Arsenal Debate – What are our best tactics for next season?


Hey guys, Joe Allysons here, hope you’re doing okay.

We are right in the silly season. The transfer window is open, and the Arsenal rumours are running amok.

I enjoy the game on the pitch more than in the newspapers, and as such I thought we’d have some free thought with those that enjoy a good tactical debate. I intended to write this article after we signed Willian, but that’s taking too long so I’ll write though with the imagination that we have him signed.

I’ll also write assuming we haven’t offloaded any players, so this is obviously a thought experiment. The goal of it all, is to rouse a good debate on how best we think the team would set up come next season.

So, we ended this season playing a 3-4-3 shape. The highlights of it were the fact that neither of the three forwards were meant to be a wide forward. It was just three forwards playing close together. This gave us very good shape pressing for the ball high up, while giving us good numbers on the break when we got the ball. The wing backs provided width, while the central midfielders were more of a supporting cast both in defence and in attack.

If we were to maintain that shape going into next season, (which I definitely don’t have a problem with), then I’d line up as follows.

I’d start with Emi Martinez in goal. To be honest, I want to believe Leno is a better player, but I’m struggling to see the difference. Much admittedly, It could be in consistency, but then only time can tell. Martinez has better distribution from the foot than Leno. This is both at range and passing close. Leno tended to take too long to choose a pass, and still chose the wrong one often. Martinez gives his defenders the confidence to give him the ball because he makes better choices. For now, I’d stick with Emi. It’s a good headache though.

My right Centre Back would still be Shkodran Mustafi. We’ve always thought him to be slow, but at the Cup Final, I noticed why Arteta stuck with him ahead of the likes of Holding. Against a team that is more likely to cross, Holding would obviously be a better choice. He’s a man mountain and boy can he get a headed clearance out. Put the ball on the ground though, and you begin to notice why coaches have wanted to trust Mustafi. His willingness to step out and make a tackle means he provides a solid option in that right centre back berth. He also isn’t the slowest.

Centre Back. Rob Holding. Now I know I might have just speed-shamed him above, but I think his attributes suit this position well. He defends well if he doesn’t have to chase his opponent, and is nearly unplayable in the air. Distribution isn’t his strongest suit, but I think I’d be a little willing to sacrifice that. Also, the real reason is he’s younger and faster than Luiz. My other option in this position would be Pablo Mari, but I haven’t seen him tested properly in the air.

Left Centre Back, Kieran Tierney. Kieran is probably the best actual defender we have. I love how he’s always ready to put his foot in to win the ball. His intelligence when defending makes him a really great option there. It also means, when we do have the ball, he can always shift out wide to allow the LWB become a midfielder and allow Auba further inside.

That brings me to LWB, I’d start with Bukayo Saka. He’s pretty good at defending, but flourishes in attack. Not only can he get into position to get a cross into the box, he can drift inwards to add an extra body in midfield, he can shoot with both feet and can actually beat a man on the dribble. That causes a ton of uncertainty for the opponents.

RWB, Hector Bellerin. Speed, Dribbling, intelligence on the break, he has it all. He was already returning to his best post-lockdown and should only improve when the season resumes.

CM pairing. Xhaka and Ceballos. When I said I wouldn’t be worried about taking distribution duties from Luiz, it was because I felt okay letting Xhaka distribute. He has the range of pass to get the ball to any part of the pitch and he’s developed the calmness to play through the opposition press. Ceballos has proven to be a hard worker both in possession and out of possession. That invariably makes him the number one contender to pair Xhaka.

Left Striker, Aubameyang. I want my striker to have the widest possible shooting angles he can possibly have. I honestly don’t have too add too much.

Right Striker, Pepe, see Auba, but also, I want Pepe continuing to combine with Hector to create chances. Also, the variation between them. Both Pepe and Hector tend to attack similar areas of the pitch but in alternation. This could open up room for his vicious left foot especially if Hector is able to draw the attention of the opposing fullback.

CF, Lacazette. The strength and stamina to drop deep, pick up the ball, distribute and then still move forward to keep defenders busy is his greatest asset. Both Pepe and Auba’s odd positions would be supported by the fact Laca is drawing their most natural markers out of position to create blind spots that can be exploited both in front of and behind the opponent’s defences. Watching Aubameyang’s goals for Arsenal, I noticed they usually come when the opponents don’t know where exactly he is because they have their eyes on Laca who is attracting attention. By the time they pick up his movement, he usually is in a shooting position.

That’s it for the 3-4-3.

My personal preference though would be a 4-3-3.

I’d have Martinez in goal still, for the same reasons as above, Bellerin on the right for the same varied runs I mentioned above, Mustafi at RCB, for the same reasons, but I’d have Pablo Mari at LCB.

In a four-man backline, I’d want to field players who can play out the ball on their own and win one on ones on their own. The little I’ve watched of Mari; He reminds me a little of the BFG because of his calmness in defence. He isn’t as frantic as Mustafi, which would mean he’d be able to warn him of possible threats and cover him where necessary. I wouldn’t be too worried about his pace, because with a properly coordinated press, We could have Martinez sweep up behind the CBs, and still, Mustafi does have some recovery pace. Most importantly though, Players like Mari don’t chase the ball. They wait for it. And that makes playing accurate longballs past them a real pain in the neck.

I’d field Tierney at Left back for the defensive solidity I mentioned above, but also, for his crosses. I’d however set up the team to attack via the right channel then make a quick switch to him to cross the ball, considering he’s not so good at creating his own space. He’s here for his defensive quality mostly though.

In the middle I’d play a unit of three 8s like Guardiola. I’d have Granit, Ceballos and Willian in there. Out of possession, I’d have Ceballos and Willian hustling the opposition to get the ball back, and position Granit deep to intercept passing lanes in front of the defence. In possession, I’d have Willian and Ceballos fairly wide next to Auba and Pepe trying to combine and create overloads. I’d have Granit hang back closer to the halfway line to recycle possession and probably pick out Tierney and Bellerin on their overlapping runs. This would put Willian and Ceba in sort of half winger positions which could result in scoring positions for so many people. Much as I would be depending on fullbacks for width, I’d rarely have them going all the way to the by-line. I’d opt to use what they have. That is Tierney with the early crosses, and Bellerin with the driving runs to the edge of the box. This could set up a whole lot of shooting positions and passing options.

I’d play a similar front three to the previous formations, but with Auba and Pepe playing as Wide strikers to try and shift the opposition defence around and stretch them a little. This means most goals would probably be cutbacks from the edge of the 6-yard box.

Finally, an option I’d explore is an old 4-2-2-2.

Defence as earlier mentioned, I’d have Ceballos and Xhaka in the middle for reasons already articulated. The change would be that I’d play Pepe and Willian as right and left attacking midfielders respectively and play Laca and Auba in a twin striking partnership. In this one, I’d have the fullbacks bomb all the way forward all the time to give width, I’d have Pepe and Willian receive the ball in the inside flank channels to either shoot or draw their fullbacks, and send the ball back out to Bellerin and Tierney to deliver balls across the box.

I’d have Laca and Auba as two static Centre forwards, and we’d play on the break with very little possession. Granit Xhaka and Ceballos would be pretty much supporting cast again like they are with the 3 at the back.

I’d mainly want to deploy this formation with the younger players though. I’d have Martinelli and Nketiah leading the line, Nelson and Saka right and left attacking midfield respectively, then I’d have Kolasinac and Cedric in the fullback positions following the above-mentioned instructions.

I’d have AMN and Willock in the midfield combo and probably have Chambers and Saliba at Centerback.

If you read, you can tell I’m a little excited to see what we can do next season. Give me your thoughts too. How best do you think we can use what we have? And in case this comes out after we sign someone, what would you change?



  1. It’s going to probably be 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 if you look at the kind of players Arsenal is targetting like for e.g Aouar and Coutinho. I feel Arteta likes 4-3-3

    Aubameyang has now signed his contract. Told you way back that there was an agreement but he was waiting to look at other stuff like our ambition, way forward and the like before signing. Don’t be shocked if it’s announced this week

  2. With all the players we are targeting 4 3 3 will be the best system that will make Arteta explore in the league and Europe as well.


    Bellerin Luiz Gabriel Tiernany

    Xhaka Partey Countinho

    Pepe Aubameyang William

    Gunners for life

  3. I think 4-3-3 is going to be the main formation next season but Arteta will definitely change to 3 -4-3 in games depending on our opponent.

    1. All will depend on who we sign this window to address the balance of team. One thing is for sure we are in desperate need of a talented CM who can link defence n attack since santi left we have struggled in that department. I hope we find a long term solution instead of going for cheap old age retirement one.

  4. In a back 4 our players seem to be afraid to fight for 2nd balls…. that is what I saw in the Watford game….

    In a 3 back formation we will struggle against disciplined teams that sit in a low block and look to hit us on the break…(unless we add some creativity in midfield)….
    On the whole next season I expect us to do reasonably well against top half teams(that dominate us) and struggle against that sit in a low block…

    O.T: I feel that Arsenal will consider the sale of almost all players if the right offer comes in ( except players that signed contracts recently and our youngsters)

    1. Willian is not going to play as winger in Arsenal’s team.He will
      be the new playmaker,replacing Ozil.The new number 10,being the “ brain” in the middle of the attack.He played number 10 to Shaktar Donetk,before moving to Chelsea.”Exiled” to wing because…Hazard.No Coutinho coming,makes no sense.Need to keep Ceballos,sign a central defender and a powerful midfielder,technically gifted.That’s it-you are looking to the next Premier League champions!

  5. With the players Joe has nominated, regardless of the formations selected, without transfers in and out to address player deficiencies and lack of balance in the squad, the best Arsenal could achieve would be sixth.
    All other clubs will be improving their squads, particularly those that currently sit above Arsenal in the 2019/20 EPL table. There is only so much any head coach, Mikel Arteta included, can do with the present squad, even if every player is totally committed to the cause.

    1. With the players Joe has nominated, regardless of the formations selected, without transfers in and out to address player deficiencies and lack of balance in the squad, the best Arsenal could achieve would be 8th.

  6. Joe , clearly there is more depth to you than I had first thought and we got off on the wrong foot when I correctly tackled you, as did several others too, on your “Auba plays on the right” nonsense.
    Had you instead, back then , not actually placed Auba on the right in your diagram but properly explained what I now know you meant to say, but did not, then the misunderstanding would never have happened. But lets move on from that!

    You are clearly a great Arsenal enthusiast and have a wide ranging imagination. All to the good. Personally, I would always wait to see IF Willian actually signed, before penning such a wonderfully detailed piece and fully supported with precise reasons. But thats just the natural caution of a far older fan than you, so no gripes on that.

    I found your endless tactical possibilities to be of much interest, though a little too theoretical and academic, as you rather overlooked the defensive duties of the whole team.

    ANY top team has to all atttack and all defend together and that is a lesson that we have learned from Guardiola, Klopp and now Arteta.

    Sadly, that philosophy passed Wenger by and my decade long gripe with his management was that he virtually ignored the vital concept of defending as a team. Perhaps, in his final decade, football tactics had failed to evolve, at least in him, as it has SINCE then.

    Overall, you are a great addition to this site and in particular in writing brilliantly well detailed articles with full reasons behind your thinking. In that aspect you are well ahead of all other regular contributors, save only the well respected Dan Smith.

    PLEASE DO NOT TAKE MY CRITICAL COMMENTS TOO SERIOUSLY; THEY ARE ONLY MEANT TO TRY TO HELP. I write professionally, though not about sport and know a thing or two about how to construct an article in order to best present your own thoughts.

    1. Jon Willian would be completed and announced on Wednesday…
      According to a famous line- “My source told me that” 😂😂😂

    2. I actually enjoy criticism. What you didn’t take into account though was all four setups are extremely defensive bar the last one with the younger players.
      Take the 4-3-3 have three 8s, as opposed to 6,8&10 means you have 3 defensive midfielders without the ball. The whole point of two 8s being so far ahead of Xhaka is to initiate the press almost immediately after losing the ball.

  7. Can’t fault your enthusiasm for the cause Joe.However ,you will learn that football is a simple game ,complicated, deliberately so in some cases by those with a vested interest in sounding off with tactical “expertise”, stats, systems etc.As one great Manager of the past said, a team is only as good as its weakest link.Unfortunately at Arsenal, Arteta has inherited a number of weak links who cannot be replaced in the next 12 months for one reason or another.I have every faith in Arteta, but I hope he has the resolve to stand his ground when it comes to players he wants to keep.He should not accept the “need” to sell the likes of AMN because we cannot sell mediocre players.He should insist on the retention of talent and dig his heels in to this end.I have no doubt of his desire to replicate the systems deployed by Liverpool and Man City but until he clears the weak links he may well be obliged to soldier on with more defensive line ups .Personally I feel it will take MA another two seasons before we are in a position to retain our top four status.

  8. the best tactics are the ones that give you the best chance to win any given match, that goes for formation and personnel

  9. Gabriel Magalhães’ sister and brother just started following arsenal on Instagram this afternoon.

  10. Agree a lot on Auba being a ninja . Makes me think why and how he got there.
    Glad to know more ppl see what Laca is doing for us when it seems club/fans are so quick to sell him.
    Pepe as a ST though…
    RW: 36 app 6 goals 10 assist
    CF: 3 app 2 goals 0 assist (both free kicks)
    Sample size is small but I don’t know if we can afford a reduction to his 10 assist
    Maybe he develops into one. That would be a nice surprise. Mean curve though but has this awkward sense of movement. Maybe it is his height.
    Thanks! Enjoyed the read.

    1. Pepe already has been playing as a support striker. Him and Auba have been playing as support strikers

      1. I don’t trust either to high press🤣
        There’s moments where I think Laca looks at them and go “ fine I’ll do it”
        Maybe Arteta can whip em into shape,who knows?
        Once again,fun read!

        1. The press is more about shape than force . The strikers just block passing lanes to force teams to go long.

  11. Arsenal have not yet announced any incoming signings nor any outgoing transfer sales this summer players transfer window. Let us Gooners be mindful some of the transfers which Arsenal want to do this summer to get them done over the line could get to the transfer deadline day before the club will finally succeed to make them happen. So, I think us need to be patient but not too eager in Arsenal playing formation style making. Since us are yet to know the final 25 man Arsenal players personnel who the club will list in their first team squad for next season’s campaign in all competitions. For,the on ground Arsenal first squad over last season’s campaign is currently going through reorganization to enhance strengthening for revamp in readiness for next season’s campaign in all competitions. Nevertheless, this article posting that is used in plotting 4 alternatives Arsenal playing formation style and starting lineup is commendable as it not only fill the void in the Arsenal space that was left behind after the club went on summer break. But it is a useful academic exercise which Arsenal could possibly adopt to practicalised any of the 4 to use the playing formative system in playing some of their matches next season. So, I don’t condemned these systems as posted. Now Willian is reportedly carrying an ancle injury from Chelsea before he became a free transfer agent this summer whom according to media reports Arsenal want to sign him this summer transfer window. And I wholeheartedly support Arsenal quest to sign him when I read the news. This is because Willian is a top quality player with titlees winning experience though he’s now a 32 year old player which could make him to be a little bit slow in action on the field of play in competitively games for Arsenal. But nonetheless, the ancle injury that he’s reportedly carrying should thoroughly be examined and evaluated by the Arsenal medical personnel before he’s allowed to puts pen to paper for the Gunners. But I believe the Arsenal medical would elaborately do during when he is having his medical text at the club’s medical center. This is a very important injury assessment that Arsenal must first do if they are to avoid another embarrassment of signing a player at face value which they once did when they signed a Kim Kalstrom. And even of recent when Real Madrid appeared to have fallen into this same trap when they signed Eden Hazard from Chelsea on face value too during last summer transfer window but who took the club to no where in their 2 legged Champions League knockout match against Man City which they lost 4-2 on goals aggregate to exit the competition.

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