When Arsene Wenger decided last season to deploy a more fluid formation to assign a central role to Fabregas, I thought it was a good ploy.
It's always good to build the team around your best player.
Last season, Arsenal's experimentation with the 4-1-2-3 system seemed to work initially and it came as a breath of fresh air amidst the predictable and tediously overused 4-4-2.
The new system was fluid and relied less on the strikers to score goals. The most intriguing aspect of the new system was the use of a false nine striker—Robin van Persie played this role exceedingly well until he got injured in a meaningless International friendly game against Italy.
Incidentally, it was in Italy that this variation of striker-less formation first deployed.
All the credit must go to former AS Roma manager Luciano Spalletti—Serie A coach of the year 2006 and 2007—for this fascinating tactical masterpiece. Injuries to regular strikers forced him to try something new and the end result was the 4-2-3-1 striker-less formation, which in effect was 4-6-0.
The Roma legend Franceso Totti was key to this system as he played the false nine role admirably dropping deep and allowing midfielders and wide players to make the run into the box.
The central defenders were taken by surprise not knowing who to mark as the strikers were "missing." Totti's intelligence and technique played a pivotal role in the success of this new set-up.
It was first used halfway through the past decade and later the wily Alex Ferguson took up Spalletti's discovery on occasions.
Afterwards, it was the turn of Wenger, who adopted the striker-less formation—which wasn't exactly similar to Spalletti's find—in 2009-10 season to give Fabregas a free role. Also, the superfluity of midfielders at Arsenal influenced his decision making.
It was an instant success with Arsenal scoring goals at will with van Persie, Fabregas and Alex Song being key to the success. However, van Persie's long-term injury put an end to Arsenal's good run and in his absence the system didn't work as well as it had worked in his presence.
Subsequently, Wenger tried all the permutations and combinations involving Eduardo, Andrey Arshavin and Nicklas Bendnter in van Persie's absence with little success.
The victim of that system was Eduardo, who had been haunted by the horrifying memories of the terrible injury he suffered at Birmingham whenever he stepped on to the field.
He's more suited to the 4-4-2 formation that involves two strikers. 4-3-3 was a new arena for Eduardo and he wasn't suited for that.
Eduardo never realised his potential after promising so much in his first season thanks to his injury. His best chance was in a two-striker formation but the new Roma-esque formation meant Eduardo had to be shipped out to Ukraine.
Arsene Wenger slightly tweaked the formation to 4-2-3-1—much similar to Spalletti's Totti-led 4-2-3-1—for the 2010-11 season. The major change being in the use of the holding players.
In 2009-10 season, an out-and-out holding midfielder, Song, was deployed but in the tweaked variation two holding players became the norm.
Both holding players took turns to make forward runs and swapped positions constantly—Song and Wilshere in this case.
Van Persie plays the role of withdrawn striker in this system like he did last season. Although Wenger has kept enormous faith in this set-up, it hasn't been an improvement on last year's system.
If anything, last years formation looked far better and more dangerous. It may be down to Fabregas' perennial injury problems or the lack of personnel. Either way something has been missing.
While van Persie has been brilliant in the false nine role, he hasn't got enough support from midfield. It's worth remembering that last season Fabregas complemented van Persie well by making timely runs into the box when the Dutch forward forced defenders out of their position with his withdrawn runs.
This season similar link-ups were seldom seen on the pitch.
It was expected that Wenger would revert back to a two-striker formation with the arrival of Marouane Chamakh. That didn't happen, though.
What that means is many players have been played out of position. The hopeless sight of technically-poor Nicklas Bendtner struggling on the right flank has irked quite a few people.
Samir Nasri has also been forced to move out wide. He's an adept play-maker at Marseille and thrived in a role just behind the central striker. However, Wenger's stubbornness forced Nasri out wide.
Likewise, Arshavin also had to endure a similar fate. He has played as a second striker for most of his career but at Arsenal he's a wide player.
Chamakh, on the other hand, remains on the bench when van Persie is fit as only one striker can play at a time in the current set-up.
A certain Carlos Vela had to move out on loan as a result of Wenger's change in system. In the 4-2-3-1 system, midfielders are preferred over strikers. In other words, this system focuses on midfielders. Hence, strikers fall victim to this midfield-oriented set-up.
Arshavin, Nasri, Bendtner, Chamakh and Vela have all had to make adjustments as a result of Wenger's love for this Roma-inspired formation.
The solution is a new system giving preference to strikers.
AC Milan's current formation looks the best bet. Milan have secured the scudetto this season playing the 4-3-1-2 formation, and Arsenal should take that leaf out of Milan's book.
This formation would allow Nasri to play in the hole which is his best position. Fabregas is more suited for a deep-lying role with his outstanding passing range. And this system ticks that box as well.
This system would also permit the use of two strikers up front or even three depending upon the need and circumstances.
What this would also mean is very few players will play out of position. Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh and Fabregas all could play in their best suited positions.
I am not going to go much into details presuming all of you know how the 4-3-1-2 works. I believe Arsenal have the right players to make this system work better than the current set-up. Who would want to disagree?
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!