This summer has been very significant for almost all clubs in England’s top tier. With the new television deal in place, there’s now a huge amount of money available for the clubs in the Premiership, which is even greater than the previous years. There have been some very significant developments in the clubs of Manchester, Merseyside and London with Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Chelsea appointing new managers while West Ham United shifting their base to the new Olympic Stadium.
The summer transfer market saw the transfer spending breach the 1 billion mark for the first time and with their increased financial power, clubs irrespective of their positions in the league table has been able to acquire top quality talents. Something, which they couldn’t do before. With more resources available to the mid-table clubs, Premier League is now the most competitive ever, where the top clubs would need to perform at their peak every week in order to maintain their ‘Elite’ status.
The summer was also very crucial for Arsenal and Arsène Wenger. The French manager was left frustrated once again as the Gunners missed out last season again finishing in 2nd position, ten points adrift eventual champions Leicester City. The fans targeted Wenger again for his team’s inability to win the title from a promising position once again and criticised the lack of transfer activity as one of the potential reasons behind it.
Arsenal were deemed too predictable, lacking options to change tactically when the game required them to. Going into the final year of his contract, Wenger has finally spent close to £90m this summer acquiring some much needed reinforcements in the defence, midfield and in the attacking region. The new players brought in has the attributes to allow Arsène Wenger to be tactically a lot more flexible and be reactive to combat certain situations rather than trying to get stuck into a fistfight using his usual tactic hoping it triumphs the other one. Let’s take a look at how Arsenal can change things tactically this season.
The 4-2-3-1 has been the most common formation for Arsenal in the last couple of years with the midfield base of two forming the pivot as the front 3 assist the Target man upfront. For much parts of the last season, Arsenal’s buildup play became a lot laboured in this formation when Santi Cazorla missed a chunk of the season through injury. It was because the team relied heavily on Mesut Ozil to start the buildup play and the German found himself either marked tightly devoid of space or having his passing lanes blocked which proved to be more difficult to create openings.
Having Xhaka in the deep position as a number 6 would allow for more passing lanes and for a different passing dimension as well without having to sacrifice the bite in the tackling. Xhaka is an excellent passer of the ball equally adept in playing them over short or long distances.
The Swiss international also is a tough tackler (although his tackles more often than not lead to fouls) who likes to get stuck into challenges and rarely vacates his position maintaining a high defensive discipline, which would help Arsenal retain their compactness. The inclusion of Xhaka would thus allow this formation to function better and the partner who is fielded beside him would allow for the different modes (attacking, balanced, and conservative) of the formation to be implemented.
This formation is very effective once a team falls behind as it allows two strikers upfront with an advanced playmaker in the hole. Lucas Perez can partner Olivier Giroud upfront with Mesut Ozil or even Santi Cazorla as the advanced playmaker.
Arsene Wenger used the 4-3-3 formation extensively during his time at the Emirates with the young Arsenal team of the past when Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas allowed for the proper functioning of the setup. Now with Lucas Perez who has pace and has experience of playing on the wings along with Xhaka who can hold his position and provide the defensive solidity to equate the forward runs of Mesut Ozil can help the manager to opt for this formation and help it click.
This formation was tried by Wenger in the early part of 2014/15 season but in the absence of a specialised defensive midfielder, it didn’t work out. Now Arsenal do have the likes of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny in the team along with Granit Xhaka who can function well in that no. 6 role shielding the defence. It must be noted that during certain moments, the formation shifts to a 4-2-3-1 when the single pivot requires some cover. While Xhaka is not what one would term as a perfect destroyer, he can play the role and most importantly can hold his position when required covering his partner, which can often be the difference between a win or a loss as Arsenal has so often found out in the past.
The good old fashioned 4-4-2 is now considered to be a step down in tactics with the elite coaches viewing this formation as somewhat a degraded strategy which berates their tactical knowledge. Interestingly, there are some managers who in recent years managed to accomplish some seemingly impossible feats using this particular formation. Diego Simeone and Claudio Ranieri are perfect examples.
I really find it interesting how often we term a formation with two strikers as a 4-4-2 and miss out the fact that rarely even when the teams are said to be employing the aforementioned formation actually allows it to function as a 4-4-1-1. Rarely, we get to see two strikers holding their positions at the top trying to remain within the penalty area. Even for Atletico Madrid and Leicester City, the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Shinji Okazaki rarely functions like a striker. These two players drop in behind and allow the play to build through them and creates spaces for the others to run into. They act more as the most advanced midfielders who assist the striker playing off his shoulder, thus allowing the 4-4-2 to function as a 4-4-1-1.
Wenger now has Lucas Perez who has very good pace and clinical finishing abilities to get into the penalty box and be effective. Most importantly the Spaniard has good movement and passing which will help initiate good buildups and create more spaces in and around the box to be exploited, allowing for the 4-4-2 to function perfectly as an effective 4-4-1-1.