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?