenger, but I’ll definitely rotate this section of the squad to keep these players happy, but when I’m faced against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and those European juggernauts in the Champions League, I will play Mikel Arteta alongside Aaron Ramsey, thus sending Jackie Boy and the Flamster to the dugout.
Jack Wilshere is undoubtedly a star in the making but I’ll favor a Ramsey-Arteta combo in the base of the midfield against a big side because Arteta’s maturity, stability and positional awareness will be complemented by Ramsey’s industry, high work rate and great technical ability.
Moving up to the attacking midfield role, a player as important as Santi Cazorla would want to play where he’s most effective in the tip of the midfield behind the striker but that’s where I’ll deploy Mesut Ozil, drafting Cazorla to the left hand side. Gooner Dave of One Nil Down Two One Up believes otherwise in this brilliant tactical piece as he favors Santi Cazorla in the middle while he’d prefer to see Ozil on the left.
Playing Mesut Ozil in his favored No. 10 position will see him showcase his undoubted talent as it would have him the room to thread his inch-perfect through balls to his teammates in advanced positions. Ozil also has the positional awareness to drift into the flanks, which will give Cazorla some room to exploit the middle, but he will also be key in Arsenal’s swift counterattacks and I see Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott benefiting from his influence in midfield.
In as much as I’d love to see Cazorla or Jack Wilshere play the No. 10 role again, I’m cool with Ozil strutting his stuff in that position and I hope the manager feels the same way too.
After analyzing the midfield, the starting triumvirate will be Arteta, Ozil and Ramsey.
This is the part of the first-team squad that pretty much picks itself, and the fact that Lukas Podolski and the Ox are facing lengthy spells means that the Gunners can’t really afford to have more injuries in the advanced attacking positions, because they are a bit light at the moment.
With Ozil playing as the creative hub of the team, Santi Cazorla will be drifted to the left hand side while Theo Walcott will continue doing his thing on the right. At this point in time, Arsenal can only call on the services of the red-hot Olivier Giroud in the center forward berth and, beyond him, there’s an unproven French youngster, a Dane with ego issues and a puzzling Korean who is clearly not favored by the manager.
After analyzing the forward line, the attacking trio will be Walcott, Giroud and Cazorla.
From my tactical analysis, my favored starting XI that would include Mesut Ozil would be,
Szczesny; Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs
Arteta – Ozil – Ramsey
Walcott – Giroud – Cazorla
Do you agree with this formation or not?
Feel free to share them with your comments.
This article is also featured in Toni Okike's Arsenal blog, Gooner Daily