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Written by Antony Armstrong on Sunday, 17 June 2012 16:46

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Win The League With 4-4-2

Ingredients:

4x Top Striking Talents

2x Creative Midfielders

2x Wingers

1x Possession Retaining Midfielder

2x Defensive Midfielders

4x Attacking Fullbacks

3x Solid Centrebacks

That's how Man City did it. They played a 4-4-2 that was stylish, solid at the back, retained possession and was flexible. When attacking it looked like 4-2-2-2, when defending it looked like 4-4-1-1 and when seeing out played it looked a lot like 4-2-3-1. They racked up an impressive 89 points, scored 93 goals and only conceded 29, which is a massive 20 less than we conceded. You would think that using a second striker rather than a midfield player would hinder their possession of the ball but not at all, they averaged 57.5% possession, slightly more than Arsenal's 57.1% who did have that extra man in midfield.

Well they have their millions, we can't follow their tactical lead because we don't have the resources to build that squad. Unless of course we already have the right squad assembled.

4x Top Striking Talents

Man City had an embarrassment of riches in Aguero, Tevez, Balotelli and Dzeko. They all contributed with goals but it was Aguero who was their star man. He has it all, he can play deep and collect the ball between the lines, create chances for others with his intelligent movement or make devastating runs off the last man. His first Premier League season resulted in 23 goals and he will only improve. Tevez is a similar player but it arguably more hard working but with a poor attitude off the pitch. Balotelli gets himself into the right place at the right time, his movement is strong and his finishing for the most part is clinical. Dzeko is the target man, he is great in the air and links up play well. If City need a more direct route, he's it.

It's somewhat crept up on us but if we keep van Persie then we have four top strikers if you include Podolski, Giroud and Walcott. Yes, Walcott. Podolski and van Persie are our complete strikers, the ones that are as effective playing deep as they are on the shoulder of defence. Everyone had Robin down as the next Bergkamp but it turns out he is a bit of an Henry as well. These two will contribute most of the goals and probably be the most played throughout the season. Giroud of course will be the target man that we need. 'Chamakh with feet' if you will. He will be vital against those sides hell bent on parking the bus against us. If Stoke want to play deep and get 10 men behind the ball then let them, we've got this beastly 6”3 piece of handsome to push Crouch out the way and change the game. Then we have Walcott who I am convinced can be a top striker. He consistently gets behind defenders with his blistering diagonal runs and I am personally a big fan of his finishing which I think is underrated and will continue to improve. I am sure he will take his chance in the middle if it's given to him.

2x Creative Midfielders

In David Silva and Samir Nasri, City have two similar players on each flank. They are both good at retaining possession, are quick on the turn and create goal scoring chances for others. They're on the flanks but they aren't wingers, they create width by cutting inside and making space for the overlapping fullbacks. Oh and they track back. They track back or Mancini throws his fruit pastels at the them. Somebody buy Wenger a crate of Werthers Originals.

Last season Rosicky showed us all that he still has it, putting in some fine performances. Pressing with intent, retaining possession, making defenders look stupid with his quick turns, making sudden bursts into space and combining well with the attackers. Jack Wilshere has all these attributes with the potential for more. As far as I'm concerned, he is young but ready (injuries permitting). You just know he would jump at the chance for a more advanced role.

2x Wingers

When more width was required, Mancini would often turn to Johnson and Milner. Effective in the system but not exactly players to write home about. Johnson has pace and a nice left foot, Milner has strength and the most boring face in football.

The Arsenal have Gervinho and The Ox to call upon. Gervinho had a mixed first season, he started pretty well, dipped once he returned from the AFCON and then I felt he put in some performances towards the end of the season. Like Theo, he consistently gets behind defenders, but in wider areas. Once he's there, he doesn't always know what to do. This will come though, you can see that he has all the attributes required to be a success and I think next season will be a big one for him. Then there's The Ox who can be whatever player he wants to be. He could be the next Wayne Rooney but without the Shrek face if he wanted to. I think however he will become a fantastic advanced midfielder after plying his trade as a winger. He can play on either flank, doesn't have a weaker foot and is built like a man beyond his years.

1x Possession Retaining Midfielder

Yaya Toure was arguably the best midfielder in the league last season. He broke up play, never gave the ball away, scored important goals, made assists, frightened everyone with his driving gangly runs and generally led by example.

But so did Arteta (without the gangly runs). Who would've thought Arteta would work out as well as he did. He was a calming influence in midfield, kept the ball moving, broke up play without having to Scott Parker the crap out of everyone and scored a few crackers for us to celebrate. There aren't many players who could come in and do a better job.

2x Defensive Midfielders

Barry and De Jong. No frills players, protecting the back 4. Played a simple passing game whenever they dispossessed their opponent and were disciplined in staying deep.

Now I know Song didn't have that discipline last season but he really did have to step up and create at times because Ramsey wasn't exactly firing on all cylinders. Song is a top defensive midfielder who I am sure will rediscover that discipline he had when Fabregas was in front of him. M'Vila of course is Mr Anchor Man. The thought of the two of them together in front of the back 4 is a very exciting prospect.

4x Attacking Fullbacks

Mancini rotated his fullbacks more than any other position last season, you couldn't really predict who he was going to include. It seemed as though Clichy and Richards were his first choice pairing but Zabaleta had such a strong end to the season that he seemed to be first in line to play. All three though had god seasons, it was Kolarov who was the weak link. He was often caught too high up the pitch I'm sure that if it wasn't for his dead ball abilities, he wouldn't be let anywhere near the starting line-up. In saying that, overall City used their fullbacks well. They were encouraged to drive up the flanks to create space while Nasri and Silva darted inside and it was an effective tactic. How Richards hasn't made the England squad is beyond me.

I feel we are weakest I the fullback positions with Sagna the only one who has my full trust. Gibbs has his moments but will require much more discipline in the future if he is to keep his place in the starting line up. Santos is fantastic going forward but his tracking back bugs me, he can be sluggish at times and I hope his fitness levels improve. I see a lot of potential in Jenkinson but it does worry me that he is the only like for like cover for Sagna.

3x Solid Centrebacks

Kompany was the man last season. He has a lot of skill stored in that massive head of his and he uses it week in, week out. He's vocal, he's strong, good in the air and leads by example. Easily the best defender in the league last season. Lescott and Toure were good but not great next to Kompany. You get the impression that Kompany keeps them in line, tells them what to do, where to be and that without him they wouldn't be too reliable. Luckily for them, Kompany was fit for most of the season so it wasn't too much of an issue. I won't talk about Savic, poor little Squillaci.

We have three great centrebacks in Koscielny, Vermaelen and Mertesacker. Unusual for us. I would normally list Vermaelen at the beginning but Koscielny has overtaken him. He is a rock in defence and our most reliable asset at the back. In those three we have speed, intelligence, height and strength. Which brings me to..

Horses For Courses

Arsenal starting line up vs Everton

Arsenal starting line up vs Stoke

Arsenal starting line up vs Chelsea

Arsenal starting line up in the League Cup

For the first time in a long time, we will have a sufficient squad of players to call upon. A squad with varying skills and attributes who will challenge each other for starting places and improve the team. Let's go 4-4-2.

Twitter: @arsenalbonc

Mean Lean's Response

Very interesting and informative piece, thank you.

Like the previous 3-5-2 article, you make some great arguments for a new system. It certainly will be interesting to see where Arsene goes for the coming season. If Robin van Persie is kept on for at least the next season then Arsene will really have some thinking to do about his selection of forward players.

With van Persie, Podolski and Giroud all hopefully registered to Arsenal FC next season we have a collection of front players who can all score goals and add different strengths to the team. I guess the same could be said about the midfield area as well as the wide attacking players. We are building a pretty strong squad of players all capable of pushing each other and keeping the level of the team high regardless of the players selected.

Personally I think a change closer to 3-5-2 would be more likely than a 4-4-2, not that I expect Arsene to make that change but more because of Arsene's preference to have that extra man in midfield, giving his team more chance of controlling the game.

I actually think that a variant of the 4-2-3-1 will remain but perhaps with a few tweaks here and there.

The strikers we have at the club are not players who can slot into midfield and give us that numerical advantage. van Persie can drift into areas around the penalty box and make things happen but you don't really want to see van Persie on the center circle.

At times last season with Yossi Benayoun established as a first team player we often had four players dropping into midfield to wrestle the advantage of the game and teams like Tottenham got severely punished. Yossi became a clear part of our game plan so I wonder how Arsene intends to replicate that without Benayoun and with more offensive players.

But you never know, perhaps Arsene is buying what he thinks are the right personnel for a system change. The acquisitions of Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit in 1997 saw Arsene move away from the clubs previous 5-3-2 to a 4-4-1-1 and that won us the league title. Back then, teams didn't play the extra man in midfield as much as they do today so that may well be Arsene's reasoning for switching our successful previous system but you are correct when you point out the success that Manchester City have had with it.

Whatever system we do use for this season, I think we have a good chance of pulling it off. We have a number of flexible players who can play in multiple positions. Arsene allows the players freedom on the pitch so I imagine that we will see a number of different shapes over the course of the season.

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