The Forgotten W-M Formation Of Herbert Chapman

harish pandeyContributor IJuly 22, 2009

15 Aug 2000:  Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal talks to the press about the New Nike Geo Merlin Balls which will be used in the 2000-2001 Premiership Season held at Arsenal Training at London Colney, London.  Mandatory Credit: Jamie McDonald/ALLSPORT

A three member back-line is the last thing someone would think of as a remedy for Arsenal's woes. In fact Arsenal's recent history is congested with the words "famous back four", a reference to the spirited back line that Tony Adams marshaled in his heyday.

However, during the first era of Arsenal's glory days, the great Herbert Chapman played a unique W-M formation that was new to the teams of that era. It's ages since this formation has been used in its pure form, which emphasized fast feet and quick thinking.

The W-M formation consisted of a shallow W (the peak in the centre of the W is a short one) and a Deep M (the trough in M is a deep one). This entails three defenders who keep close to the goalkeeper during defending, and spread out to prevent a long ball counter attack, when the team attacked.

The so called holding midfielder, or the " Makelele" player (as the media asserts) was a non-entity in this formation. Two central midfielders capable of fast tracking back and forward surges occupied the centre of the park, while two swift wingers with good crossing ability would lie slightly ahead one each side. The two forwards would be assisted by a playmaker (in the "hole" position) to complete the formation.

Well technically this formation isn't new or old. Its numerous re-hashes have been used time and again by European teams where long ball is not a commonly used knife to slice out enemy defences. In England this formation in its pure sense went out of fashion due to various factors:

1. Fitness levels required were extremely high as the formation demanded tracking back at a furious pace when the ball was lost, and since the reliance on long ball was minimal (as most players would be behind trying to win the ball back), rapid passing during an attack was a necessity.

In the thirties, fitness of players wasn't anywhere near to today's levels. Still the formation was successful initially due to the lesser number of games played back then.

2. Higher technical skill of players, with better ball keeping, clean ball-winning ability, broader vision and accurate passing was mandatory, keeping in mind the extreme fluidity of the formation.

3. More than five creative players were usually required to complete attacks as the role of each position was not restricted as in today's formation. In other words, the reason why other teams failed with this formation was same as to why not every one could emulate Ajax's all conquering total football.

Back to 2009, under Wenger, Arsenal has a young squad capable of fluid passing, surging counter attacks, but of course a not invincible defence (if we could say that without the usual media exaggeration). Being very mobile, W-M formation suits the Gunners' present style of play as it would make zonal or even man marking difficult for opposition teams.

During an opposition attack, the two CMs and the WMs would track back, giving a seven-member defence, with the CAM just inside our half and the two forwards behind the centre line in the opposition half. When the team attack, the two CMs move forward leaving a three member back line (which shall spread out to mark the opposition forwards) and in the process, sending seven players down the opposition half, causing even the opposition forwards to track back for defending their half. This gives time and space for the defence to anticipate and clear any attempts at counter attacks that normally begin in the EPL with a "lob and scurry" routine.

Considering the team, Toure, Gallas and Vermaelen can marshall the backline, while Nasri and Rosicky can be the designated CMs with Denilson, Song, Ramsey and Diaby all putting in shifts as and when required.

For the winger role, Arshavin, Walcott, Gibbs, Sagna, Clichy and Eboue would be options. It is to be noted that normally the winger in this formation would station himself a little withdrawn from the usual stance.Β 

Of course, Fabregas would perfectly fit in the CAM role, with Arshavin or Rosicky or even Nasri deputing as and when required to fool the opposition.Β 

Considering the vast attacking options Wenger now has, and the large number of creative players like Fabregas, Nasri, Arshavin, Van Persie, Walcott, Eduardo, and even Walcott, this formation suit the team like a perfectly tailored jacket.

If Wenger is hard pressed in chalking out the dream formation for his immensely talented line up (surely the best and the largest collection of talent in the world right now), he should try going back to history and invent once again a new method of winning the EPL, as he did in 2001 and in 2004.


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