4-2-1-3, 4-4-2 or 4-1-2-3 and will Jack play ‘in the hole’?
The current season was always going to be one of transition. Arsenal saw a number of new players arrive in every area: Mertesacker, Santos and Jenkinson in defence, Arteta and Benayoun in midfield and Gervinho, Park and the Ox upfront. They all needed time to settle in, and the lack of fit and available FB’s during a large period of our season also did not help the team in becoming a solid, recognisable unit. With the departure of Fabregas, and unexpected long-term injuries to Wilshere and (to a lesser extent) Diaby, Arsene was forced to adjust his formation and style of football this season. As a result of all this, we have been playing a lesser spotted form of Wengerball compared to previous seasons: less magic and more functional/result orientated, as getting back in the top-four became our prime objective.
Although we made great progress recently, the transition to a new Wengerball team is not yet fully completed. Arsene has tried both Ramsey and Rosicky in the advanced midfield position and both have had good, and not-so-good, periods in this pivotal role at Arsenal.
I am convinced we will see a big change next season with regards to our style of play and our formation: Arsene will transform his team once again to a purer form of Wengerball – Total Football – in order to make the next step up. The key questions will be who will become our first choice AM(s) – the ‘midfielder(s) in the hole’. In this post, I like to discuss the possibilities, to which you are more than welcome to respond in order to have a meaningful debate today.
Variant one: 4-2-1-3
Will Arsenal continue next season with two deeper laying midfielders, double DMs if you want, and one attacking midfielder? The DMs can be picked from Song, Arteta, Coquelin, Ramsey and Frimpong. Initially, I thought Song was the deeper laying DM and Arteta the slightly more advanced one, but as the season develops it looks like Arteta and Song decide between themselves who does what, and they both can be found either deep or more advanced in our midfield at any particular period in a game. The big question is, however, who will play in the hole next season.
I don’t think this role fully suits Ramsey’s abilities who I feel would fare better in one of the two DM roles. I would like to see him compete with Arteta for the latter’s current role. I rate them both very highly and in an ideal world they could share that position between them during the season. Rosicky has done well when we needed it most, but this is such a demanding role that I just cannot see him doing it week after week, for an entire season. Although I don’t think he is the best AM I have ever seen in an Arsenal shirt, the one thing he does, is he sticks well to his role and as a results he helps giving Arsenal the necessary shape to our formation.
So, if it is not Ramsey, and Rosicky is more suited to be our ‘squad player’ for this position, then who should we be playing in this role next season?
Should it be Wilshere, or Diaby, or does Arsenal need to buy a new player who can be slotted in to that role? I expect Arsene to play Wilshere as his first choice next season, and I would like him to. Jack has great vision and passing ability, he has a fine first touch, thinks and executes very quickly, and is able to turn defenders in a flash. He also has a great engine and is Arsenal through-and-through. I am sure Jack is the sort of player why Wenger still gets up in the morning and stands hour after hour on the training ground – why he still enjoys football so much. Jack is the sort of player around which a team is build, just like Fabregas is/was (Barcelona are currently not utilizing his strongest skills).
However, I am not sure whether we will be playing 4-2-3-1 next season. With our defence getting more solid and the type of players we have now available, I would not be surprised if we moved to 4-4-2 or, more likely, to 4-1-2-3 ala Barcelona/ the Spanish National Team.
Variant two: 4-4-2
I am assuming Podolski is joining us at the start of the summer and this would give us a strong basis for 4-4-2. It could mean that RvP would move into the hole, ala Bergkamp, and Podolski upfront: a mouth watering prospect. I can also see the Ox playing in the hole and either RvP or Podolski upfront. I am also assuming Campbell will get a work permit this summer and will become our third-choice striker (I just cannot see Park or Chamakh getting regular starts next season/ staying at Arsenal).
With a 4-4-2 formation, it is very important that both our wide midfielders are able to work hard and can combine wing play with midfield play, ala Pires and Ljunberg? Both Theo and Gervinho have potential for this, and as Gooner in Exile and I discussed during the Reserves game at and against Norwich a while ago, the likes of Gibbs and Coquelin could be good back up/ could be developed into these roles. Furthermore, Rosicky and, if we can keep him, Benayoun would also function well in the 4-4-2 wide midfield positions.
In the centre of midfield, we could select from Song/Arteta/Coquelin as our DM and Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Diaby as our AM. This will be a bit controversial, but I believe Ramsey would be ahead of Wilshere, Diaby and Rosicky in this more classical 4-4-2 formation. The best games I have seen Aaron play were in the AM position for Wales, in their 4-4-2 formation: he is a natural orchestrator and the additional space, and therefore time he gets in such a formation, suits him very well. However, the problem with such a formation is that a lot of our central midfielders will become bench warmers/unhappy, and I also doubt whether Wenger would go for it. He seemed to have moved on from 4-4-2 and I cannot see him return to it anymore. But I could be wrong.
Variant three: 4-1-2-3
The first half against Milan, at home for the CL this season, was one of the best I have seen in a while. Forced by injuries and the necessity to go all out on attack in order to wipe out a 4-0 away defeat – and to salvage our damaged reputation a bit – we played 4-1-2-3 with Song as our lone DM, and Rosicky and the Ox as our two attacking midfielders, with three upfront. It totally bamboozled Milan and they were lucky to escape on the night with ‘only’ a 3-0 hammering (mainly due to injury/fatigue to the Ox, early on in the second half, and no suitable replacement on the bench as Arteta, Diaby, Wilshere and Benayoun were all injured). On that night, we played the sort of football that puts the world on fire, and I for one, would love it if Arsene were to opt to play this formation regularly next season.
4-1-2-3 is totally based around pressing high up the pitch through ‘swarming’, suffocating the opponent with high ball circulation, deadly penetration and winning the ball back in a flash, if and when it’s lost. We have the players for it, but we could do with a couple of additions to suit this formation/system. For a system like this, Arsenal need strong and fast defenders and both TV and Koz really suit it to the core. Miquel would also be very good as back up, but both Djourou and Mertesacker might struggle a bit. I am not sure how much truth there is in Arsenal being linked with Ajax’ Vertonghen, but he would fit into this system very well. Our current FB’s would really suit such a system as well, and I especially would expect Santos to do very well in it.
In a 4-1-2-3 system, the DM role is pivotal. Song would be a very good lone DM, but I think Arsene has different plans for him, as Alex is such a talented, well-rounded midfielder – the best this season. It could be that Arsene would opt for Arteta to become the sole DM in such a system, and we have also been linked with Rennes’ M’Vila once again, but nobody knows whether there is much truth in it.
With Podolski very likely to join us, I would have no worries about the ‘3’, as we would have brilliant cover for all the positions: Theo, Gervinho, the Ox, Podolski, Ryo, Campbell, RvP: yippee!!
But the most exciting bit is who would man the ‘2’. Would it be Ramsey and Wilshere, or Song and Wilshere, or Rosicky and Ramsey, or Arteta and Song, or Diaby and Song, or Diaby and the Ox, or Arteta and Wilshere, Song and the Ox etc, etc, etc?! Ah, ‘die Qual der Wahl’ as the Germans say: who would you choose: they are all brilliant?!!
So what’s it going to be?
My heart says 4-1-2-3 with Arteta or Song as the lone DM and with the purchase of another CB or DM (and Podolski). It would not surprise me if Vermaelen were to be developed/ utilized as the sole DM on occasion as well.
My brain says Wenger will continue with the current 4-2-1-3 next season, but improve it. If Wenger would like more goals from the hole position, he could opt to put the Ox in it. If he has money to spend, and the right opportunity occurs, he might buy a ready-to-play, quality player for this position. He seemed to have tried hard last summer as he almost bought Mata, so will he be looking again for a similar gem this summer?
I don’t think so: my money is on Wenger starting Wilshere in ‘the hole’ next season, with Rosicky and Diaby as back-up, and Ozyakup promoted to the first team. Jack will come down the beanstalk with the hen that lays the golden eggs and the harp that plays the golden music, and Arsene’s latest Wengerball team will be build around the biggest English midfield talent in generations.
But what do you think?