Formations and tactics are vital in the game of football and some managers success are down to the formations they play and adapt to the club they’re at, more so than even the players he has at his disposal. Whether it’s Barcelona’s revolutionary 4-3-3 under Pep Guardiola or Juventus’ 3-5-2 that they are currently running and are running away with the Serie A, currently on 59 points and 9 points clear at the top but their domestic success couldn’t be spread into Europe as they crashed out of the Champions League and were drafted into the Europa League and could potentially win it as they have arguably the strongest squad in the competition. The 4-2-3-1 formation was really put out into the European scene after Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Inter Milan and implemented a 4-2-3-1 formation into the Nerazzurri based around Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito and Ricardo Quaresma,with Milito and Quaresma out wide with tailsman Eto’o up front. This obviously worked as during Jose’s reign, Inter won 2 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia, 1 Supercoppa Italiana and of course the Champions League. Now you could put this success down to the players which obviously they’re the players who won it, but it’s the way Mourinho set out his team which made Inter Milan one of the most feared teams in Italian and European football.
One of the most popular users of the 4-2-3-1 formation is Arsene Wenger. After making the switch from a 4-3-3, Arsenal have found success using this formation in terms of consistent performances and although they haven’t won a trophy in a while, the current Arsenal set up looking more than likely to win a trophy, whether it is the F.A Cup, Premier League or Champions League is still to be seen. Let’s take Arsene Wenger’s favoured set-up of his team for example and analyse the typical movements of players and how this formation has recently helped Arsenal’s game. Wenger’s first choice fullbacks Sagna and Gibbs are both very attacking minded and you’ll often find them bombing up and down the sides whipping in crosses and providing extra width in an attack if needed. This is a great advantage to Arsenal’s play as both fullbacks fall back well so they can return back to defensive duties when needed against the counter attack. Arsenal having fullbacks up for attacks is also good as they often out-number the opponents in the final 3rd, most noticeably and effective against Borussia Dortmund and against Tottenham Hotspur in the F.A which they won 2-0. Arsenal are especially dangerous on the right hand side with the blistering pace of Theo Walcott or recently Serge Gnabry after the Englishman was ruled out for the rest of the season along with Bacary Sagna behind the winger and Sagna is one of the best crossers of the ball in the Premier League and him and Giroud often link up with Giroud heading in his crosses due to his 6’4 stature and heading capabilities. Kieran Gibbs on the left side has a different approach when it comes to attacking from the wing, he runs down and often cuts in and lays the ball off, much like an actual winger. The left-back does possess some good crossing and is also very good at holding onto the ball.
In my opinion, the two defensive midfielders make or break whether the formation works or not. In Arsenal’s situation, they have Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta in the CDM positions and the fulfil the role well. A CDM are based in front of the central defenders to offer cover for them and to break down and stop attacking coming down for the middle of the field. In Arsenal’s case, their fullbacks are often up the field so leave spaces behind and their wingers aren’t renown for the defensive contribution so the CDMs essentially link up with the centre-halves as a ‘back four’ in a square formation. In terms of players to play in that holding role, Arsenal have one of the best squad depths in the league and maybe even in the world. The DM spots can be played by Flamini, Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Abou Diaby and new loanee signing Kim Kallstrom as well as others. There are quite literally a dozen combinations Arsene can utilise but he seems to prefer the defensive partnership of Flamini and Arteta and this could be one of the best combinations in Premier League currently. When thinking about the best defensive pair in the league the City duo of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho and Chelsea could have a worldie in the form of John Obi Mikel and Nemanja Matic and with the former 26 and the latter 25, could from a formidable partnership for years to come.
The attacking midfield is where the main action takes place as depending on whether you are playing wide men on each wing or having a more narrow approach as in both cases, you need creative midfielders and pacey wingers which Arsenal have in bundles. On the wings they have fast and skilful players such as speed demon Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as the teenage wonderkid that is Serge Gnabry, who finds himself firmly implanted into the starting XI after Walcott is out for the rest of the season, this just shows the amazing depth in the Arsenal squad. The way the wingers play in this formation is very important as they in ways act like supporting strikers, often swarming in from the sides to support the striker in attacks. The CAM in the middle of the park is fundamental part of the midfield and attack as they typically, create a majority of the chances and can even be played as a centre-forward and a 2nd supporting striker. Arsenal have an array of choice when it comes to playmakers, with the likes of Santi Cazorla and record signing Mesut Özil aswell as Tomas Rosicky among others. Arsene prefers the German Özil in the middle and with good reason. In the 3 years Mesut Özil spent at Real Madrid, he was the preferred choice of Jose Mourinho as he had the vision of a hawk, being able to pick as pass from the tightest of angles and tightest of spaces as well as having great attacking positioning, meaning he knew exactly how to act and counteract against the run of play. The CAM in Arsenal’s play normally veers off to the side depending on their stronger side and some teams pick up on this and use this to their advantage.
The idea of having a lone striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation often puts managers off from using it as if they have more than one first team quality striker, it is quite hard to fit them both into the team without a regular rotation which the players might not like. At Arsenal it is quite the opposite. Arsene has two actual strikers at his disposal, Olivier Giroud and Nicklas Bendtner. Both names don’t exactly strike fears into opponent’s minds. Giroud is a good forward, bit on the slow side but is very good at holding on to the ball and holding up play, as well as being an aerial threat and will always compete when trying to win a header. The main problem in the Frenchman’s play is his finishing, often missing clearcut chances and seems to not have the clinical touch that Arsenal need up front. With a midfield as strong and creative as Arsenal have, you need a good forward who will tuck in chances and will win games. Hopefully Arsene Wenger brings in a more clinical forward so the midfield is not going to waste as it often is with Giroud or Bendtner in front of them.
I admire the way Arsene has engineered his team and moulded his players to adapt to his 4-2-3-1 formation and has realised how effective this formation is and how successful this formation is as seen in the past.