Thursday, 26 January 2017

Should Arsenal Switch To A Back Three

An awful lot has been made of Chelsea's surge to the top of the Premier League since they switched from a flat back four to five at the back (or three, depending on how you see it). On the day it actually happened Arsenal handed them a 3-0 beating and it gave Antonio Conte the impetus he needed to switch to his preferred formation. They haven't looked back since then with 15 wins in 16 league games and clean sheets in 12 of those games.

There's been more than a suggestion from a few quarters that Arsenal should adopt a similar formation and I'll do my best to judge it's merits and pitfalls from an Arsenal perspective. I suppose it comes down to a few factors such as whether we have the players to fit the formation in both attack and defence and whether our coaching staff have the tactical nous to get the players ready for this possible new formation. 

From a defensive perspective I think we might well have three central defenders to fit the mould in Laurent Koscielny, Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel Paulista. Gabriel has done well in the defensive part of the game while covering for the injured Hector Bellerin at right back recently and he actually looks sounder there than he has done in a central position. He might not have the attacking instincts or capabilities of Bellerin, but the right side of three central defenders might just be the ideal position for him.

With Gabriel on the right the obvious choice on the left would have to be Koscielny who is by far our best central defender and one of the best in the league too. He already plays on the left of the two central defenders and has shown he can play at left back if required. His ability to shift to the left when the left back is found wanting is a great part of his game and I have no doubt he would cope perfectly well on the left side of a central defensive trio.

That would leave Mustafi in the centre and he's probably the one I'm most worried about of the three. If he was to get isolated I think he could struggle without Koscielny right beside him to bail him out. Arsenal have still to lose a game with him in the team though and he has looked very good since he signed in the summer, but he still has a way to go to reach Koscielny's level.

The back ups for those three would be Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal. While those three might not set the world alight one of them at a time would still fit easily enough into the system. I know Monreal is a left back more than a central defender, but he did very well in the centre of defence when the team needed him to play there during one of the numerous injury crisisies. Holding is still one for the future, but from what I have seen so far he's very promising and hopefully Mertesacker will still have something to offer when he returns from his long injury absence shortly.

For me the wing backs would have to be Bellerin and Kieran Gibbs. Bellerin is a no brainer, but I think Gibbs would offer more in attack than Monreal and wing backs need to be able to offer a lot at the other end. Of course Monreal would be the cover for Gibbs, but it's hard to see who could fill that role on the other side which creates a bit of a problem. Do we look at the returning Mathieu Debuchey or maybe Ainsley Maitland-Niles. I don't think Debuchey even wants to be at the club and it's probably too early for Maitland-Niles to make the step up.

The only other options might be Theo Walcott or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but I'm not so sure about either of them. At a push I would say Chamberlain would be the better option and I suppose if Victor Moses can do it at Chelsea then why can't Chamberlain do it at Arsenal. 

In midfield we would need two holding players and we have plenty to choose from. Granit Xhaka is the obvious choice if he can curb his natural instinct to get himself sent off and he could be accompanied by Francis Coquelin or Mohamed Elneny. If we were playing a more attack minded formation there's the option of Aaron Ramsey or Santi Cazorla (if he can get over his current injury) and both of them could certainly bring a lot to the team at the right time.

That would only leave three other players and two of them would have to be Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. The problem for me would be who would lead the line. Both Alexis and Ozil might have more freedom in this formation, but they would need a central striker who's more mobile than Olivier Giroud and that could be a problem. Maybe Danny Welbeck (if he can stay fit) would fit the bill or possibly even Walcott or Lucas Perez. 

It's certainly a formation which should be at least considered, but I'm not sure it would leave enough attacking players in the team. I know it's working very well for Chelsea at the moment, but they have different personnel to us and a manager who is so familiar with the formation. I'm not sure it would make us any stronger at the back and I would be pretty sure we would lose some of our attacking prowess too.

For me the "five man back four" (as Johnny Giles once called it) is probably something not best suited to Arsenal, but it does bring back some good memories. If I'm not mistaken Arsenal started a certain game on May 26th 1989 with that formation and that ended pretty well even if they did switch to four at the back as they pushed for the all important second goal towards the end of the game. I don't think it's something we're going to see too soon though and the chances of Arsene Wenger changing are few and far between.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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