Could Arsenal turn back the clocks 20 years and play a 352?

Back in the days when I was a teenager
Before I had status and before I had a pager
You could find the Abstract listening to hip hop
My pops used to say, it reminded him of be-bop
I said, well daddy don’t you know that things go in cycles
The way that Bobby Brown is just ampin like Michael.
– A Tribe Called Quest, Excursions

When Arsene Wenger first took over at Arsenal in 1996, the formation preferred by Arsenal was the trusty old 352. In the first match of the 1995/96 season, Arsenal drew 1-1 with Middlesbrough with a formation of Seaman, Adams, Bould, Keown, Dixon, Merson, Parlour, Platt, Winterburn, and with Bergkamp and Ian Wright in the attack. Ian Wright scored Arsenal’s only goal on the day.

By the end of Arsene’s first double, in the FA Cup Final v. Newcastle on 16 May 1998, Wenger had transformed the club from is old 352 into a modern 442. The starting lineup on that day was Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Overmars, Parlour, Petit, Vieira, with Anelka and Wreh up front. Wenger had given up Steve Bould for more attacking play.

That last sentence seems a bit weird, but hear me out.

In Jonathan Wilson’s seminal work Inverting the Pyramid we learn that the history of football has been one of ebb and flow. From attack to defense, from chaos to organization, from pass to dribble, back and forth, the history of football is a story of two diametrically opposed forces vying for control. The title of the book, in fact, refers to how the very first football systems had 5 attackers, 3 midfielders, 2 defenders, and 1 keeper and how that slowly switched to having a lone striker up front, a crowded midfield, and a flat back four – or even a back five. That is, incidentally, the exact lineup that Newcastle played against Arsenal in the 1998 FA Cup final: five defenders, four midfielders, and Alan Shearer plowing a lone furrow up front.

The reason teams played a third center back was (and is) to combat two forwards. Numerical superiority in defense is important to help control space and to cover for each other in case of mistakes. But once teams switched to one center forward, having a third center back simply meant having a guy stand around and do nothing to contribute to the attack.

So, how do teams like Chelsea, City, and Liverpool play a third center back these days ad get away with it? The answer lies in the ball-playing center half.

David Lulz has spent his career clowned for his defensive frailty. He’s often too eager to go into challenges and has had his positional awareness questioned many times. What he’s never had questioned is his ability to play the ball. In fact, in his first stint at Chelsea, after several years of struggling at center back they played him as a defensive midfielder. And if you think about it even for a second, you realize that this is a natural shift: the defensive midfielder should be able to drop in and play center back and also should be able to carry the ball forward as a midfielder.

Still, as a DM, Luiz proved to be “not really good enough with the ball to play in midfield” and since he couldn’t really play in the CB role with just two CB’s he was shipped off to PSG for two seasons.

Interestingly, what Lulz provided Chelsea in that DM role in 2012/13… Azpilicueta now provides them in the CB role. You thought I was going to say Luiz, but looking at Chelsea’s stats it’s actually Azpilicueta who is handling their passing responsibility. Luiz is there to provide defense for the Spaniard and to act as stopper. Last season Azpilicueta was a fullback and now that he’s withdrawn, he’s under less pressure and so has more time to make his passes, and because he’s playing as part of a back three, he has two players around him to help cover his defensive lapses.

So, how would Arsenal play a back three. The quick answer is that they won’t. Wenger only conceded to a 352 in his first season at Arsenal because Tony Adams convinced him to slow down the pace of change and allow the old guard time to adapt. Perhaps it could happen but I’m more likely to see Donald Trump call for a single-payer health care system than to see Arsene Wenger “re-invent” himself into a manager who plays a 352. That said, a back three is an idea that has some merit for Arsenal.

First, the 352 relies on two wingbacks – at Chelsea that’s Vic Moses and Marcos Alonso. Wenger already plays with sort of wingbacks with Bellerin and Monreal – both players are required to join in the attack, high up the pitch, sometimes you will even see one cross the ball and the other fullback collect the pass. Bellerin is a natural wingback, whilst Monreal is one of the top technical footballers on the team.

What I think would have to happen is for Wenger to move Monreal to the Azpilicueta role and play two bigger CBs with him. Mustafi’s line-breaking passes are great when he pulls them off but unlike Azpilicueta, who is a 50% + long ball passer, Mustafi is only connecting on 33% of his long balls this season. He has the vision, and this is by far the lowest % of long ball  completion in his career, but his passes are just off the mark. It’s not a knock, he would still be a great passer for Arsenal and along side Monreal and, say, Koscielny, would make three of the best passing CBs in the League.

Arsenal have plenty of backup choices here in the CB role as well: Holding is a decent passer and good in the air, Gabriel is an aggressive player,  and Chambers might actually thrive in  back three where he’s not as exposed for speed.

The problem with the 352 at Arsenal is actually a problem no matter what formation Arsenal chooses: who will play fullback? Bellerin is a shoo-in. Check. And after that? Debuchy is done and Jenkinson is not at the technical level required to play football on a squad challenging for the League title. Ox and Walcott do not have the defensive awareness to do the job and of those two only Ox has the technical ability to play wide. Joel Campbell is a real option here if Wenger hasn’t written him off entirely. Campbell has the speed and trickery, the attacking ability, and has shown great defensive acumen in the past. If Campbell isn’t returning then Wenger has to buy a right back this summer regardless of formation. A 352 might appeal to him in this regard because buying a full on attacker is expensive, while a player like Victor Moses (Joel Campbell) is significantly cheaper.

On the left, whether we move him centrally or not, Monreal can’t do it forever. Gibbs is a decent defender and not bad in attack for a fullback but he’s not quite a wingback and surely Wenger has enough sense not to play Alexis as a wingback – it would be such a waste of his talent. So that leaves Iwobi and Welbeck or someone from the academy. Iwobi has never once shown me the defensive awareness needed to play left back (Iwobi is actually a liability) and Welbeck doesn’t have the required fitness to play 90 minutes 35 times a season running up and down the sidelines, putting in tackles, and playing an integral part in the offense and defense.

 

The intriguing thing for me about the 352 is that I think it provides cover for the one weakness inherent in Wenger’s system. Wenger loves to play a high line but because he also sends the fullbacks forward, he often leaves the two center backs alone in the midfield. A third center back immediately offers cover.

The other thing a 352 would do for Arsenal is allow Wenger to capitalize on Arsenal’s strength in depth in midfield. If they are all healthy Wenger has the following players all trying to play centrally: Ox, Ozil, Ramsey, Coquelin, Elneny, Xhaka, and in theory Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. In theory, three in the middle and three at back means that Arsenal’s defenses are better covered and with two wing-backs Arsenal have strength in numbers in the midfield. This is what Chelsea do very well and why their defense is best in the League.

Where Arsene would suddenly have a huge selection headache (which he already has to be honest) is in forwards. In a 352, Wenger can no longer shoehorn Welbeck, Walcott, Ramsey, Iwobi, and Perez into the team by playing them wide. And actually, if you think about it, this is part of the reason why Arsenal have such an imbalance between attack and defense. Playing so many forwards is naturally going to cause problems in defensive balance. But in a 352 he has to play just two forwards: Özil and Alexis, or Alexis and Giroud, or Perez and Özil, etc. That means there are forwards who (are already complaining and) might not get as much playing time as they want and it also means that those two forwards have to get the job done or there will be a lot of boring 0-0 draws.

No system is perfect and a change of formations at Arsenal would require summer purchases and a rethink by a manager who has doggedly refused to use the 352 for 20 years. But a 352 at Arsenal is intriguing to me because it addresses the problem Arsenal have had with getting the defensive balance right for the last 12 years.

Qq

27 Comments on Could Arsenal turn back the clocks 20 years and play a 352?

  1. It’s well established that it is hard to play against a good 3-5-2 side unless you match the formation. Hence why Spurs went 3-5-2 against Chelsea and were successful. It’s why a great many teams in Italy have adopted the 3-5-2 because almost everyone is using it.

    If the dilemma with picking a 3-5-2 is the wing backs then let’s go get some like Rodriguez from Wolfsburg on the left or convert wingers into wing backs like we did with Bellerin.

    I remember watching Bayern with Xabi Alonso as the DM and he would actually collect the ball behind the back 3 and spring long ball counters – we have a young Xabi Alonso in Granit Xhaka. I’d like him in a Pirlo role a la Juventus with the 3-1-4-2

    Cech
    Mustafi/Koscielny/Gabriel
    Xhaka
    Bellerin/Ramsey/Ozil/Monreal
    Welbeck/Sanchez

  2. Its my dream. I try this formation in FIFA always. It seems unlikely that we will have a 3-5-2. Probably, something in between would be to switch to a back 3 during buildup. Busquets does this for barca to get them out of a high press.
    Also, our buildup play recently has been muddled. As soon as the keeper is under pressure, he kicks it long which results in a turnover often. Contrast that with barca, Bayern where cb’s split themselves to receive the pass and advance from the wings.
    Another way would be to setup to win the second ball like Liverpool.

  3. Great post. A few things Tim:

    1. (Pedant alert!) 4-4-2 was hardly revolutionary for Arsenal when Wenger switched to it, as most teams in England had played (some version of) a 4-4-2 since the 60’s. The 3-5-2 was actually the innovation for English teams in the 90’s, and seemed “continental” as teams in Europe had used the formation, particularly with a sweeper, for a long time. But you’re right that Rioch and Graham used a back five (I’m too young to remember much of Graham’s teams; he may have gone with a flat back four sometimes?), so it was an adjustment to switch to a 4-4-2 for Wenger’s Arsenal, though not something they would have been unfamiliar with, e.g. on England duty.

    2. Why not Chelsea’s 3-4-3 variation instead of the “classic” 3-5-2? This would allow 3 “forwards” (presumably Alexis, Ozil, and one more, though who knows how long those guys are going to be around for), plus 2 more-or-less holding midfielders (presumably Xhaka and someone more mobile, i.e. the Kante/Vidal type). And crucially it would give Alexis and Ozil the absolute freedom they crave. This is the beauty of Chelsea’s system and playing with a back 3/5 in general: you put more defensive types on the field, but in exchange, that means the creative types, e.g. Hazard (Steve McManaman back in late 90’s Liverpool was a joy to behold in a free role), have the freedom of the pitch (well, almost).

    Yes, it would mean quite a few midfielders (Ramsey, Ox, Elneny, Coquelin, etc) sitting on the bench quite a bit of the time, but weren’t we talking about how much strength we had in that central position at the beginning of the year, only for them all, one after another, to disappoint us this season? I think most people feel we STILL need yet another midfield player to come in in the summer and boss proceedings for us (whether AW thinks we need that may be another story).

    3. Not sure Welbeck doesn’t have the required fitness. He’s an incredibly athletic guy, and though he’s still working his way back from two longterm injuries, before he came to Arsenal I don’t remember him being especially injury prone. The main problem for me with Welbeck as a left wingback–ditto Campbell as a right wingback–is that they want to turn inside on their stronger feet when they get to the penalty area (Campbell in particular is especially predictable in this way, which was even a problem for him as a right attacker), whereas wingbacks, like fullbacks, really should be able to get down the line and put in a cross without cutting inside, since overlapping is one of their main attacking jobs. I think the Ox is a more natural right wingback than Campbell for that reason, and while I think he has switched off defensively in the past, I think he’s been working on that part of his game. Of course, he sadly could be off in the summer…

    • 1. Sorry if I made it sound like Wenger was a revolutionary.

      2. No. I don’t want Wenger playing with 3 forwards any more. He needs to buy quality in the forward spot and stop running 8 players in the opposition box on every play.

      3. Ox is an atrocious defender. If he wants to leave this summer, that’s fine. There are plenty of players with unfulfilled potential in this world.

      • I don’t think the 3-4-3, if played like Chelsea are playing, really involves more genuine forwards than a 3-5-2 (hence my scare quotes around “forwards”). It involves a slight change in shape from the 3-5-2, but not really a change in the defending/attacking balance. A good indication that the 3-4-3 is not more defensively vulnerable than the 3-5-2 is that Chelsea and Spurs (who have also used it some this year) are both very good defensive sides.

        Basically, the “classic” 3-5-2 typically employs one creative playmaker tasked with linking midfield and attack, behind two forwards. The 3-4-3 just makes this 2 creative types behind one (ideally mobile) centre forward (Hazard and Pedro/Willian for Chelsea, Eriksen and Alli, at times, for Spurs). The creators are a bit like wide forwards in our current system, but with a good deal more freedom to roam (at least for one of them). The obvious players for us in those positions would be Sanchez and Ozil (behind, for me, Welbeck or Perez or the proverbial “wc striker” we’re going to buy in the summer (lol)). The freedom of the position has brought the best out of Hazard and also Eriksen.

        If you still don’t think that’s defensive enough for us, and would instead prefer a 3-5-2 with a more conservative midfield three (essentially replacing the 2-1 triangle of our current 4-2-3-1 with the more defensive 1-2 triangle of a 4-3-3), then, admittedly, you’re right that that formation represents a genuine difference from the 3-4-3 in terms of defensive cover.

        But the 3-4-3 is already considerably more defensive than our current formation, as it essentially replaces one of our wide attackers with another central defender, tasking the fullbacks with pushing forward a bit more (though our outside backs already do a helluva lot of attacking!). And if we’re still concerned about being too open, we can make sure to pick a midfield two like Chelsea who are primarily holding/defensive (e.g. Xhaka and Coquelin (or new purchase) rather than someone like Ramsey who’s going to bomb forward at every opportunity).

  4. What is overlooked in your analysis is that you still need two strong central midfielders to make a 3-5-2 work. Conte’s 3-4-3 system at Chelsea is solid because Kante and Matic do a great job. Same thing at Tottenham when Pochettino uses a back 3 with Wanyama and Dembele in midfield. At Arsenal, Coquelin and Xhaka are not good enough to protect the defense and would still look pedestrian in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3, while Ramsey, Ox and Elneny lack defensive awareness.

    • Coquelin kind of is the 3rd CB when he plays. He was briefly revitalized by that box to box roving destroyer role but then we got away from Sanchez at CF and went back to Giroud and things kind of went to hell from there. Now when Coq plays he kind of hangs back and doesn’t do a whole hell of a lot and when he plays like that he looks very ordinary indeed.

      When I watch Xhaka, I’ll go so far as to say that to me he should be a CB in a team like Arsenal. He’s a tough competitor with good size and great passing range from deep, but he gets played around too easily because he has a slow first step. That’s not problem in the Swiss team or at Gladbach where play is almost always in front of him but he seems very uncomfortable challenging quicker players in the open field or timing his pressing of the ball, which to me is an absolute requirement for a modern midfielder. One solution would be to move him back. Wenger may have inadvertantly bought two ball playing CB types in one summer.

      • Coquelin two years ago was brilliant… precisely because he was hanging back. He played to his strength; winning the ball. He would win the ball, give it to Cazorla or Ozil and then actually retreat. Wenger has ruined him (the same way he ruined Song) by trying to make him into a Petit/Vieira complete box-to-box midfielder.

        Xhaka for me is a younger version of Xabi Alonso; big, strong, not quick but blessed with fantastic long passing ability and a pretty decent hammer of a shot. I think we’ve hung Xhaka out to dry in our current set-up. I don’t know why we’d make him a CB, he’s a deep lying midfielder, the kind that sprays balls around the pitch and quarterbacks a game.

        • Jack, why couldn’t he “quarterback” a game as the 3rd CB? It’s essentially the same role. As you point out the issue is that he is playing too high up the pitch, so essentially we are saying the same thing. I’m just contesting that if we do move to 3 at the back, I’d rather have a very mobile central midfield pairing, and that rules Xhaka out. So why not drop him in as the 3rd CB? I’m pretty sure that’s what Pep would do.

          • 1. Pep typically played Busquets and Xabi Alonso (two players fairly similar to Xhaka, though obviously not identical), not in a back three, but as a “sweeper” in front of the back four: when his team built from the back, the CB’s split wide and THEN the midfield player drops into the back line to orchestrate from there. But on defense they shield the CB’s from in front of them. That still seems Xhaka’s best role to me.

            2. Back in the heyday of the 3-5-2, there were essentially two ways to play a back three: as a “flat back” a la a back four, or with a sweeper/libero behind two traditional CB’s. In the great tradition of Beckenbauer, a sweeper would sometimes be a converted midfielder, e.g. Matthias Sammer for Germany and Dortmund, and Lothar Matthaus for Germany and Bayern. Sammer was the best player in Europe when he led Germany to victory at Euro 96 and Dortmund to the 97 Champs League title. These guys were like free safeties on when the team was defending, who were then free to dictate play and drift forward when their team had the ball. When Glenn Hoddle was manager of England he played a 3-5-2 and was obsessed with converting Jamie Redknapp (sorta the English Xhaka of his day) into a sweeper, but Redknapp’s continued injuries meant he never got the chance.
            All this to say, playing Xhaka there could work.

            3. The reason I think it’s a bad idea is that–with or without a sweeper–all three defenders in a back three still need to be decently quick and/or exceptional tacklers and readers of the game (Sammer and Matthaus were the latter). Xhaka’s reading of the game will get a lot better, I think, but he’ll always be slow as molasses and his tackling is currently a big liability.

            4. The other thing to say, apropos of point #1, is that Xhaka can already play the deep lying playmaking aspects of the sweeper role in his current role (if Wenger lets him), as a kind of sweeper in front of the back four. This would require, e.g., splitting our centerbacks more often when we have the ball and letting him drop into the backline to create from there, rather than moving to receive the ball further forward, where his time on the ball is always likely to be less (think of, not just Xabi and Busquets, but Michael Carrick in his prime, probably the most similar player to Xhaka in recent PL history). Keeping him in defensive midfield also has the advantage that if Xhaka misses a tackle, it’s less likely to lead directly to a goal, since he’s typically doing that in front of the back four. Especially if the point of us switching to a back three is to strengthen our soft center, then I worry putting Xhaka there wouldn’t really be a big enough switch from what we already do to address our defensive issues.

      • The problem with Xhaka as a centerback is his poor discipline. Two penalties and two red cards already with Arsenal. I would have the jitters with Xhaka as the last defender. In the second leg of the Champions League tie vs. Bayern Munich, Xhaka took over the CB position after Koscielny’s ejection. He didn’t look comfortable in that new role and was guilty for Bayern’s 3rd goal. In the closing minutes, Xhaka swapped positions with Coquelin to play again in midfield. That tells you what is Xhaka’s preference.

        • Sure it’s his preference. CB would be an entirely new position. I’m not sure he could do it and neither is he. I’m just talking about how I see his role fitting in at Arsenal as opposed to reactive sides who sit deep like Switzerland. In theory with 3 defenders there is a spare man at all times to cover for the other two. In theory.

          PFO, good points, especially about Pep’s use of older, slower distributors in deep central midfield. I just think the PL is a league that demands something different and that Arsenal play in a way that really isolates their deep players. Their opponents then double down on that weakness. Xhaka’s weakness becomes exacerbated in the types of situations he routinely finds himself in with this team. In fairness, most players, (including the likes of Wanyama and Matic) would struggle with it. Wenger asks for exceptional things from his defenders and deep lying midfielder in order to prop up the freeform enterprise further forward.

    • I haven’t forgotten entirely about the CM pairing. First, I disagree that Coquelin isn’t as strong or fast as Kante. That’s not at all the problem. His problem is in build up play where he’s just not quite as good as Kante. Same with Xhaka. Xhaka is no slower than Matic and just as strong. Xhaka also can play the ball, which Matic is not able to do.

      Second, Coquelin and Xhaka are exposed in the 424 that Wenger deploys: Xhaka because he can’t cover the ground needed to play in that system and Coquelin because he needs someone next to him like Cazorla who he can pass the ball to, who will almost never turn it over, who can break the opposition with a dribble (meaning that they give him more space, and who can pass better than Xhaka.

      I think a 352 will actually help these players by closing distance between them in defense and in offence.

      • “I disagree that Coquelin isn’t as strong or fast as Kante.” I didn’t mean strong literally, but in terms of performance, i.e. tackles won, interceptions, passing skills, positional play, reading of the game, and protecting the defense. That’s why Kante is a big favorite to win the PFA Player of the Season award while Coquelin is not even nominated.
        “Xhaka is no slower than Matic and just as strong. Xhaka also can play the ball, which Matic is not able to do.” Matic looks comfortable on the ball for a central midfielder. He has 7 assists in 28 PL appearances this season, compared to 1 goal and 2 assists for Xhaka in 22 PL appearances. So which player can’t play the ball? Also, Matic makes fewer defensive mistakes and has no red card compared to 2 ejections for Xhaka.
        “I think a 352 will actually help these players by closing distance between them in defense and in offence.” Even a change of system won’t solve the problem in central midfield. Think about Conte’s 3-4-3: when the Blues attack, the team is split in two, with Moses, Willian, Costa, Hazard and Alonso attacking, and Kante, Matic, Azpilicueta, Luiz and Cahill defending. Azpilicueta covers Moses on the right, Cahill covers Alonso on the left, Luiz acts like a sweeper and Kante and Matic protect the center. Think about Xhaka and Coquelin protecting the center against a counterattack. It would still be the same mess!

        • Kante is a superior player in both phases. Where he really separates from Coquelin is his ability to anticipate opposition passes and break up moves before they even develop. Coquelin by contrast has very poor awareness in both phases of play. He has plenty of strength and size, just poor application. It’s not all coaching, either; Kante just has a real gift and there are few players like him.

          • I think this is harsh, but I’m a fan of Coquelin. I think if you tell him his role is simply to tackle, intercept, win the ball and give it to the playmakers he’s excellent. In 2014 he led the league in tackles & interceptions per minute.

            That said, I don’t think he should be starting on our team. For me it’s either Xhaka or Coquelin, not both.

  5. We were talking about this in yesterday’s comments section and I’ll say again what I said then: the team’s biggest problems are a lack of continuity and identity in midfield, an inability to manage transitions, which are more important than ever and an inability to consistently show high levels of concentration and aggression. I don’t think moving to 3 at the back fixes any of those things but it does make intuitive sense and could mitigate some of our vulnerabilities. I do think the players need something new to believe in and the 4-2-3-1 has well and truly proved that it could use replacing at least occasionally. I agree we have the players to do it and I’m not worried about who will play LWB. As I allude to above, I actually think moving Xhaka back into one of the 3 CB’s in that type of formation might make the most sense, at least right now in his carer that will allow him to keep the game in front of him and focus on his strengths instead of exposing weaknesses like the box to box role seems to do.

    I would opt for a more dynamic midfield pair in front of them. Despite the ostensible riches we have in midfield the problem remains we have too many of one type of player and the best ones of those cannot stay fit. Some of them have fatal flaws in their game that render them next to useless in their current incarnation. A box to box player with size and skill in both phases seems like a necessity next summer. Sorry El-Neny. As for Jack, Ox and Ramsey, it’s well past sink or swim time. In this climate, people want to see results and for that we need consistency. They’re going to have to earn their minutes or get them somewhere else.

    The two up front would have to be Sanchez and Ozil, one would imagine, depending on the events of next summer. I would be Ok with letting Ozil go but not Sanchez.

    • The transitions are a problem because in attack, Wenger plays a 244 which typically turns into a 226. Redressing the balance by having 5-6 players staying back and covering space and allowing just 4 players to attack would easily fix this.

      • Formation tweaks don’t fix tactical indiscipline. There would also be the inevitable bedding in period where players don’t know who is marking who (I know, I know but worse than usual) kind of like when West ham tried and miserably failed to play a back 5 against us earlier this season. That is how I think this current group would look against a good attacking team if we changed to that. And against teams that sit in a deep block, we’d still have to push up on them and that still means gaps at the back. Also the manager and the players have very little experience playing 3 at the back (unlike Conte). Like I said I’m not opposed to trying something new but it could easily backfire horribly.

        • You’re right about formations not fixing discipline. But the formation makes it easier to cover for each other. I mean, it’s possible that Wenger plays a 352 and you get Mustafi from CB and Ramsey from midfield bombing forward, but if they did that then unlike now where you only have 1 guy at the back we’d at least (in theory) still have 4 guys back.

          In theory!

          With Wenger’s players you can never be 100% sure.

  6. the talk of systems is interesting, but without Costa and Hazard, or Kane and Alli, would the Chelsea and Spurs systems have them top of the table? I think Sanchez can be brilliant, like against WHU this season, but I’d have Hazard, Costa or Kane ahead of him in a heartbeat as at least on tv I don’t see them berating their teammates in every match. We were at the top in November with our 4231 and more than anything, I think our team spirit died for some reason. If Man U had those players I think they’d have converted a lot more draws into wins and nobody would be talking about a back 3 or back 5.

    • Well it’s easy to be a good citizen when you’re leading the league by 7 points. I think we’ve seen the ugly side of both Hazard and Costa before and would again if their team was struggling like Arsenal are.

      I do agree we abruptly lost our mojo and for some reason in my brain I’m tying that to the removal of Sanchez as the central attacker. Maybe someone can do a deeper dive into that and untangle what really happened. To me, the move to go back to Giroud killed our newfound identity as a high tempo pressing oriented outfit and directly contributed to poor results. Happy to be corrected since I don’t particularly like that theory, but I can’t seem to convince myself away from it.

    • Hazard and especially Costa would most defenetly show up his teammates for lack of quality or trying.
      The didn’t have a problem in stopping playing for their manager,last season, so what makes you think they wouldn’t turn on their underperforming teammates when on a losing streak?

  7. John Giles is an excellent football analyst in the Irish media, who has often said that it’s players, not fans, that get managers sacked. I hope we’re not seeing that at Arsenal this season

  8. interesting idea comparing the 352 to the 442. where i think you get it slightly wrong is the reason for the transition. the real advantage of the 352 is that you get an extra man in midfield while still having two strikers.

    back in the days when i was not quite a teenager anymore, arsenal were different. they had vieira and petit. when you have those two players in the same team, it’s almost like cheating. the significance of that is you don’t need a third man in midfield. vieira was the centerpiece of wenger’s 442. before vieira, arsenal played with three central midfielders. after vieira left, arsenal had to go back to playing with three central midfield players. patty was the difference. other teams tried but because they didn’t have vieira, no one could match arsenal’s 442.

    i believe the 352 would benefit many arsenal players. i don’t think bellerin is a very good defender; wingback suits him. unlike you, i believe gibbs would be a very good wingback as he started out as a winger and was transitioned to left back. theo at striker suddenly makes sense. it also makes it easier to play campbell and lucas up top. giroud is at his best when he has someone to play with. giving giroud a strike partner means that ozil’s off-ball movements that take him away from giroud wouldn’t leave giroud isolated so much. giving mustafi a bit of cover would be nice; i’d prefer to sell him but no way do arsenal recoup that £35 million. the list goes on.

    regardless of the formation or the talent of the personnel, etc, arsenal’s biggest problem is still a lack of organization. disorganized teams will almost always fail to defeat good teams, regardless of talent or formation. with cazorla still out, arsenal need to bring back mertesacker.

  9. Inverting the Pyramid is a must for all football fans just like A Brief History of Time is a must for all scientists.

  10. Xhaka’s first few steps are incredibly slow, same as his turns. These constitute a fundamental weakness in his ability to defend. Kante’s brilliance is nothing else but those first few steps …acceleration. We can’t talk defence and talk Xhaka. Just don’t get deceived by those formidable looking jawlines of his. Less this weakness. Xhaka is exquisite. I believe the best way to accomodate him is in a more crowded midfield say a 4:3:3. Remembering that our full backs play more like wing backs that 4:3:3 is more or less 2:5:3 and we would surely be shipping in goals like we’ve been doing. So we balance it up defensively by dropping one number from the CM to the defence to give 3:4:3.

    Per who is a good organizer and passer of the ball as the 3rd defender. Holden his understudy.

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