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)
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.
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.