While it should have come earlier, a switch to the 3-4-3 formation could be the perfect move to add defensive stability and attacking freedom.
There are no two ways about it — this has been a disappointing season for Arsenal. For the first time since the 1995/96 season, the Gunners have finished outside the top four, meaning they will not be playing in the Champions League next season. The FA Cup Final could be their saving grace, but against champions Chelsea, few favor the red part of London.
Much of this season’s dismay has come from a poor defensive record. Arsenal have conceded 44 goals this season, only nine fewer than relegated Middlesbrough. After an embarrassing three-nil loss to bottom feeders Crystal Palace, Arsenal’s manager Arsène Wenger decided it was time for a change in shape to a 3-4-3 formation.
I’ve been a strong believer in recent weeks that Arsenal’s switch to a back three formation just papered over the cracks and was just compensation for a lack of confidence. However, the formation has made a tangible difference that is indisputable and seems almost tailor-made for an attacking Arsenal side. I’ve been thoroughly proved wrong, and here is why.
1. Defensive Shape Is Much Better
One of Arsenal’s vulnerabilities is getting caught not knowing what man or space to mark when playing with a flat back four. When Arsenal last played Chelsea, even when Diego Costa’s header came off the bar, it was Marcos Alonso who was best positioned to react and header it into the back of the net.
As one can see in the video, left back Nacho Monreal is dragged out of position, which forces centre-back Laurent Koscielny to come over and try to block the cross. This means remaining centre-back Shkodran Mustafi must track the near post run, and leaves right back Héctor Bellerín to mark two men in the middle, one of which hits the bar while the other scores. Having three dedicated centre-backs would mean that even if Monreal was dragged out of position, all the men in the box would be marked and accounted for.
Having an extra central defender at the back certainly has improved Arsenal’s shaky defense. Before the 3-4-3 was employed, Arsenal conceded 1.3 goals a game (39 goals in 30 matches), but since the switch they have only conceded .57 goals a game (four goals in seven matches). When caught out of possession, Arsenal are much better at controlling offensive opportunities. Perhaps this is most evidenced when Stoke City had the series of corner opportunities. They were peppering the box with balls, but it appeared like the Arsenal players had a much more confident understanding of their defensive roles, which has been missing since early in the season.
2. Allows The Fullbacks To Push Up And Hit The Target Man/Switch Play
One of Arsenal’s obvious weaknesses has been the full-backs being caught too far up the pitch. This has left the centre-backs exposed to breaks. For example, during the Watford game, after right back Gabriel Paulista lost possession on a throw in, Étienne Capoue took full advantage of the space vacated and got off a shot that was saved but turned in by Troy Deeney.
The above video highlights a pivotal moment in Arsenal’s season, and one reason they are not in the Champions League next year.
Now the outside backs, who function more as wide wing-backs, can get up the field for a cross or receive the ball with space from a long switch which Granit Xhaka has been excellent at all season.
Here’s some evidence of Xhaka’s superb vision and passing ability.
Striker Olivier Giroud, although he doesn’t get many touches in this system, is one of the players who can benefit the most from this formation. By no means a prolific dribbler, Giroud scores most of his goals in less than three touches of the ball. Crossing wing-backs are the best thing that can happen for a striker that relies predominantly on service.
This formation particularly benefits Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Out on the right wing, there is plenty of space for him to run into, without a right winger directly in front. Playing them as one benefits the pacey, tricky dribbling of Ox and gives him the chance to stand up defenders one-on-one battles that he wins more often than not. For instance, this space allowed Chamberlain to get both assists in the 2-0 victory against Manchester United, including this beautiful cross to Danny Welbeck.
3. Özil Freedom
Mesut Özil is obviously a brilliant player, despite what the pundits at NBC like to say about him every game. Their point is true that he does not run around the most and defense is not his strong suit. It is his passing and movement that made him the German player of the year for five of the last six years. Özil’s lack of defensive prowess forced Arsenal into playing the 4-2-3-1 so that Özil could be the number 10, or center attacking mid role. This led to Arsenal’s play becoming stale and predictable.
Here’s an absolutely perfectly weighted cross by Özil.
Alexis Sanchez 22nd PL goal of the season, 27th all competitions.— Poor First Touch (@InvertdWhinger) May 16, 2017
Honurable mentions to Xhaka & Ozil assistingpic.twitter.com/cDw24YydEs
The 3-4-3 has freed Özil, in much the same way it freed Eden Hazard of Chelsea. Being part of a front three allows Özil to drift in and out of the midfield, finding pockets of space that enable him to dictate the flow of the game or pick out the killer pass. With two other forwards, the central midfielders, and the wing-backs, Özil has a wealth of options to complete a pass. His created chances stat against Sunderland shows the benefits of his newfound spatial freedom.
Mesut Ozil created 12 chances vs. Sunderland; the most in a single game by a Premier League player since records began. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/plKxUR57nR— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 16, 2017
The difference this formation has made for Özil is staggering. He has created 24 chances in the last three games (Squawka). To put that in prospective, Tottenham’s Dele Alli has created 47 all season, and Özil did more than half of that in three games. With contract talks stalled, Arsenal need to do everything in their power to keep the German magician at the club. A permanent switch to a more suitable formation for his attacking style might help.
No matter who the manager is next year, the 3-4-3 should be Arsenal’s formation for the future. Both Chelsea and Tottenham, who occupy the top two spots in the league, have switched to this formation to their great benefit. The defensive cover of three CBs, the space it provides the wing-backs, and the liberty it provides the front three players all make it a very appealing formation to the Arsenal faithful.
Players always need time to adjust to the sheer pace of the Premier League. Now that Xhaka, Mustafi, and Holding have a full season of Premier League experience under their belt, hopefully they can hit the ground running next season. Arsenal should do everything in their power to keep Alexis Sánchez and Mesut Özil at the club, and if worst comes to worst, sell them outside of England. With an addition of an energetic and technical box to box midfielder (see: Patrick Vieira), a true striker, and someone to play the left wing-back role, Arsenal could actually be challenging for the Premier League title and not just trying to scrape into the top four at the end of the season.
CORRECT!Your overall SQ:
Your Soccer SQ:
WRONG!The answer was: Answer more Soccer questions »
- Leicester City
- Blackburn Rovers
- Sheffield United