The campaign to get Arsene Wenger to deploy Andrey Arshavin as a central attacker behind the striker has long been raging. Even more so these days seeing as he’s struggling to rediscover his form for Arsenal upon joining the club on deadline day 2008. The fact that he sparked the Gunners into life against Bolton on Tuesday night with a goal and an assist will only increase the calls to see him play centrally more often as it was from that position which he made the game-winning contribution.
Arshavin certainly has more freedom and gets more opportunities to shoot or play a killer pass in the final third when playing in the hole, as opposed to having to cross or pass backwards when playing on the wing. This is something that brings out the best in him – his end-product is the main thing about his game.
He’s the type of player who will do nothing all game, but when presented with the slightest opportunity can create a moment of magic. When that moment hasn’t come, he’s been criticised for a poor performance. Recently, he’s seemed more like his old self. A delightful dribble during a decent cameo against Sunderland and a pre-assist against Stoke in another promising appearance off the bench sandwiched a slightly disappointing showing against Marseille. He certainly looks more at home on the counter attack, when there’s space to exploit for him or his team mates so he can play them in.
He’s the type of player who will do nothing all game, but when presented with the slightest opportunity can create a moment of magic. When that moment hasn’t come, he’s been criticised for a poor performance.
All of these factors mean he is probably more suited to a free role behind the striker. However, the problem is how Arsenal would have to set up to incorporate Arshavin in that position. They’d only be allowed two central midfielders, leaving that duo less freedom to get forward. The beauty of the three man midfield that Arsenal employ is that two of them can get forward in support of the forwards while the other stays and gives stability. Even better is that with the versatility of Arsenal’s current bunch means any one of them is comfortable staying back while the others are comfortable in attack, so they can rotate their duties.
If a fixed number 10 like Arshavin was employed behind Robin van Persie, the variation in attack would be reduced because the midfielders would have to take turns going forward instead of freely rotating. The result would probably be less fluidity as the shape of the three-man midfield changes throughout the game, whereas two midfielders have to be more disciplined. Good defensively (although not having the extra man back would be a hindrance) but it probably wouldn’t work as well going forward.
Arsene Wenger is insistent on winning the battle in midfield first and foremost, and with two midfielders instead of three, that suddenly becomes a lot harder. It’s also more difficult to keep possession, as there are fewer options available consistently.
Personally, I think it’s up to Arshavin to find the space from the wing to create that moment of magic. And to his credit he does do that a lot of the time. So while he’s suited to the number 10 position more than any, Arsenal’s personnel really don’t quite suit any formations that employ a free attacker.
It is, however, an option to mix things up if things aren’t working. Against Everton last season he was brought on to play off Nicklas Bendtner, and he got the comeback going with a goal through the middle. It’s definitely not a long-term option, but it could work against some teams in some situations.
One thing that I think has surfaced this season is that Arshavin is more suited to playing out wide in a 4-3-3 than in a 4-2-3-1. In the latter he was forced to play more as a midfielder with a few more defensive duties, while in the 4-3-3 which Arsenal play now sees him as an attacker with less responsibilities to get back. Furthermore, the need for fluidity in Arsenal’s front three means he can drift across the forward line and pick up those pockets of space he loves to find.
To sum up, Arshavin in the hole probably isn’t exactly a great idea long term, but against tiring teams coming off the bench and so on, it could work well for Arsenal.
For more from Sam Drew check out Chronicles of Almunia
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