Late on last season Arsenal were struggling in the league and needing to beat two of the top three in order to win the F.A Cup, Arsene Wenger made a formation change. Changing the formation so late in the season could be deemed as brave or risky but Wenger, with his future on the line needed to do something. Although Arsenal ultimately missed out on that coveted fourth place their form did improve culminating in what had previously looked unlikely, victory in the F.A Cup.
Should Arsenal stick with the 3-5-2 formation for the season?
Formations will only work if the players fit the roles they are asked to play. For example playing a back three consisting of two left backs makes little sense and Arsenal looked vulnerable on opening night at home to Leicester. This was also due to Leicester having too much space in wide areas and a lack of protection in front of the back three. (We’ll come back to that later). The goal conceded at Stoke was also a poor one.
The wing back position looked made for both Bellerin and Kolasinac yet Bellerin needs to do better in the final third while he seems to have forgotten that he also needs to defend at times. We have yet to see Kolasinac here but he should not be playing in the back three. On the flip side Oxlade-Chamberlain has flourished at the wing back position even on the left side.
With only two central midfielders, Wenger is not getting the best out of Xhaka in a similar way to that of Alex Song several years ago. Neither are holding players. In the forward positions the ‘two’ behind the main striker does not seem to suit anyone with the exception of Sanchez, who in all honesty could flourish in any forward position.
In a nutshell it appears that Arsenal do not have the players to fit this system. They lack defensive stability and protection which is not exactly a new problem whist not maximising the attacking players enough in my opinion.
For those old enough to remember the 1988/89 season will recall George Graham reverting to playing wing backs late on in the season. The formation was more 5-3-2 than 3-5-2 but it worked for the short time it was used. Graham reverted back to 4-4-2 the following season and won the title again in 1991 using 4-4-2. It’s also worth noting that Wenger’s best Arsenal teams have all played 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 that included some flexibility.
So the big question is, with the players that Arsenal currently have which formation would be the most beneficial.
There are several players that the team need to get the best out of which currently does not appear to be the case. Firstly if Santi Cazorla was fit I would build the formation around him. Again in my opinion Cazorla is the clubs best and in terms of dictating play, most influential player. Unfortunately it appears that Cazorla’s fitness seems to be a long way off.
This leaves Xhaka and Giroud and err, Callum Chambers?
The Gunners having been trying to replace Partick Vieira for years the reality is that players of Vieria’s ilk just don’t come along that often even a Gilberto would be a luxury at this point. Arsenal have to simply make do with what they have. A midfield three of Chambers as the holding player with Xhaka and Ramsey (as the box to box player) would get the best out of all three. Yes, I’ll admit Chambers is something of a gamble here but one worth taking rather than just wasting a promising young player.
Onto Mr Giroud. Maybe Olivier has found his niche, super sub just like David Fairclough for Liverpool in the 80’s, (yes I’m that old) unlike Fairclough however Giroud will lose heart with this role after time. It seems so obvious and maybe a little old school to partner Giroud with Lacazette up front and although this has its upside it has its disadvantages too. This would have been perfect for the Stoke game but maybe less so for let’s say Man City away.
To summarise, Arsenal can play either three or five at the back but unless they have cloned Vieria and Gilberto in their prime then they need to play three across the middle with one as the holding player.
Had the officiating been a bit more favourable at Stoke the Gunners would have two wins from two games but the warning signs are there and with bigger tests to come.