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Written by Antony Armstrong on Monday, 28 May 2012 01:47


While speculating on the summers transfer dealings is an absolute riot, wading through Twitter and its infinite sea of rumours, spear in hand, stabbing wildly below the surface, I will instead turn my attention to next seasons formation and tactics. I'm going to take a look at playing a 3-4-3 and how it could be executed.

First, we must look at those who are likely to feature in the starting XI, Wenger's favourites, the ones that you just know are going to be picked. In this list I will include M'Vila because.. Well, my gut tells me he is joining (aargh transfer gossip) and if that isn't the case, we at least know that Arsene is shopping for a DM. So the list goes:


Vermaelen (Vice-captain and therefore can't see him losing out to Mertesacker)




M'Vila (Because how often does Arsene spend that much money on a bench player?)

Arteta (Was crucial in his first season and it would be cruel to drop him)

Wilshere (I know he's coming back from injury but he's a star and was first choice before that)

van Persie

Podolski (See: M'Vila)

Walcott (A Wenger favourite)

Seeing as we have a ten man list, you would think picking the first XI would be easy enough, unfortunately it isn't as it's a bit midfield heavy. The question is how do you fit them all in the same line up? This is where I introduce the Arsenal 3-4-3.

You'll immediately notice a few things, one of which is that Walcott isn't in the line-up, another is that I've used fullbacks in midfield and perhaps most noticeably (and frightening to some) is that Song has been included as a CB. I'll explain:


Podolski and van Persie have the potential to be awesome together. Both like to come deep to collect the ball and add another creative force in midfield but they also have the gift of clinical finishing. Podolski usually plays on the left for Germany in an inside forward role (despite being left footed) and van Persie has shown that he has the ability of playing as a no 9 or 10. Combined they have so much to offer, diagonal runs, a poachers finishing and a creative midfielders eye for a pass. Add the creativity and ball retention of Wilshere into the mix and I believe you have a front three capable of rotating effectively to cause havoc on defences.


Walcott isn't in the line-up because his usual AMR position does not fit this formation. He wants to be a striker, his best goals come from those diagonal runs inside off the shoulder, let him be a striker! But not now.. We have van Persie in the form of his life and an actual world class player to partner him. If Walcott really wants to be a central striker then he needs to realise that he has to watch and learn from the bench for a little while.


I've used Sagna and Gibbs in midfield to provide the width. I still think it's important for the wide men to be fullbacks because they already possess the stamina required to bomb up and down for 90 minutes and for obvious reasons are still defensive minded. Santos is an option on the left but until he can sort out his fitness and work rate, he has to play second fiddle to Gibbs.

In the centre of midfield I have gone for M'Vila and Arteta. Admittedly I've not seen a lot of M'Vila but from what I hear he is very dogged in midfield, eager to break up play, win the ball and move it on. I'm hoping he offers what Song last season could not. I really don't think Song has a lack of discipline at all, I think we lost the creativity of Cesc, Nasri and Wilshere and he felt he needed to step up in order to win games. Where would we be without some of those lobbed passes and through balls?

Arteta in a deep lying play-maker role is a no brainer. He excelled in that position last season with his cool head on the ball and fantastic passing accuracy. He calms everything down, plays a simple game and even contributes with the odd cracker of a goal or timed tackle. He is the player Denilson should model himself on!


The controversial bit, three at the back. With the discipline of M'Vila and Arteta in front of the CB's, as well as the defensive ability of the wide men I really feel we could pull this off. We are blessed with quick defenders, Koscielny and Vermaelen really do have pace and that's exactly what they would need sweeping up balls at the back with Song biting at attackers, breaking up play much like a DM but deeper. Song gets a hard time sometimes from fans but without the burden of having to create, I think he can flourish in defence.

Really though formations only really describe the teams starting shape, football is fluid (at least it is when we play it) and shapes change in play. For instance a 4-2-3-1 can very easily turn into a 4-4-1-1 when defending. Much the same, three at the back can turn into five at the back when defending.

With the pace of Podolski up front and the passing ability in midfield, the counter attack is always going to be a threat when we are pinned back in our own half. The wide men too, especially Gibbs have the ability to bomb up the touchline and create the width necessary to break quickly.

The main threat though of the 3-4-3 has to be possession. With the trio of Wilshere, Arteta and M'Vila controlling things with Song picking his moments to join in and make the trio a diamond as well as the strikers dropping deep and the wide men stretching play, we have a team capable of holding onto the ball for long periods and frustrating opponents.

It's a bit left field and might be seen as a huge risk to some, but this 3-4-3 actually includes more defensive minded players than the 4-3-3 we have been employing recently. You can't look at the spine of that line up and tell me it doesn't give you confidence.

BUT.. Then there's the question of depth and unfortunately (sorry) transfer targets. Other than the missing ST, CB and GK, all of the changes are like for like with the exception of Song for Mertesacker which is more like swapping tenacity for shrewd positioning.

Switching to a two striker system means we would need to bring in one more, someone who will need to fight for their starting place from the bench. Though let's face it, with our injuries, that's not much of a concern. Giroud would be lovely! We would also need to bring in another CB, one with pace and confidence on the ball. There's been lots of talk about Vertonghen though I don't know him well enough to know if he's all that quick. Perhaps you can suggest some targets.. And I wasn't going to talk about transfers.

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Mean Lean's Response

Thank you for the article Anthony, it is a welcome change from the daily transfer nonsense that is being fed to us from news outlets who are trying to make money from us gullible football supporters.

It is interesting that you talk about this system as I had the idea floating around my head after watching Wigan do a number on us at the Emirates not so long ago now.

The team that you have provided looks brimming with quality and it looks to have a rather nice balance to it.

Also, with the personnel available (assuming M'Vila does sign for us) the system could be very interchangeable. For example, with the same players the team could look something like this:

Jack Wilshere replicating Yossi Benayoun's role in the team but from the opposite side of the pitch. M'Vila, Wilshere and Arteta would give us wonderful ball retention potential in the middle of the pitch plus they are all players who put their foot in and graft for the ball when the opposition have it.

I would say that a certain Tomas Rosicky would be entitled to feel somewhat aggrieved to be left out of the starting line up after being our best player for the final months of the season.

What I liked about the Wigan's performance against us was that with their formation, they were able to remain compact all over the pitch because that cluster of players between the back three and the forward players can move around as a unit. Giving you a passing option whenever on the ball and also allowing you to press to win the ball back when you don't have it.

I am no tactical expert and I also have not watched Wigan enough when they were going through bad periods playing that system to know all the downsides to the formation. What jumps out at me though would be the lack of protection to our full backs. Wigan outplayed Manchester United and won at the DW Stadium but the idea of our three center backs and Bacary Sagna being caught in two minds against the likes of Nani and Evra would cause us problems I reckon.

At least in our current system the wide forwards drop back (or at least are supposed to) and help the full backs when we are defending. Another possible draw back is that the team would be heavily reliant on our central strikers. Teams could flood the middle of the pitch because our wing backs are unlikely to consistently make things happen from nothing even if left in wide areas without too much attention. I could see us turning into a crossing side against narrow teams and that really isn't our game. It is this reason that Andre Santos would start ahead of Gibbs for me if we implemented a similar system. Hopefully pre season will be just what the doctor ordered for our loveable Brazilian.

I am just trying to play devils advocate and find faults, the truth is every system has faults and downsides, van Persie's lack of support at times in our current system is one of them, that would not be the case with Podolski closer to Robin in your proposed system.

Alex Song could also go tip-toeing forward from center back and deliver those wonderful dinked passes to RVP or Podolski for that matter and he would have not just have Arteta on the cover but M'Vila also.

As systems go the 3-5-2 looks very flexible and I like that but as you said in the start of your article, Theo Walcott is a starter. His end product and his numbers makes him a starter so I do not see that changing anytime soon unless of course he does not sign a new deal and we move him on.

Whatever the system is or whatever tweaks are made to our current system, it is clear to me that we have a strong group of players, especially if we do buy Yann M'Vila. The trick for us in my opinion is the work done on the training ground. Honing in on the relationships and understandings on the pitch. Which players are where in certain defensive phases and what the players have to do when they lose the ball. It is this that I see as more important than most individual signings.

Unfortunately we will not have as much time with the players as we would have liked with the European Championships getting in the way as well as pre season touring.

Still, I look forward to Wenger, Bould and Banfield getting their hands on the players as soon as possible. Last season we improved dramatically from set pieces thanks to the input of Pat Rice and the season before, we conceded the least from open play. Merge those two together and we may just be ok.

We can only hope.

Comments (38)

  • Richard B
    I agree - a refreshing change from the usual speculation and one that I've been mulling over for a while given what we saw from both Wigan and Barcelona last season.
    My version would have a midfield diamond with Arteta on the right, Wilshere on the left with Song playing as anchor (deeper than at present) and Rosicky at the point, perhaps further forward than he played last season.
    Behind that diamond sits a back three of Koscielny, Mertesacker and Vermaelen. In front of it would play a front three of Walcott, RVP (if he stays) and the Ox. Away from home we would probably need to play a left back (in a wing back position) in order to keep things a bit tighter. The same would be the case at home, in the last 30mins when we're 3-0 up! Ramsey would cover for Rosicky and both Sagna and Jenkinson would play as cover on the right side of defence. Remember the age/injury record of both Sagna and Rosicky and that makes more sense.
    The Ox would also play as cover for Rosicky which would open up opportunities for Gervinho to come in - as well as being cover for Walcott.
    Djourou (if he stays) would cover for Song but we'd need another left footed defender to share the duties with Vermaelen. Miguel is too young so Vertonghen would be my choice.
    If RVP goes Podolski fits right in as replacement but we'd need cover for him. The return of Eduardo?
    Coquelin would cover for Arteta and Diaby for both Arteta and Wilshere.
  • Dgob  - Hard centres
    I seriously doubt that we will ever see a team that holds Arteta, M'Vila and Song playing through the centre. I think one of these (assuming they're all gunners) would always be replaced by the creativity of a Rosicky, Diaby, Ramsey or Wilshere. The wing position will be taken by Walcott, Gervinho or Chamberlain.

    What about a team of:

    Sagna, Kos, TV5, Gibbs
    M'vila, Song, Wilshere
    Walcott, RvP, Podolski?

    Still the current 4-3-3 about with more creativity in the middle and finishing ability up front.
  • John Gee
    Decent effort but one obvious flaw. Where is the pace coming from? All teams need pace in this day and age and that is why you must play Theo. He frightens defences into not bombing forward.
  • @Born_a_gooner  - Defensive set up
    I actually think your opinion is quite interesting as well as your formations. Considering a 3-4-3 formation with the players we have and players coming in would be very very interesting indeed. I'll have this formation though


    I think this formation will give us a very good defensive and offensive balance. Arteta will be the midfield marshal
  • Jamie
    Great article! Very interesting, next season looks promising :) With regards to strength in depth, what about Gervinho (or even Arshavin if he stays) for the other striker position? And in defence, you could always pull back Jenkinson or Coquelin to defence and put in Frimpong/Ramsey in midfield, or even Frimpong in the "Song" position in the first formation!
  • Vuja De
    An interesting article, AA.

    However, I suspect that the introduction of such a system for the players that we have at the club would create more problems than it would actually solve, that is, if it's meant to solve problems in the first place.

    The only team that I can remember playing a 3-5-2 formation and successfully compete for (and indeed win) silverware was the Roma team that was managed by Fabio Capello around 2000/2001, when they won the Serie A title.

    That team was very attractive to watch, and had Zebina (who I didn't particularly rate), Aldair and Samuel as the three central defenders, Cafu and Candela as the wingbacks/wide midfielders, Emerson & Tommasi in central midfield, Totti in the "hole", as an out and out play maker, with Delveccio and Montella as the twin strikers.

    That team played a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Cafu and Candela reverting to full backs as and when necessary.

    Following the success of that team, I've been surprised that more clubs haven't tried that formation over the years, but I guess the timing of using such formations - as well as the quality of the personnel available to bring it to life - is everything.
  • Ryan  - Mmmmmmmmm
    Well really I would go

    Sagna. Kos. Verminator. Gibbs

    Arteta. Mvila. Song.

    Walcott. Podolski.
    Van Persie
    This would be my best line up for next season
  • Queeg  - M'Vila?
    Sorry to break it to you but M'Vila is not joining Arsenal. And never was.
  • SouthLDNGooner
    Intresting but tbh this is the way our formation turn out to be when we attack apart form nobody REALLY playin in the hole.. but but i think if we use this formation our CB's will have a stronger platform to just defend and not worry about attacking. BUT we dont need m'villa wilshere diaby coquelin frimpong lansbury rosicky and even podolski can play there.. we shouldnt waste the money
  • bababoom  - Mvilla
    I must say that you have done a good job here, i'd like to see this tactic in action. I cannot see anybody defending against that offensive play.

    Mvilla is a player you should see a clip or two of on youtube. He is really not much of a footballer, he can't pass the ball. One cannot get a sense of the positional sense from a few clips, but I assume he is good in that department. I would chenge his position with song, as he is more attack-minded, and he has a far better passing ability. Song is also a bit slow to be in a 3-player defence. And he also has a good link-up with RVP that needs to be used, can't trow that away. We must not forget that song also suddenly becomes an attacker when it is not a good idea, he can't be trusted at the back.

    I think it is a huge mistake to buy mvilla, let alone shuffle out a record tranfer fee for him. coq looks like a better player to me.
  • Whatever...  - hmmm
    call me a sceptic, but have to agree with queeg, M'vila probably won't happen, and i don't know about you but i think i prefer the thought of Mr De jong, bringing his guile, determination and tenacity into our midfield, is a much better rumour to mull over, not thats its more likely to happen.

    as far as predicting our line up goes -

    anyone even SUGGESTING a fit sanga doesn't start isn't thinking straight...

    Wilshere will need at least a couple of months before he's anywhere near his best, at least...

    robin van persie... let's just he how the euro's go eh... because if he's anywhere near his best, he's probably off... and it's not like that holland side couldn't go far without him, so he'll probably be there or there about's... what did wenger pay, £2.5M?? he's sold on with major profits before hasn't he... he does what's best for the club.. a £30M offer will probably turn van persie into a fine investment at arsenal, rather than the legend he looks set to become...

    its more likely to be


    Sanga Koscielney Vermealen Gibbs


    Arteta Rosicky

    Walcott Podolski

    At very best...
  • Don Oloo
    Sorry dude, bt ur lineup will have us playing Chelsea kind of football, without as many penetrative passes from midfield as our sometimes wasteful attackers need to outscore our opponents.

    It also leaves our defence too bare especially when the high balls from Stoke come raining in. We wd end up being stuck... and dnt count on RVP being as sharp as u jst witnessed if u want him to drop deeper to collect the ball.
  • MeanLean
    I can't speak for Antony but I think the point of the article was more about the system rather than personnel. I mean, I am sure Wigan do not have M'Vila :D
  • CaribKid  - CaribKid
    Interesting concept and one I've been mulling over myself. However, a few points to note are:

    1) We would be lacking speed on the flanks since Gibbs would be our only player with true pace.

    2) We can't depend on Wilshere to come back match fit based on our injury history, and even if he does, a 19 year old coming off a year's absence may well take some time to recapture his form.

    3) We wouldn't have enough goal scorers on the field.

    Would love to see us go that way if we brought in a goal scoring AM and/or started Ox on the flanks.

    Love the basic concept though and think we would be much better defensively.
  • Lebza10  - Wilshere not AM
    WIlshere-is not an attacking midfielder, he'll never be. He is more suited in the same position that Arteta plays in. We should get an attacking midfielder, up n comming striker that has great potential.
    My squad for the season provided we get a suitable attacking midfielder.
    Sagna Kosceilny Vermelen Gibbs
    Arteta Song
    Walcott/Gervinho VanPersie Podolski

    Bench: Rosicky, Chamberlain, Santos, Mertasacker, Coquelin, Wilshere, Keeper

    I rate Gervinho highly, one of the best off the ball runners in the league. Finishing lets him down--that can be fix by practice...llook how walcotts finishing has improved.
  • MeanLean
    Except that Wilshere has played as an attacking midfielder for the whole of his youth. I believe he will get the chance to do so again in future. How long, I don't know.
  • antbonc
    Good to see it's got people talking, always healthy to debate!

    I knew the starting XI would be contentious, it's more about the shape than the personnel really, it's just who I would send out onto the pitch.

    The width thing is definitely an issue, the shape would require both fluidity and discipline in equal measure. Not to mention that the front 1-2 could turn into a front 3 with wingers and a central striker.

    Including M'Vila was just a bit of gentle optimism on my part ;)

    It definitely has its flaws but then again, our current shape isn't exactly winning us trophies.

    Thanks for reading everyone
  • antbonc
    Also I have to disagree with Wilshere not being an AM. He only played deep and adapted his game because we had Cesc in the hole. He always played a more attacking role before that. I'm confident he has serious creative chops. Then again I could be wrong!
  • craig
    Unlikely the formation will contain RVP. He's wanting trophies.

    However, whichever team AW puts out, it will be suspect at the back and play tippy tappy football around the box (too scared to whip the ball across the six yard box or god forbid, take a shot from outside the penalty area).

  • LadyCaramelldn  - Interesting
    I've had a bit of an issue with our formation this past season.
    It always felt like other teams prepped for us based on our formation and there was no plan b. A switch in formation would surprise other teams when we're in need of a result.

    I know it's a really boring formation, but we were invincibles on the 4-4-2. Even a variation of this formation as a plan b would be better than nothing.

    I'm hoping RvP stays (what's wrong with having a bit of faith)..if he doesn't...then we will deal with it. No one player is bigger than the club. His stance of wanting silverware (which is understandable) is a strange thing to base his re-signing on. Yes, he's been here for 7 years - but how many seasons did he actually stay fit?

    The team isn't the whole reason as to why he hasn't won trophies..his injury record has a lot to do with it too. And he should remember that..
  • El Tel
    Hi Guys,

    I see by your team choices that not many of you choose BFG.

    I find this amazing as the players chosen by most of you shipped in 49 goals last season.

    I am a big fan of Chessers but He needs to sit out a few more games until He learns the trade a bit more.

    I think we desperately need a decent back up keeper.

    I would play The Kosser BFG and TV5 at the back

    Sagna Arteta Willshere M'Villa and The Santos in midfield

    RVP as a midfield forward of the DB10 role with Podolski and Gervinhio up top or a new playmaker come wide player instead of the forehead.

    I would like to see a Clint Dempsey/ Muller from Bayern type of signing as they work hard defensively from an attacking position and they score goals too and a decent RB to challenge Sagna who had some stinkers last season. Gibbs and Santos can play the LB role and both will be better next season and they also offer a lot up front too.

    I would get rid of Theo and buy a true WC wide man like a Ribery/Robben type player. Then last of all a real WC up and coming striker who for sure will get games as RVP and Podolski can have breathers. I personally would like an Huntellar but He would not want to sit on our bench or play out wide when chosen like NB 52 and Chamakh have had to do,

    Our defence was far better last season when BFG Merteseker calmed things down and although Kosser played well He still made mistakes which were mostly down to our wandering Vice Captain who was just awful in a far to many matches too.

    We need to defend higher up the pitch and therefore Walcott, and even RVP need to get their fingers out and the AM's need to work far harder than the likes of Song and Rosicky when we don't have the ball.

    Arteta and Yossi showed real character last year as they are technically good but with a work ethic not seen by Theo and Song in many matches.

    In truth we need some strength in depth and a bit more honesty from the Referees and the media for us to be a force again.
  • Anonymous  - Formation:4-2-1-1-2
    -------------------------------------------Szczesny------------------- ---------------------------------Sagna--------------Koscielny--------- -----------Vermaelen-----------------Gibbs-

    -------------------------------Song------------------M'Villa---------- ----------------------------

    ---------------------------------------Jack Wilshere--------------------------------------------

    ---------------------------------------------Podolski----------------- ----------------------------

    -------------------------Van Persie-----------------Doumbia---------------------------------
  • Goona4eva  - Formation:4-2-1-1-2
    ---------------------------------------Szczesny----------------------- -----------------------------Sagna--------------Koscielny---- Vermaelen-----Gibbs

    --------Van Persie----------Doumbia
  • Goona4eva
    -------------------------------------------Szczesny------------------- -----------------------------Sagna---------Koscielny-------------- Vermaelen---Gibbs----------

    -------------------------------Song------------------M'Villa---------- - ----------------------------

    ---------------------------------------Jack Wilshere--------------------------------------------

    ---------------------------------------------Podolski----------------- - -----------------------------

    -------------------------Van Persie-----------------Doumbia---------------------------------
  • Craig
    seeing as we're playing "fantasy football", I'd change Doumbia (who?) for Messi. :lol: :lol: :lol:
  • Spectrum
    It's interesting and fun to speculate on formations. But you're overlooking that it's all purely hypothetical, and will REMAIN that way. Tactics and changing formations are for someone like Mourinho, Hiddink e.t.c. The astute and efficient ones. People with a tactical brain, who are prepared to be adventurous and flexible to meet the demands and challenges posed before and as, the match unfolds.

    But it's simply wishful thinking to believe that clueless Wenger will change HIS rigid thinking. We'll play the SAME formation, and the SAME high line of defence again next season. We have been for at least the last eight, haven't we ? He never learns, just as the A.K.B.'s never learn. I'd love us to try something fresh and new. To try the unexpected.
    But you're just fooling yourselves if you expect it to happen under the present hapless fool you call a manager.

  • Antbonc
    Agree with some if the shouts for 4-4-2, thinking about writing a piece on a possible switch back and comparing it to how city play a variation on the formation.

    Wenger certainly has his ways but he does make changes and he does change the teams shape. He made changes to the midfield 3 a few times this season which led to arteta and rosicky playing so well.
  • paspartu
    lol i cant stop lauging at spectrum;s efforts to divert the discussion of formations and attacking wenger and arsenal fans ...ahahahha

    your motivation leaves me speechless my precious :lol: :lol: :lol:

    you effin mug... 8) :lol:
  • paspartu
    ml how come you allow idiots in here who call a manager and professional like wenger "clueless" ? lmfao :lol: :lol: :lol:

    wtf is wrong with you mate ? ..... :D
  • paspartu
    guys ...dont waste your time on hypothetical formations ..... :lol: :lol:

    learn a bit from spectrum .... :lol: :lol: :lol:

    and keep your hypothesis for player transfers and ownership structures like he does ... oh and money of course ...

    :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
  • paspartu
    arsenal first xi team 2012-2013 for my precious :wink:


    LOV 'IT !! this team will go for the treble !!!! 8) :D come on wenger you legend !!!! you master genius you.... :D
  • craig
    Mannone, diaby (not diabby) and B52 in the team would definitely send shivers down the spines of all EPL managers. But please can we sign Denislon - he must be good.
  • paspartu
    i have someone much better than denilson already .......spectrum can play as a 6 problem.....trained for years under lippi ... :lol: :lol: :lol:
  • Antbonc
    Maybe I'll get 'Mertersarker' on the back of my shirt next year.
  • tom
    Nice one Antbonc :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:

    If I didn't know better, only a spurs fan wouldn't know the names of our players.
  • Spectrum
    As things are quiet in the off season ( especially at Arsenal of course ), here's a chance to reflect on how we SHOULD be thinking......"Time To Put Arsenal First." Perhaps Mean Lean can take some tips from the article's author ( Geoff ) ?...... :idea:

    ( copy and paste ) ; utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-put-arsenal-first- arsenal

    " IAWR "
  • sean
    nice article but i disagree with u on song. song now likes to bomb forward n given how effective he is at going forward, m'vila is a better choice for his position should this formation be played.playing with this formation gives arsenal better flexibility and coquelin will also get more game time! i see a good balance in this formation
  • alisher usmanov
    who the hell is this geoff ? whats his last name ?
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