When Arsene Wenger took the reins at Arsenal 16 years ago he continued to play a traditional English 4-4-2 system. He had inherited some very good players, and he added to them with some excellent purchases of his own. The core of the team was the defence which had been at Arsenal for so many years.
Just in front of that defence he has two strong and athletic players in Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit. They could do everything that was required of them defensively, and allow other flair players to do most of the attacking. It meant Arsenal relied on their strikers and two wide players for most of their attacking threat and their goals.
Over the next nine years that system never really changed, and it brought Arsenal plenty of success too. The Invincibles were built on a very similar formation, and the central duo of Vieira and Gilberto Silva did the hard work for the team. The two wide players terrorised defences, and Thirrry Henry scored goals for fun.
With the emergence of Cesc Fabregas Arsenal changed their formation, and their style of play too. They depended more on possession football, and prying defences open with intricate passing. The trophies dried up for many reasons, but with the departure of Fabregas last summer it could be time for them to consider changing their tactics and formation again.
The problems with a change would be vast of course, as Wenger has brought in players to suit his system. There are no midfield powerhouses any more, and the wide players don't possess the goalscoring ability of Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires. With the almost inevitable departure of Robin van Persie they need to find someone as prolific to replace him if possible too.
It would be an enormous task for Wenger to undertake, and he is still in the middle of his current project too. Since the emergence of Chelsea and their owner's vast fortunes Arsenal have tried to find a different way to compete at the top in English football. Their model of sustainability along with their large new stadium has made it difficult for them to compete in the transfer market, but Wenger rarely went out to buy ready-made players.
The hopes are that they will reap the rewards of their policies in years to come when financial fair play brings a halt to the vast sums of money being spent by Chelsea, and now Manchester City too. It's a tough route to follow for Arsenal fans, but it's clearly the one that makes sense in the long run. Arsenal fans had become used to winning trophies, and their current trophy drought is not easy to take for many.
Perhaps a return to the formation which won them so many trophies would see them regain some of their former glories, but I doubt it. With the players currently available to Arsenal I can't see any other way they can attempt to play. It's impossible to tell what stature a player will reach when he is signed at a young age, and ready made midfield giants who can actually play the game are hard to come by.
There are a few changes Wenger could make to his tactics which would be easy to integrate into the current system though. A favourite tactic of mine which Arsenal utilised so well in the past was "third man running", and I would love to see it used again. For Arsenal to do so all they would have to change is the way they defend corners and free kicks into their own penalty area.
I can't understand why every single Arsenal player defends when the opposition have a free kick, corner or a throw in. It means the ball comes straight back at them if they clear it, and I'm all for leaving one man up front when Arsenal are defending set pieces. For Arsenal to start using the "third man running" tactic again it is essential for one player to remain in a threatening position to the opposition.
It's a tactic which is very simple, and it proved to be very effective in the past. The lone player up front takes possession of the ball from an Arsenal clearance, and plays it back to another player advancing from the penalty area. His first time pass is then played behind the opposing defence to the third man who is running in behind them on either side.
With the passing ability of some of the current Arsenal team, and the speed of both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain it is surely something which should be considered. It won't work every time of course, but if applied correctly it could lead to a few goals and worry opposing defences too. At the very worst it gives Arsenal an out ball when defending a set piece, and gives their defence some time to regroup.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.