Arsenal Formation Analysed

dilshan muthalibContributor ISeptember 8, 2010


Much is made of how Arsenal line up exactly and how each individual would fit into the current formation Arsenal play, such could RVP (when fit) play with Chamakh  where does that leave Bendtner and Vela. Some pundits blamed the system we played for our failure in big games and it was argued that this system provided little cover for our full backs from our wide players hence they were exposed more. Performance of both Sagna and Clichy was below the highest level they set and one could argue that this could be true. It is widely believed that Arsenal play 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 and the system is adopted from the famous 4-3-3 of Barcelona and Ajax. When Arsene Wenger was asked last year if this was the case and he clearly rejected the suggestion. Now one could argue that even if he had indeed adopted the system from either of the above club it is unlikely he will admit to it. However, if one studies the formations used by different teams over the modern history of football one can start to understand that in fact this system is not adopted from either Ajax or Barcelona and  its origin goes back into mid 1950’s.

The great Brazilian teams of 1958-1970 adopted what was known as a 4-2-4 system which brought them three world titles (1958, 1962, 1970).  This system combined a strong defense with a strong attack. The success to this system is based on the two central midfielders and their ability to play both offensive and defensive roles equally well. In such a system there is more emphasis on each player understanding their duties and having the ability to understand and read the game. To understand this further let us look at the Brazilian teams that took the field for the first games of their three successful campaigns during this period.

1958 v Austria


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Gylmar- GK

Bellini- Defender

Nilton – Defender

Orlando- Defender

De Sordi- Defender

Dino Sani- Midfielder

Didi- Midfielder

Joel- Wide sided forward

Mazzola- Deep lying forward

Vava- Forward

Zagallo- Left sided forward

1962 v Mexico


Gylmar- GK

D. Santos- Defender

Mauro- Defender



Zito- Midfilder

Didi- Midfiler

Garrincha- Wide forward

Vava- Forward

Pele- Deep lying forward

Zagallo- Wide forward

1970 v Czechoslovakia


Felix- GK

C.Alberto- Defender

Brito- Defender

Piazza- Defender

M. Anthonio- Defender

Clodoaldo- Midfielder

Gerson- Midfielder

Pele- Deep lying forward

Jairzinho- Wide forward

Tostao- Forward

Rivelino- Wide forward

The above philosophy brought great success to the team on the basis of the players’ ability to understand their role. The players were not limited to a single position and rather were complete players who as well as excelling in their own role also understood other positions. They attacked and defended as a unit. Midfielders such as Didi played huge part with both attacking and defensive play. One has to also pay attention to Wenger when he talks about attacking and defending he talks about offensive play and defensive play oppose to exact positions. It is also interesting to note that when he develops a young player he uses them in different roles and talks about the need for them to understand different roles. Song during his early days was deployed as a CB and RB, Diaby was played on the left a lot, recently Wilshere has been deployed in a much deeper midfield role then what is considered his natural position. This has been a hallmark of Arsene Wengers youth development.

By making players understand and play different roles he is making sure a player does not just understand one role and become a Defensive midfielder or attacking midfielder instead becomes a complete player. Cesc is another example of this. Wenger feels his best role is in the hole behind the striker (deep lying forward) yet he played him as a deeper midfielder for most part of his Arsenal carrier. It is not because Arsene did not know the best position for Cesc it was part of his development.

The 4-2-4 requires the team to be able to defend from the front, retain the ball, and pass it well and if that fails then the team could easily get out numbered in their own half and be overly exposed. Now when Cesc plays that deep lying forward role the skills he learned as a deeper midfielder will help him to defend from the front. Both RVP and Chamakh are also good at defending from the front as we have witnessed. Nasri and Rosicky are not afraid of defending from the front either. When we look at our forward players they are equally adopt at playing different positions and we always find a lot of movement up front which keeps the opposition players occupied hence reducing the chance of opposition over committing to out number our two central midfield players. When you look at our central midfield players Song, Diaby, Ramsey and Denilson they are capable of both being offensive and defensive in their roles. This season in particular we have seen a great development in Diaby’s defensive play and he has always been very good going forward. It has been the same with both our full backs so far and it is clear to see their awareness our play has improved significantly and seem to be going forward when they should and staying back when required. This was the biggest problem in the big games last season. If we look at the goals we concede to United and Chelsea we can clearly see we were out numbered in our own half for most of the goals. This was not simply because the full backs did not have the cover but as a team we lacked awareness of the system and lost discipline and gave away the ball at the wrong time.

So far this season for me the signs are that the team has learned from the mistakes and seem to have a better grasp of the 4-2-4 system. Of course this we will still concede goals as the emphasis on this system is based on offensive play and one misplaced pass could leave our Midfield out numbered but the rewards of this bold system could be enormous as Brazil found out during their golden era and what more we sure have the types of players required to make this system work, bit of patience and surely our won golden period is around the corner I feel.