Arsenal: Why Wenger Needs To Go Back To 4-4-2
Admirable it may be, but Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to vary his tactical structure, and failure to address his opposition specifically has seen Arsenal once again fail to claim the top domestic and European honours that both the club and the Frenchman want so desperately.
The standard across Europe this season has been set by Liverpool & Atletico Madrid, two of the greatest success stories of football in recent years. After missing out on Europe completely last year, Liverpool are just three games away from their first league title in 24 years; while Atletico have broken the El Classico duopoly, and find themselves top of La Liga and in the Champions League semi-finals.
What is even more remarkable about their success, in an age where the notion of a traditional 4-4-2 has been dismissed as antiquated and bland, is that both teams predominantly employ a two-striker system.
With Wenger committed to the 4-2-3-1 that originally brought him so much success, and in turn, revolutionise English football at the turn of the century, I believe it is time we saw a more adaptable approach from the Frenchman - and a 4-2-2-2 formation could see Arsenal climb back to the pinnacle of the British game, and, you never know, even lead Wenger to that elusive first Champions League trophy.
In Theo Walcott’s prolonged absence, Arsenal pose little vertical threat to opposition teams. For all his qualities, Olivier Giroud doesn’t have the ability to run in behind, leaving defences able to push further up and condense our build-up play; putting more pressure on our collaborative midfielders, and in turn leading to more errors and turnovers. In the debacles at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla lost the ball sloppily, leading directly to break away goals.
The season has been littered with a number of laboured and lacklustre performances, but the Gunners have actually excelled in transition throughout the year.
Almost all of Ozil’s assets seem to slip under the radar on the likes of Match of the Day; but one of his greatest qualities is his ability to play in any style, in any area of the pitch, and, perhaps, most importantly, at any tempo.
What separates Ozil from the likes of Juan Mata & David Silva is his ability to be both direct AND a dictator. Ozil’s presence allows the team to move efficiently and quickly from defence to attack, meaning it's just as easy to build from deep as it is from a more advanced position.
Ozil has an unmatched ability to see four or five passes ahead, highlighted perfectly against Marseille at home, when he instructed Jack Wilshere to hold an advanced position on the left hand side, so that once he made his darting run in behind the opposition, he was simply able to roll the ball across goal to Wilshere who was already in position.
His vision and appreciation of the space around him means that he almost never makes the wrong decision, and thus, were Arsenal to adopt a style more befitting of exploiting teams on the break, we would almost always create a chance and an attempt at goal.
His partnership and understanding with Aaron Ramsey, combined with Welshman’s exceptional lung-busting stamina, would allow quick support to the front men; and with both Ramsey and Wilshere’s ball-carrying ability from deep, Arsenal already have the players in midfield to best exploit the system.
Given that we are almost certain to move for a top quality centre forward the summer, the possibility of the system becomes even more feasible - but even with our current lot, it could be implemented to devastating effect. Giroud has a good touch, body position and can hold onto the ball, while Walcott’s devastating pace allows him to run in behind any defender in the world with ease.
Many of Arsenal’s problems in big games this season have stemmed from an incredible over-reliance on overlapping full-backs, often leaving our two-centre backs and the pivotal Mikel Arteta over exposed. In this system, and crucially with Ozil & Cazorla allowed to operate freely from either flank, the reliance would be less so and we would be more prepared for the threat of opposition counter attacks.
Our defensive line wouldn’t need to be as high and we would instead focus on winning the ball as high up the field as possible and breaking with speed and purpose, rather than slowly probing from deep, dependent on third man runs – something we have crucially been starved of in Ramsey & Walcott’s untimely simultaneous absence.
At 64, Arsene Wenger is no spring chicken. The implementation of such a system is almost certainly not on his radar; but our impotence this season, combined with Brendan Rodgers’ tactical fluidity and willingness to adapt, has shown we must have more than one way of playing, especially if we are gain that illustrious European crown before the Frenchman's years in North London are up.
Follow Jack on Twitter at @JackBradshawAFC