ARSENAL WAY? – WE NEED CLARITY by Nicholas
When the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal finally went through, the biggest side story was the rather curious performance statistics of one Henrikh Mkhitaryan at Manchester United, where of late he was not enjoying his football. The issue was that he would be best suited to the Arsenal Way of playing football.
When it was finally confirmed that we had got the deal to sign Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, over the line on time before the transfer window closes, the statements attributed to Arsene Wenger was that Aubameyang would be suited to play the Arsenal way!
I want to request for clarity. What is this ‘Arsenal Way’ of playing? When Arsene arrived at Arsenal, we changed our game and became an attacking Arsenal. We were often compared to Barcelona.
Let’s look at Arsene Wenger’s most successful sides to establish Arsenal’s style. In 1997-1998 Season, Arsenal won a famous domestic double when they won the FA Cup and the EPL Titleship.
A typical Arsenal line-up would be as follows; 4.4.2 pattern
In this pattern, Anelka was Striker, but Bergkamp Deep Forward role. Overmars was the Winger and despite being biased on the left, he could also turn up on the right side of the wing once in a while in a match. Petit was the central midfielder, literary protecting the back four and initiating counter attacks and Viera was the box to box role – often referred to as the Shuttler (Shuttles from through the channels to provide linkages from attack to defenses. Parlour was the wide midfielder and could turn on both channels but with a bias to the right. There was the reliable Winterburn and Dixon marauding but well timed overload runs into attack and defense. Adams and Keown provided a no-nonsense defensive shield for Seaman.
This resulted into what was a dynamic team play where every acre of space in the pitch was covered but only at the time that the coverage was necessary, allowing the team to take advantage of movements and provision of men where they were needed. It was essentially a fluid 4.4.2.
In 2001/02 season, there was another domestic double. This time the marks of invincibility were already showing. Arsenal won the Premier League by a seven-point margin, were unbeaten away from home and managed the unique feat of scoring in every league game. The team also lost just three games all season. Arsenal went on to beat Chelsea 2-0 at the Millennium Stadium to lift the FA Cup.
A typical Arsenal line-up, still in the 4.4.2 pattern would be as follows;
The dynamic and fluid team with every acre of space in the pitch with the team taking advantage of movements and provision of men where they were needed was now maturing. Pires and Ljungberg were playing a superb inverted wing roles cutting in and overloading the attack.
In 2002/03 season Arsenal missed out on repeating the double after squandering a 2-0 lead at Bolton in the last 10 minutes and a 3-2 loss to leads and finished 5 points behind Manchester United. Notable Campbell was shown a red card in the earlier game with Manchester United and Viera got and injury. The two players were key and arguably had they stayed on or if their replacements were almost as equally in delivery, then the domestic double would have been a possibility.
In the invincible season, 2003/04, the same squad was playing together for a third season and definitely the substitutes had learned their trade. A squad that the substitutes bench power included Martin Keown, Jose Antonio-Reyes, Sylvian Wiltord, Ray Parlour, Pascal Cygan, Gael Clichy, Nwankwo Kanu, Jeremie Aliadiere, Justin Hoyte and David Bentley… it is perhaps important to say that the Invincibles were built of a powerful bench power and any player called upon into the team would deliver just ok.
Again, it was the dynamic 4.4.2. this time it had matured into the entire squad as see from the bench power above.
This pattern went on until Arsenal pulled some pretty powerful performances in the UEFA champion League in 2006 especially, coming to just 15 minutes away from a famous win against Barcelona. One would argue that Wenger should have replaced the overworked Thierry Henry rather that removing Alexander Hleb.
After 2013 we switched to a target man. It was made worse, when in 2016, Wenger switched, not to three-man defense and everyone seem to believe but to 5-man defense. A team that had received accolades like never before playing breathtaking dynamic attacking football, had now become an invitation to be attacked.
My argument has always been the best defense is attack and in football to win you have to attack and therefore, the primary reason football match is played is to win. Defense, is never the reason for football. Dedicating over 6 players to defend is not Arsenal’s way.
If Aubameyang is brought as a target man just like Giroud was and Lacazette has become, Arsenal would still not make it and Aubameyang would be a flop like Walcott, Giroud and lately Lacazette is being feared to be headed.
Wenger does not have an option but to revert to the four-man defense. A two pivot midfield complimenting each other and a powerful attacking unit. We actually have the squad material right now to recreate the invincibles.
My new Invincibles pattern would be a pattern of 4.2.4. It would be as dynamic as the 4.4.2 of yesteryears and would cure our problem of late, not getting the goals scored.
—(Deep Forward) Mkhitaryan—–Ozil (Deep Forward) —
——–(Defensive Mid) AMN—–Wilshere(Shuttler)——-
Monreal—-Mustafi——Koscienly—–Bellerin(Please defend first!)
Aubameyang and Lacazette play exactly similar and people say they must be one for the other and Aubameyang will replace Lacazette in the first XI. The two can play both wings and therefore they can play interchanging. They are fast (Though Aubameyang is faster). With four-man defense restored and Monreal and Bellerin getting their balance of attack and defense right (They should be sentenced to watching Cole, Dixon Lauren and Winterburn tapes), the forwards can execute Wing Forward roles well.
The Bergkamp role will be taken by two superb players who can score many goals themselves. Ozil and Mkhitaryan sharing attacking midfielder role. Ainsley Maitland-Niles can execute the Defensive Midfielder better than anyone in the squad right now and can calmly sit in front of the back four. Wilshere will be the shuttler and play the Vieira role. He may not be tall and all that but he can execute this duty well.
If the back four can hold, then we are in with the chance to do the Invincible. The Arsenal Way.