Should Arsene Wenger Revert to a 4-4-2?

James McNicholasFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Alexis Sanchez of Chile controls the ball during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil round of 16 match between Brazil and Chile at Estadio Mineirao on June 28, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger is purportedly toying with a change in formation. After recruiting Alexis Sanchez, he told Arsenal's official website:

He can play through the middle, he can play on both flanks and he has the qualities that I think are needed in England.

At the moment he might play on the flank because Walcott is injured. As well [he can play] through the middle in some games; we can play with Giroud, we can play without Giroud in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3.

Regular deployment of a 4-4-2 would mark something of a sea change at Arsenal. In fact, it would be a reversion to the system that defined Wenger’s first decade at the club.

Within a year of arriving at Arsenal, Wenger had dispensed with the back three and introduced a dynamic 4-4-2. However, when Highbury was demolished, the 4-4-2 went with it. Wenger appeared set on emulating the Barcelona model of 4-3-3 (or one of its 4-2-3-1 cousins). 

For years, he stuck steadfastly to the system. Substitutes would be thrown on, but the shape would be fundamentally unchanged. Last season, however, we began to see greater flexibility.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 12:  Yaya Sanogo of Arsenal kicks the ball under the watchful eye of Gary Caldwell of Wigan Athletic during the FA Cup Semi-Final match between Wigan Athletic and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on April 12, 2014 in London, England.  (P
Michael Steele/Getty Images

When the chips were down, Wenger turned back to 4-4-2. In both the FA Cup semi-final and final, he brought on Yaya Sanogo to play alongside Olivier Giroud, resurrecting the formation that had brought him such success in the first half of his reign.

In truth, Sanogo and Giroud are not a natural partnership. They're both target men and more inclined to receive the ball with their backs to goal than to run in behind. The 4-4-2 shape was never anything other than an emergency option, as Arsenal simply didn't have the variety and depth of strikers required.

With the arrival of Sanchez, that’s changed. It’s easy to see how he and Giroud could function as a pair. It’s the classic “little and large” combination, with Giroud able to hold the ball up and Sanchez possessing the pace to trouble defenders both with and without the ball.

However, a switch to 4-4-2 would have significant ramifications on the rest of the line-up. Arsenal would probably end up deployed something like this:

Arsenal potential XI

There are two major issues with such a system. The first concerns Mesut Ozil, who would be forced to play in a wide midfield role rather than the No. 10 position he prefers.

Ozil’s worst Arsenal performance to date came in the home leg against Bayern Munich while playing wide on the left of a midfield four. Although Ozil did well enough in a wide role for Germany at the World Cup, it was telling that his best performance of the tournament came when he switched to the centre during the final.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 17:  Aaron Ramsey (L) and Mikel Arteta of Arsenal (R) celebrate victory after the FA Cup with Budweiser Final match between Arsenal and Hull City at Wembley Stadium on May 17, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Ima
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The other worry is the middle of the park. Is a midfield two of Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta really sturdy enough to thrive in the Premier League? If Wenger wants to adopt this system regularly, he may need to go for a more conventional ball-winner to complement Ramsey’s box-to-box style.

There are both positive and negative aspects to the mooted reintroduction of 4-4-2. It would give Arsenal greater presence in the final third and allow them to offer a more diverse attacking threat. However, it might isolate Ozil and leave the centre of Arsenal’s midfield exposed.

Perhaps we'll see the formation used in specific home games, when Arsenal are confident they can dominate the midfield area without requiring three players in there. Having the option to line up as a 4-4-2 at the start of gamesor even switch to it midway throughwould make Arsenal less strategically predictable and a greater threat to their rivals.


James McNicholas is Bleacher Report’s lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.