Why Pep Guardiola is struggling in the Premier League

There is a passage late in the the book Pep Confidential which is illustrative of Pep Guardiola’s strengths and weaknesses. Facing Manchester United in the return leg at the Allianz Arena, Pep has a sudden brainstorm: he’s going to set his team up to play a 2-3-3-2.

In this system, Pep would play Phillip Lahm and David Alaba in the deep three midfield spots with Kroos in the middle. But because Kroos likes to drift to his left and Alaba is allowed to go forward, Lahm is tasked with filling that midfield space in between the two center backs and the next row of (now 4) forward midfielders. Goetze starts in the free role and Robben and Ribery play on the wings. Ahead of them are Mandzukic and Muller.

Pep would say of this formation “I’ve never played like this… not even in my boldest days at Barca. It’s completely new for me too but it just seems right and they’re going to do it perfectly. I can see it in Arjen and Franck’s eyes.”

Pep prepares the team, running them through the new formation and how they are supposed to play. He sets up his B team to play Man U’s 442 and practices against how he thinks United will play. His men are deep into the season, they are Bundesliga champs, they are the defending Champions League team, they are well prepared.

They come out in that match soft. They don’t press spaces like Pep wants. They aren’t playing the way that Pep has begged them to play all season: 15 passes to get everyone in his team into position, and then attack like hell. I know that if you’re an Arsenal supporter, like me, you’ve seen this script before: one team has all of the possession, they are controlling the ball but not really penetrating, they are playing with just two defenders and those two defenders are standing around somewhere near the center circle. All the sudden, the opposition takes the lead off their first real chance in the game and suddenly the possession-based team wakes up.

Guardiola was blessed with a ton of attacking talent in that match but he still had to abandon the 2-3-3-2 and haul Goetze back into a double pivot role with Lahm. Bayern pull out the win after Mandzukic equalizes and Muller and Robben add on two more.

After the match, Guardiola spends the entire night thinking about what went wrong. He doesn’t blame his wacky system, or the fact that the 2-3-3-2 was introduced the week of the match. He decides that his players aren’t running enough.

In the next chapter he gives his players a big speech about how “if we don’t run we are nothing.” It’s meant to be a motivational speech to fire up his guys and get them working hard for each other on the pitch.

They lose the next match to Borussia Dortmund 3-0. And a month later they are knocked out of the Champions League on a 5-0 aggregate to Real Madrid. In the latter match, Pep sets the team up to play in a 4-2-4, a formation that has only brought him pain, but one which is emblematic of the man: it’s a passionate, attacking formation.

He didn’t pick the 4-2-4 because he thought it was the best formation to beat Real Madrid, he chose the 4-2-4 because he didn’t know what else to pick. He had become frozen in his tactical selection and overwhelmed by his own brain’s ability to present him with choices. He picked a team’s formation in a Champions League semi-final based on a gut feeling. And this was a formation that his team had only used once before, against Borussia Dortmund at the start of the season, and once which they lost to Borussia Dortmund.

Guardiola prepares his teams meticulously for matches, they have analysts prepare dossiers on the opposition, they train at speed, they practice Pep’s formations until they have them right. But he is prone to moments of fancy. Instead of setting up his team to play one or two formations throughout the season, Pep Guardiola is like a teenager on Tinder; spoiled for choices, swiping right on every formation, and allowing his moments of madness to undermine his meticulous planning and training.

Pep also demands an awful lot from his players. Lahm isn’t the exception, Lahm is the rule. He expects players to be able to play in two to three positions. Lahm can do it, he played defensive midfielder, right back, and on the wing expertly during Guardiola’s tenure. But how many other players in world football can actually slip right into three different positions on the pitch during a season? James Milner, to his great credit, has done the job with Liverpool but there are few players who have that level of commitment and tactical awareness.

Guardiola doesn’t like specialists. He’s not a fan of a guy like Aguero who is really only going to be able to play one way, as an out and out striker. This is a guy who averaged 30 goals a season for the last three years before Pep shows up and instead of finding a way to work Aguero into his team, he drops him. He’s seemed to have finally conceded the need to keep Aguero in the lineup, begrudgingly.

Guardiola has been guilty of this over complication and demanding too much from his players this season with Man City – a trend that started in his later days at Bayern and which has now continued unabated at City.

He started this season asking the fullbacks to drop into the middle of the pitch and play as midfielders in a modified 4-2-3-1. Clichy and Sagna did OK in that job but no sooner had they settled than Guardiola was off trying something different. They won all of their first 10 matches and then Pep tried a 4-1-4-1 against Celtic and ended the match in a surprising 3-3 draw. In the next match against Tottenham he starts out with a 4-2-3-1 but again had a weird tinker where he moved Kolarov from center back to left back, bringing Stones back in to the side. Kolarov scores an own goal in the 9th minute. Against Everton, the very next match after losing to Spurs, he switches to a 3-4-3. They draw 1-1. And then it’s back to a 4-2-3-1 for Barcelona, Aguero is dropped and de Bruyne is played as a false 9. City is absolutely lunched 4-0.

After that period of 10 matches where they won every game City went six straight without a single win. Guardiola was experimenting with lineups and personnel the whole time.

Guardiola had a similar (but different) problem with Joe Hart. Hart was the victim of Guardiola’s obsession with playing the ball out of the back. It’s a decent obsession to have, but if you fire an enormously popular dressing room figure like Hart, you better bring in a player who is at least as good if not better. Claudio Bravo has been such a disaster that Pep is now on to playing Willy Caballero as his starting keeper.

City’s erratic play is no surprise to me. The patterns are simply continuing from his time at Bayern. Marti Perarnau, the author, paints Pep’s tinkering and demands from his players in a glorious light. The 2-3-3-2 that Guardiola plays against Man U is depicted as inspired genius. In attack, this is true. City are the most creative team in the Premier League, taking more shots in the box than any other team and creating far and away the most “big chances”. But there are two ends of the pitch and the reality is that for most defenders in the Premier League, they need a system to play which allows them a platform of stability which the team can build on.

Guardiola’s players suffer from a similar problem to Arsene’s men; they tend to look disorganized and chaotic, especially in the first 20 minutes of matches when it looks like the players don’t “switch on” as we often say.  Stats bear this perception out. In the first 20 minutes of Premier League matches this season, Wenger’s men are just +1 goal difference and Guardiola’s players just +2. Contrast to Chelsea who are +7 in that same period and Liverpool who are +8, with both of those teams scoring a League leading 13 goals in the first 20 minutes of matches.

Where both Arsenal and City make up for their slow starts is late in the game when their superior fitness and technique overpowers opposition. Arsenal have joint most goals (23) in the final 20 minutes and City are right there with them with 17. The Gunners and City also have a decent defense in the last 20 minutes, allowing just 8 goals for a goal difference of +15 and +9 respectively.

Contrast that to Chelsea, who have allowed a League best 3 goals in the last 20, while scoring the League’s third best 18. It’s still a +15 goal difference, like Arsenal, but I’d much rather see just 3 goals allowed and 18 scored than 8 allowed and 23 scored – it’s just easier to win when you concede fewer goals.

And that’s where Conte’s men have the advantage: unlike Guardiola who plays 10 different defensive formations throughout the season, often switching in mid game, Conte’s defense plays the same 352 in every match. And their defense is winning them the League, so far.

Qq

48 Comments on Why Pep Guardiola is struggling in the Premier League

  1. So Wenger who doesn’t really do changes in formation has the same problem as Guardiola, and your conclusion seems to be that the reason for Pep is that he’s always changing formations. I don’t get it.

    I just think it’s more likely that these problems are just a by product of wanting to play a passing, attack first system, which relies on trusting players to do the role asked of them and to be intelligent enough to adapt on the fly. At its best it can be exhilarating, and at its worst, players seem lost.

    • I thought it was pretty clear. Different problems, similar results. Guardiola’s problems are multiple: he demands too much from his players, he tinkers too much, and he uses too many different formations. The result is that his team’s defense looks disjointed, disorganized, and doesn’t cover spaces well enough. Wenger’s problem isn’t that he tries too many formations but that his basic defensive structure is too open and doesn’t cover spaces well enough. The crucial similarity is that neither manager’s team seems to understand their role on the pitch during the defensive phase. Opposition managers are going to cause chaos. To combat that structure, solid structure, underlying the defense allows the team to operate in a predictable way during those moments of chaos. That structure requires consistent drilling, which I don’t think either manager is doing.

      • Yes, very good points (and fair play to Shard for pointing out the interesting contrast between Pep and Arsene, i.e. that Arsene very rarely switches formations, though I thought Tim’s initial point was clear enough in the article).
        One other similarity–though I’m not sure how much it impacts the main points of Tim’s article–is that neither Arsenal nor City have really figured out a settled side, especially in contrast to Chelsea’s starting 11, or Leicester’s side from last year. For City this might just be down to Pep’s tinkering (one also assumes that after this summer’s business, the squad will be more “his” next season), but for Wenger I think one of the biggest weaknesses in his management this year has been, in spite of a deep and talented squad, and in spite of starting the season well and more-or-less settled, we seem to have no idea who our best 11 are at the moment. Of course injuries play a part in this, but only to a degree. Other than Santi, we haven’t had that many longterm injuries this season, yet we have looked unsettled for months now.
        E.g. Sunday’s lineup struck me as obviously too open and insecure in possession (Walcott, Coquelin, Sanchez on the left, etc) to combat City’s possession game. Fair play if we want to play on the counter, but even then, you need to have the ability in possession to break the press and transition up the field intelligently and dangerously, unless you’re going to go full-on Pulis Ball, and we obviously aren’t very good at Pulis Ball (though I guess it sorta worked out, given the goals came from free kicks, though that seems more like dumb luck than a calculated strategy on our part).
        My point is not to complain about Sunday’s performance, or to suggest that most of those players shouldn’t be getting significant minutes in this team. It’s just that after the City game, I don’t think we’re any closer to stumbling upon a balanced first 11 who should start most/all of the remaining games in the league, and it’s hard to get the momentum needed for a winning run of games without a settled side. And that’s on Wenger.

        • I just watched the City match and it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t take a lot of positives from that at all. Pretty much the midfield is still unbalanced, the CB’s still step into spaces they shouldn’t, and we still can’t create chances in open play. The doo doo is deep this time. Oh, and Ox and Ramsey have muscular injuries again. I’m past words on that one. Meanwhile, Jack Wilshere keeps playing football for Bournemouth as if he’s not injury prone.

          • Agree with every single thing you said and that’s my biggest problem with this Arsenal.
            Trophies are great, but I could do without them if the club played an attractive brand of football.

            Arsenal haven’t for a while.
            Chelsea at home and a handful of other games stand out in an otherwise long series of boring games.

        • But stats show Arsenal has used 21 different starting midfield combinations this season. City has used 20.
          There’s proof to Tim’s logic. Pep had abundance of talents to be spoiled for choice. Wenger on the other hand never had a replacement for Carzola. I remember Tim asking on twitter before Cazorla’s injury what Xhaka had to do to get in the team. Wenger later had to explain that he trusted the Coquelin and Cazorla partnership because of the number of games they’ve had together.
          I think Wilshere is the best natural replacement for Cazorla and by letting him go, Wenger never found resources to play the team wants.

          El-neny seemed to only do well playing beside Ramsey. Ramsey hasn’t been available consistently because he does well playing beside Xhaka as well. But whoever is available, Oil seem to do well only with the Coquelin and Cazorla partnership. So Cazorla’s injury is partly to blame for both Coquelin and Ozil’s poor form.
          That’s where we need the investment next season.

  2. Again, so much fun to read. You work with numbers but more with creating a narrative. I’m a cultural anthropologist, it’s all a fight against indeterminacy for me.
    Without checking, I’m surprised if fivethreeeight have never asked you to contribute.

  3. Sounds like defensive football beats attacking football most of the time, barring grossly unequal sides.

    Honest questions:
    1. If Pep fails in the Prem does that make Wenger look better?

    2. If defense>offense then presumably we are headed for a defensive arms race, if so, is the Prem going to become like Serie A?

    • Attacking football needs to figure out how to respond to the defensive innovations of the last decade (like Barcelona and Spain did a decade ago), or else (I’m not holding my breath!) the governing body should tweak the laws ever-so-slightly to redress the balance and reward teams for trying to play more open/entertaining/creative/risky football. (American football did this a while back and I think few would argue the game has been worse for it.)

      But none of that lets Wenger (or Pep) off the hook for not organizing their teams well defensively.

      • this is obviously too vague and general a statement to know how to begin to refute, but I think professional basketball and american football are not sports in which you could say defense has a decisive advantage. Also: cricket? rugby? tennis?

        NB It could still be the case that “great defense beats great offense”, in that a team with great defense but only above average offense is more likely to win matches against a team with the reverse, AND the case that throughout individual matches offense routinely “succeeds” against defense, i.e. scores. In football (i.e. the roundball version), defense (great or otherwise) beats offense in both senses. I mainly had the second sense in mind in my original post.

        • Do you watch much NFL? The team with the high defensive rating inevitably wins Superbowls. Ditto NBA where it manifests as point differential and turnover margin. Ditto baseball where it manifests as great pitching.

    • “If Pep fails in the Prem does that make Wenger look better?”

      If Pep fails to win the PL title in the next 12 seasons, then yes, that will make Wenger look better.

      • Agreed. Too early to conclude Pep has failed in England. But this article isn’t a criticism of Pep. It is more a detailed insight into the workings of a genius mind.
        Pep is lucky. He works for clubs with resources above Wenger at Arsenal.
        If Pep had to work for Arsenal, he wouldn’t experiment much I assure you.
        At city, he has Fernando, Fernandinho, Gundogan, De Bruyne, Yaya Toure, Silva, Garcia, a forgotten English international, and he could even afford to loan out Nasri (to Sevilla where he’s doing well).
        All of these players cost premium in the tranfer market. And they are only in the midfield.
        Arsenal doesn’t have that money. Wenger is not the reason why Arsenal is not as rich as city or Barcelona or bayern. And until Pep has worked with Wenger’s type of budget, you can’t adopt a parameter that makes Wenger a failure for “12 seasons”.

  4. I’d be interested to hear what you think about Pochettino and why his Spurs team is doing so well. I had this horrid thought yesterday that they may actually win the league. Only six points from the leaders.

    • I think we all had that horrid thought yesterday. But I can’t see Conte’s Chelsea slipping up badly enough. He’s too prepared, too intense, and they’re too good defensively (a couple of bad injuries to key attackers could mean they draw a bunch of games, and that could do it, I guess, but it’s not likely). Plus, Spurs’s squad is thin and with injuries, I think they’ll drop some more points between now and the end (still likely to finish above us, mind).

        • I hate Chelsea, but I have to respectfully disagree with you on that one. Now, if Mourinho were still at Chelsea…

    • Again, Pep’s book is illustrative. There are three things a manager can control: the ball, the space, and the clock. Spurs are interesting in that their stats remind me a lot of what I saw when Arsenal played against an Allardycian team. Meaning, low pass percentages on both sides. This means to me (without access to the “ball in play” data) that when they come up against another big team, Spurs tend to kill the clock. Lots of breaking up play, stopping momentum, and forcing the opposition to try to beat them without using passing combinations. But unlike Allardyce, Spurs also try to tackle the ball and win the ball high up the pitch, thus controlling space. I think of this as a hybrid of space/time if you will.

      It is a defense-first approach, however.

  5. He’s been found out because, until now, has has always had fantasy football teams. Always had caviar plates. Now it’s steak and chips, and we’ree finding out that it’s the ingredients, not so much the cook.

    Yes, he’s a tireless tinkerer, but it’s not the reason (way I read it) that he’s finding it harder in England. This City team is really, really ordinary — notwithstanding the fact that it took 4 points out of 6 off Arsenal, and we took 1 in 6 off them.

    • At Bayern, maybe, but Barca were pretty much in disarray when he took over (as much as the big two in Spain are ever really “in disarray” in the modern game). They had huge talent, sure, but the likes of Ronaldinho had spent the previous two years largely wasting his talent, and Pep came in and turned them around impressively, with a series of excellent personnel decisions, then got them playing with a style and intensity that surpassed Rijkaard’s Barca at its best. I don’t think you can seriously say the chef didn’t add quite a bit to that dish.

      • Barca might have been in disarray because Ronaldhino et al were sitting on their laurels for a couple of seasons but they already had the core of Pep’s all conquering side in Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Alves, Puyol, Pique et al and just needed someone who was willing to sweep out the dead wood and make Messi the new centerpiece of the team. I think that Pep did a masterful job in tactically elevating that extraordinary group of players to one of the best club sides of all time but does it really take a coaching genius to make Lionel Messi the centerpiece of a team?

        Frankly, I’ve always wondered how Pep’s methods would work with a lesser group of players. I mean isn’t it easy to ask fullbacks as good as Philip Lahm and David Alaba to tuck in centrally as deep lying midfielders when they’re such fabulous all round footballers? Sagna, Clichy, Kolerov, and Zabaleta were never as good technically and now they’re well past their primes physically. Asking them to assume the same roles was always going to be a tough task.

        • 1. It wasn’t rocket science to make Messi the centerpiece of the team, but it also wasn’t at all obvious, and took considerable balls, to get rid of Ronaldinho, Deco, and a number of others. If stories are to be believed, it was also a challenge to gain the trust of Messi, who had a bit of an attitude problem at the time, having come under the influence of Ronnie et al, and had yet to come close to fulfilling his potential.
          2. Busquets (and Pedro) were youth players. Pep gave them their chance, and in fact Yaya and Henry were sold because Pep preferred the youth products over these established stars.
          3. Alves and Pique were both brought in Pep’s first summer in charge. Alves was already a big star, but Fergie preferred to hang on to Jonny Evans over Pique, which tells you everything you need to know about how his career was going at Man United.
          4. I agree with your point about the quality of players he’s had at his disposal, as illustrated by the problems he’s now having with the City fullbacks, but I’m not sure how poorly this reflects on Pep, or if it’s just a matter of his coaching skill set being somewhat narrow. Could the Michelin star chef make gourmet dishes from McDonald’s ingredients?

    • @claudeivan
      I don’t disagree with you often but to say he’s ( Pep) been found out, when in his first season of a rebuilding process, is a bit harsh, especially when you admit some of his players are nowhere near the level required to carry out his tactics.

      Tinkering with players’ positions , which makes it more challenging for some players to adapt, is one thing.
      Failing to execute the basic defensive actions, like pushing out and clearing the lines( Clichy against Walcott), is quite another.

      I’m a big Pep fan because even with this aging and under talented squad, City have been the most attractive club to watch this season.

      But not now.

      • Meant to say, if Pep fails to win in the next or in his third season than we can talk about him being found out but not now.

  6. Good analysis of the tactical systems. City started the season in roaring form and people thought they were the runaway champions elect. Conte’s Chelsea were looking a bit lost by contrast. Then, everything changed when Conte went away from Ivanovic as a RB in a flat back 4 and integrated Moses as a wing-back. This kind of solid but very quick unit is well suited to the premier league. I think it also should be said that City hardly has competent full back or goalkeeper play, and that they don’t have the riches in central midfield that Conte has either. Guardiola isn’t playing Navas at RB and a bevvy of attacking midfielders because he’s a crazy tinkerer, he’s doing it because pretty much that’s his best option. It’s a deeply flawed City roster.

    Chelsea, by contrast, still have the backbone of the team that ran away with the title two years ago and they probably could’ve won it last year too if Hazard didn’t quit on Mourinho (and the rest of the team with him). City still have Silva/Aguero but they are a mess in CM, GK and defense personnelle wise. So yeah, Conte’s done great with what he has but for me you can’t say he’s been the better manager compared to Guardiola because he started with a more complete, better balanced squad. In order to say which manager has gotten the most out of what he has, we would need to run a model that looks at expected vs. actual points in the league. Sounds like a project the folks over on 538 could do given some opta and wage data.

    • I would add one more thing. David Lulz’ main strength actually isn’t defending. He’s a good defender, but an even better passer. Gary Cahill is a joke with the ball at his feet. An actual donkey. But the man is a beast defensively. What the back three allowed Conte to do is play to his player’s strengths and cover their weaknesses. I don’t think 2 players back there would have been enough, but three seems to have the balance right.

      Guardiola’s problems are actually multiples in defense. Jon Stones is a world class player with the ball at feet. Probably the best passing CB in the League. But he’s suspect in defense. The problem for Pep is that he’s such a purist that I doubt he’ll go get him a donkey to play in CB. And his other defenders just can’t cover for Stones. So, he’s really fucked.

      Arsenal on the other hand… Weirdly, I think Mustafi might turn into a great passer but damn, that man is so frustrating in terms of his defensive awareness. He, like Stones and Lulz, needs a bastard defender next to him. Koscielny does this very well. But what Arsenal might consider is 3 at the back with Bellerin as wing-back and Gabriel next to Mustafi. This would increase our defensive awareness and ability to win the ball in the air. The problem is that Arsenal aren’t really set up, personnel wise, to play a 352. Bellerin is good, but who is his backup? Monreal and Gibbs are more traditional left backs but I guess they could do it.

      Of course suggesting this kind of thing usually gets howls of derision. So, I guess I’ll have to do it in tomorrow’s post.

      • Mustafi has more than a hint of Vermaelen about him. As for a back three for us, I’d go with Monreal to the left of Koz with Mustafi on the right. Nacho is a really solid, fundamentally sound defender who has lost a step which makes him somewhat vulnerable as a fullback, especially in our system, but has more than enough speed and mobility for an outside defender in a three. His experience as an emergency central defender would certainly help. Bellerin would be an ideal wingback for a back three.

      • Everyone else is playing 3 at the back, so why not join the trend? I’d play Holding over Gabriel. Gab is an aggressive defender and one of our only players who can “win” headers (as opposed to simply heading the ball when it comes to him) but he is a disaster in possession, a real liability. Holding seems to be able to do it on both sides of the game but small sample size. The reason I’m so high on Mustafi is his passing and specifically his ability to break lines with his passes. Last season we had no ideas back there and this season we keep killing ourselves but at least between SM and Xhaka we have players that are capable of passing from the back. Typically defenders who come here from abroad take a while to bed in with the physicality and the speed of play, so I think SM will be fine on that front. LK wasn’t a “killer” when he arrived from Lorient either.

        Having said all that I don’t think 3 at the back solves our chief issues, which are: lack of identity/continuity in midfield, excessive risk/poor execution on and immediately following transitions (both phases), and poor aggression/concentration in general. Still at this point you feel we need to make a change and maybe it’ll click better for the players, who knows.

        • As was mentioned above, I think the biggest obstacle to going regularly with 3 at the back is not the central three but the lack of players who could flourish at wing back. Bellerin is the obvious one, and maybe Gibbs, though I don’t think, even in his best moments, he’s made a case for being good enough to be in the starting 11 (maybe the Ox, though I don’t think he’d do great on the left, and isn’t he supposed to be transforming into a CM?). Wenger would have to go out and buy players who fit that mold, which would involve a serious commitment on his part.

          • Victor Moses wasn’t exactly the prototype but with specific instructions he did the job. We could shoehorn any number of players into that role, even if they’re not naturals at it like Hector would be. The wing back need not be a star, he just has to do his job and be a willing runner. But we have far greater problems than worrying about mere formation tweaks.

          • I’m not saying it’s impossible, just not sure shoehorning players into positions they’re not natural fits in is worth it unless we think the back three is essential to succeeding in the PL right now, and I’m not sure why that would necessarily be the case.

            I think Moses always looked like a wingback type player to me (of course it’s easy for me to say that now!). I remember back in the 90’s when many teams all over Europe played this system, you’d have about half the wingbacks who were naturally attacking fullbacks, and half who were naturally midfielders/wingers (Darren Anderton for England at France 98 springs to mind, and Jason McAteer at Liverpool circa ’96).

            But other than the Ox (and I think he’d be better competing with Bellerin on the right, as I’m never convinced with him cutting in from the left), I don’t see who else could do it. Maybe Ramsey, but we already know he lacks discipline to stay wide, and wingbacks really need to stay wide! One problem with our squad in this regard (other than being a bit light on attacking fullbacks) is that most of our “wingers” are really “wide attackers” (Theo, Welbeck, Sanchez, Perez) who think of themselves as forwards first and foremost.

            But if you think otherwise, then who would you play out there?

          • Well, everyone’s a wide attacker in Wenger’s Arsenal. That’s part of the fluidity he preaches, the freeform improv, which is in sharp contrast to Pep’s carefully coordinated orchestral arrangements where every piece has a specific part to play at specific times. It used to be a blessing and a curse but lately it’s been just a curse, and by that I mean me cursing at the television when I see players in poor positions time after time after time.

            My view: don’t play 3 at the back just for the hell of it. However, I believe any one of Monreal, Gibbs, Ox or even Welbeck could do it. It just requires a good motor and a willingness to stay wide.

          • Welbeck’s a good shout. I thought of him as well. He’s hardworking, disciplined, athletic, and selfless enough to do the job, though it seems an awful long way from his dream of being a center forward, poor Danny boy. Although, as with fullbacks, it’s nice if wingbacks can overlap and cross with their stronger foot from the side on which they’re playing without having to cut in, whereas Welbeck’s not got a great left foot nor is he that adept at crossing in general. His pace, charging forward from deeper, could give the opposition’s right back a torrid time, though.

            Of course, all of this is academic, as there’s about a .5% chance AW is switching to a back 3 any time soon!

        • No, a back three doesn’t necessarily solve our problems. For me, one of our bigger, if not biggest issue is how out of position we get while IN possession such that if lose the ball our midfield is completely open and our two central defenders our constantly having to deal with jailbreak counterattacks. Our midfielders and fullbacks all advance into the attacking third simultaneously and they seem to lack the discipline or are even actively discouraged from hanging back in favor of attacking “freedom.” Theoretically, replacing a midfielder or forward with a defender encourages positional discipline and greater circumspection in attack. But knowing Wenger, he’d tweak the system to encourage at least one of the defenders to bomb forward to the edge of the penalty area anyways. The fluidity and freedom of movement which Wenger strives for in attack has been taken to an extreme and unbalanced level.

          • Rather, the same fluidity has become increasingly fragile as the standard of competition around the league has improved. I think it’s also important though to keep some perspective and remember that form is temporary. These are good players and though he may be an idealist, Arsene is no fool.

  7. We view football progression only from the short term (next match) perspective. So long term (3 months to one season) planning can never be appreciated. Pep had a settled team in Barca and Bayern, so is it really right to call him a tinkerer? Wenger also had a settled team in the Invincibles. It appears that the only maxim that is infallible is ‘nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure’.

  8. It’s logical that if the results expected are not being gotten, chopping and changing becomes inevitable.

  9. Systems,systems,systems, its only a small part, the fact is the team with the best players,most luck that can keep a settled side will usually win out, MC have good players but not far superior to the remainder,so too do MU, Chelsea,Arsenal, Liverpool.
    Chelsea & Spurs are riding the wave this year not because of tactical genius but because of the other over riding facts.

  10. the idea of a back three, while i don’t think it solves arsenal’s primary problems, is interesting to discuss.

    i’m not a fan of mustafi. sure, he had a goal and an assist on sunday, but he seems clueless defensively; very vermaelen-esque. likewise, he tries these ridiculous through-balls that never work. why can’t he simply accept that through balls are not his game and keep it simple? same applies for coquelin and his long passes but i digress.

    i’m unimpressed with bellerin as well. he’s been at fault for a lot of goals arsenal have conceded this season, including sunday. because he’s fast, hector seems to believe that the rules of fundamental defending don’t apply to him, very much like eboue. the difference is eboue seemed to know when he was doing the wrong thing, hence quicker to react than bellerin. likewise, eboue was a stronger defender than bellerin. hector’s young and, typically, a word from management or a senior player resolves his issues with fundamental defending. where is debuchy? the last few times he’s played, he played well.

    i like gibbs on the left. he started out as a winger and was transitioned into a left back so left wing back only makes sense. however, monreal has been fantastic for arsenal both ways. we’ll see.

    arsenal’s demise has come down to a lack of organization on the pitch. wenger doesn’t do that so it’s up to the senior players. with no mertesacker or cazorla, there is no one in the arsenal side to organize the team. regardless of how talented the team may or may not be, if they’re not organized, they won’t beat good teams. how many good teams has arsenal beaten without cazorla this season?

  11. Well as bad as Arsene is, at least you know he’s not going to suggest to a female reporter who asks difficult question that she should be careful because she might get a slap.

  12. Very good analysis with a variety of perspectives.
    Arsenal need a destroyer CB such as Jaap Stam, Sol Campbell or whoever to go with a passer. Mustafi is being forced into long passes as the D and Mid can’t get the ball up the field when pressed high. That is why Ox, Mesut and Sanchez have to come so damn deep to get the ball, as they are the only ones who can beat men off the dribble to create space to make the next pass.
    Arsene really needs to go back to 4-4-2 or some other more defensive type of formation as there are not enough bodies to cover the gaps created as this point in the season.

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