Ever since the departure of Fabregas and the long-term injury to Wilshire, I have been trying to figure out how the ‘New Arsenal’ will play this season. For quite a while I was convinced Arsène wanted to continue with his 4-2-3-1 formation of the previous seasons, and as such, he was trying to get Ramsey to play in the Fabregas position/role, with Song in the more traditional DM role and Arteta in the box-to-box ‘Wilshere’ role – which is effectively a second DM (most of the times).
I figured that at soon as the back-five would have gained enough strength and consistency, we would ‘evolve’ and start playing with one DM, and two attacking midfielders – very similar to Barcelona’s 4-1-2-3 system (pressure high up the pitch and boxing in the opponent, whilst pin-balling around till a gap is found for a deadly attack. I was convinced that as soon as Wilshire would return we would start playing Song as sole DM and two of Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta or Diaby as our attacking midfielders. This seemed the logical, final, evolutionary step of the Wengerball project.
5-3-3 System, with the three ‘mini-teams’
This might still happen, but I am starting to think that Arsene is developing a new system that is here to stay: 5-3-3. More than ever, I feel the team consists of three sub-teams: the back-five, the middle-three and the front-three. The back-five focus very hard on becoming a defensive wall that keeps clean sheets and helps out midfield and attack – especially through our FB’s – as much as possible.
The three attackers up front focus on creating and scoring goals and help out with supporting the defence and midfield as much as possible. The middle-three primarily focus on bossing the midfield, help out defence and support attack. Nothing new there, you’ll say: every team will work amongst similar lines. True, but for Arsenal this is still a shift away from what we have become used to and it seems to have helped us in becoming more focussed, and take on more responsibility, by those three ‘mini-teams’. Of course, a team functions best when all 11 positions are interlinked and work as one team. This will be the next step for Arsenal, and that’s one of the reasons I believe this team is only working to 70% of its full potential at the moment – not as a result of a lack of work-rate, but simply a lack of time of having been together/ getting used to each other as a team.
I love the way our regular front three: Gervinho, RvP, Theo work together to create scoring opportunities for each other, which, at the moment, are mainly taken by ‘Het Wonderkind – Boy Wonder’. They are becoming quite the package with a mixture of creativity, unpredictability, an all-round attacking skill-set, and an end-product to relish. It is great to see the way they take joy in helping each other to score, and the way those with the assists are celebrated just as much as the goal scorer himself.
I love the way the defence really wants clean sheets, and gets so annoyed when it is not achieved. With Szczesny and Vermaelen we have strong extravert leaders, and with Mertesacker, Sagna, Koz, and Santos we have truly focused professionals who’ll fight for the cause till the end. There is plenty of talented back-up as well.
The Wall of ARS
But I am most excited at the moment about our new midfield. Arteta, Ramsey and Song: ‘ARS’. They have become a three-dimensional wall; the fulcrum of the new Arsenal. Like any good midfield, their tasks are to shield the defence, to boss the midfield, and to support the attack with assists and goals. ARS does this fantastically well, and there is plenty of growth/improvement still to come. ARS is not yet scoring enough and should produce more assists, but it is getting better and that’s where the additional 30% for our midfield will come from eventually.
What I like most about ARS is the unpredictability of these players. Arteta, Ramsey and Song are multi-disciplined and multi-skilled. Each of them have a great engine, each can shield the defence like a traditional DM, each can do box-to-box, each can produce a killer-pass, and each can score goals. They are total (football) midfielders.
Admittedly, Song is the better DM, and Ramsey is the best option in the more advanced midfield position of the three, and Arteta is possibly the best finisher of them all, but we have the luxury of quality midfielders who can play anywhere, and can do anything. Add to that their ability to swap positions between them during a game and this is exactly what makes us unpredictable: just think about Song’s incredible assist for RvP opening goal against BD: who saw that one coming? It also makes us extremely adjustable: just think about Arteta’s recent goals and his ability to help us ‘play-out’ a game by keeping hold of the ball at the latter stages when we are winning the game. Ramsey is so young and yet so incredibly talented: he is perhaps the best example, or the purest – if you want, of a total midfielder, out of all three of them. This is some midfield we have now and it is likely to become stronger and stronger during the next few months.
So what will happen, now that Diaby appears to be fit again, and especially when Wilshire returns? We also witnessed during our CC game against Citeh that Coquelin and Frimpong are ready to play more first team football. What are we going to do with all these fine midfielders? Just imagine the dilemma Wenger would be facing now if he had not sold Fabregas and Nasri? How times can change!
My view is that we will not change our formation at all this season: Arsenal’s multi-functional midfield within the new 5-3-3 philosophy is here to stay. Diaby and Wilshire will have to compete with ARS to get themselves in there, and for Coquelin and Frimpong the challenge will be even bigger. Wenger likes his midfielders and he is not known for easily changing things that are not broken within the same season. And this, is what makes me believe we will not buy another midfielder like Goetze or Hazard during the next TW. Arsenal might be buying another winger, and/or a striker, especially if and when one or two players are asked/decide to move on, but unless Wenger would see in them a future winger (which I doubt), for Goetze and Hazard there is simply no space at the moment.
The system of 5-3-3 is working fantastically for Arsenal and the wall of ARS is an integral part of it: I just cannot see Wenger making any changes this season and this will suit us just fine.
Written by Total Arsenal