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The Shape We're In

Watching Nasri put in a great performance as a 'holding` player in central midfield against Middlesbrough on Sunday I reflected on how impressed I had been with him playing behind van Persie in some games during the season as an attacking creative force in the team. This was the role, behind the striker, that Fabregas took up in the same game, against 'boro, which had me recalling some comments made by Wenger very recently which seemed to indicate that Cesc`s future lie in playing a little deeper.

In turn this follows an item I had just read in the current Arsenal magazine in which Arsene discusses the merits of a 4-2-3-1 formation that we have used increasingly in the PL in recent months. Wenger, at the time he joined the club a committed disciple of 4-4-2, speaks of the benefits of this 'new' shape but a little more revealingly perhaps about the process of deciding which shape to play.

In explaining the adoption of 4-2-3-1 he tells us that this is a system that he has used for some time in Europe. "I find this formation gives you a good balance, particularly defensively" he says. "The technical level is so high in the Champions League so it`s important not to lose the battle in midfield. You have to be defensively sound as well. So I must say that most of the time in recent years we have played this formation in Europe." One of the reasons we have used this shape more frequently in the Premier League this season is familiarity with the system "That`s because the team gets used to that way of playing, and if they win you get them to continue like that." Arsene explains.

When asked whether 4-2-3-1 is here to stay he says "Nothing is ever permanent. We always look for the best solution. No formation can ever solve all the problems, but you always try to find the system that suits your players the best, and that gets the best out of their qualities."

Given the changes in midfield this season, firstly due to summer departures, secondly to injuries and thirdly due to simply not knowing what our best midfield is, deciding what formation best suits us must be pretty tough. Even if we know, or think we know who our best midfielders are, are we even sure what their best positions are?

Formations themselves should be adaptable. One of the benefits of 4-4-2 Wenger once claimed is that it could adapt to the needs within a game becoming 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 or whatever as the game demands. 4-2-3-1 seems only to be 4-5-1 with two dedicated holding midfielders. The skill is in being flexible enough to modify the system when the pattern of the game needs it.

One aspect of Wenger`s recruitment policy designed to simplify the process may potentially complicate it. "What I look for is whether they can play in multiple positions or not. The adaptability of a player is important, for example Samir Nasri can play defensive midfield, offensive midfield, wide on the right, on the left, or behind the strikers."

That sounds fine in principle but in practice, if a player doesn`t know or gets to know what his best position is, do we then lose something through this lack of specialisation? Wenger seems to think not "...we look at the multi-functionality of the players because that gives you more room to adapt to other systems."

That has to be a strength I am sure. The fact that Gibbs has played in midfield has to help his overall understanding of the game but if he is to become a really good left back then his education must continue in that role. A season ago Wenger acknowledged that Song could play midfield but wasn`t convinced that he could play the role full time and believed that central defence is where he should play. This season he has been pretty well used exclusively as a defensive midfielder but does he risk getting caught in between positions? If ultimately he is to be a central defender is his education being compromised by using him so much in defensive midfield or are we losing a good midfield player if he does eventually revert to a defensive role?

I can see the benefits of multi-functionality but are there risks in this too? Will Nasri be a better player because he can play anywhere in midfield or does he need to know where he will play in order to be the best in a given role? I can imagine that understanding different positions is a valuable asset but depth of knowledge as well as breadth is also valuable. Having 7 substitutes on the bench now should allow enough specialist talents to be able to change formations as the game demands.

I think we have struggled with midfield options all season. At times as injuries have played havoc with our formations at other times because we have experimented with different set ups. In particular in the early part of the season trying to adapt our midfield to use Walcotts talents I felt gave us very real problems with an underweight midfield. Yet Walcott has visibly grown as a player in physical stature and confidence. I still feel we are someway from deciding what our midfield should be yet this is the vital part of the team through which both successful attack and defence are born.

At some point we need to decide what Cesc`s role will be along with Nasri and others in order for our midfield to develop and for the players themselves to become more settled with their role in the team. Their adaptability will never desert them and that will always allow us the option to vary our play in particular circumstances but our greatest need is surely for a settled midfield. We still seem to be some way from knowing what that is but I hope that we can do so between now and the beginning of next season if we are to avoid the inconsistencies that, despite the present unbeaten PL run, have bedevilled us this season.

On the other hand this season`s experimentations and resultant inconsistencies may just be the investment we have to make to acquire the knowledge on which to base the success of future seasons.



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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday April 27 2009

Time: 9:24AM

Your Comments

I think the thing is we've got a lot of youngsters who might not have found 'their position' yet. I personally would like to see Song and Cesc as the two deeper CM's Arshavin attacking centrally, Nasri attacking on the left (maybe interchanging with Andre) and Walcott on the right.
navydave
I think the thing is we've got a lot of youngsters who might not have found 'their position' yet. I personally would like to see Song and Cesc as the two deeper CM's Arshavin attacking centrally, Nasri attacking on the left (maybe interchanging with Andre) and Walcott on the right.
navydave
Interesting article. Because they've both done well, I think that Wenger also feels he needs to accomodate both Denilson and Song in the team and why he is playing Cesc further up front.
Gooner_Vin
Interesting article. Because they've both done well, I think that Wenger also feels he needs to accomodate both Denilson and Song in the team and why he is playing Cesc further up front.
Gooner_Vin
Interesting article. Because they've both done well, I think that Wenger also feels he needs to accomodate both Denilson and Song in the team and why he is playing Cesc further up front.
Gooner_Vin
Interesting article. Because they've both done well, I think that Wenger also feels he needs to accomodate both Denilson and Song in the team and why he is playing Cesc further up front.
Gooner_Vin
Surprise surprise - Alan Hansen is knocking Arsenal again. This guy is just so predictable. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/leagues/premierleague/arsenal/5226084/Arsenal-face-daunting-task-against-Manchester-United.html
Gooner_Vin
Surprise surprise - Alan Hansen is knocking Arsenal again. This guy is just so predictable. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/leagues/premierleague/arsenal/5226084/Arsenal-face-daunting-task-against-Manchester-United.html
Gooner_Vin
I'm not sure if AW feels the same way now wrt Song as he was one year ago. I'm not convinced that Song can play as effectively as a CB as he had shown in his CM role. He reminds me of Gilberto, he can be an emergency backup for CB but definitely not as a long term CB solution. If indeed Gallas had played the last game for us, I think AW needs to recruit one established and specialised CB who can lead, organise and stabilise the defence cos there is no one else (other than Gallas) in our squad who can do that. Better still someone who can win the ball in the air commandingly. It is nice to have some utility players in midfield but I think AW also knows that he need specialists as well.
Temasek
I'm not sure if AW feels the same way now wrt Song as he was one year ago. I'm not convinced that Song can play as effectively as a CB as he had shown in his CM role. He reminds me of Gilberto, he can be an emergency backup for CB but definitely not as a long term CB solution. If indeed Gallas had played the last game for us, I think AW needs to recruit one established and specialised CB who can lead, organise and stabilise the defence cos there is no one else (other than Gallas) in our squad who can do that. Better still someone who can win the ball in the air commandingly. It is nice to have some utility players in midfield but I think AW also knows that he need specialists as well.
Temasek
Could Hansen try and be any more negative about Arsenal?
LondonGooner
Could Hansen try and be any more negative about Arsenal?
LondonGooner
Arshavin has to be the left midfielder for me, with Nasri, Cesn and Song playing in the middle, roaming in and out of each other's positions.
Tom14
Arshavin has to be the left midfielder for me, with Nasri, Cesn and Song playing in the middle, roaming in and out of each other's positions.
Tom14
that is the shape we want to be in !
Gooner SA
that is the shape we want to be in !
Gooner SA
Wenger always seems to buy or develop versatile players and has them playing in different positions. Someone told me Gibbs apparantly played in CM for england recently, which seems a strange position for him. But throughout his time at Arsenal he has always moved players around and changed their positions. Kolo from midfield to defense, Henry from winger to striker, Lauren from MF to RB, Petit from LB/CB to centre MF etc etc
paul_ownz
Wenger always seems to buy or develop versatile players and has them playing in different positions. Someone told me Gibbs apparantly played in CM for england recently, which seems a strange position for him. But throughout his time at Arsenal he has always moved players around and changed their positions. Kolo from midfield to defense, Henry from winger to striker, Lauren from MF to RB, Petit from LB/CB to centre MF etc etc
paul_ownz
Arsene should let Arshavin play wherever the hell he wants ;-) he's only not allow to play on the left and cover back if he guarantees us 4 goals a game.
shewore
Arsene should let Arshavin play wherever the hell he wants ;-) he's only not allow to play on the left and cover back if he guarantees us 4 goals a game.
shewore
It's true that Wenger has alwasy gone for versatile players but in the past he has bought players with the qualities to fit the system he wants to play. Of late he seems to be looking for a system to suit the players we have - without being absolutely clear as to what their best positions are. I am sure we'll get there eventually but any system is going to fit some better than others.
Amos.
It's true that Wenger has alwasy gone for versatile players but in the past he has bought players with the qualities to fit the system he wants to play. Of late he seems to be looking for a system to suit the players we have - without being absolutely clear as to what their best positions are. I am sure we'll get there eventually but any system is going to fit some better than others.
Amos.
I think Wenger see's Walcott, Nasri and Arshavin as the 3 players to probvide support to the loan striker in his current favourite formation. Playing Cesc there seems a total waste of his long passing talents and work rate when we have players who are better than our captain behind the striker. Wenger does need to buy a big strong CB in the summer and not someone who can also play in midfield but a CB that is only a CB. Lescott would be my choice, but even someone like Hangeland would fit in nicely with no adaption time required. We have next to no chance of getting either IMHO but i can only hope......Wenger doesn't spend big money on defenders.
LondonGooner
I think Wenger see's Walcott, Nasri and Arshavin as the 3 players to probvide support to the loan striker in his current favourite formation. Playing Cesc there seems a total waste of his long passing talents and work rate when we have players who are better than our captain behind the striker. Wenger does need to buy a big strong CB in the summer and not someone who can also play in midfield but a CB that is only a CB. Lescott would be my choice, but even someone like Hangeland would fit in nicely with no adaption time required. We have next to no chance of getting either IMHO but i can only hope......Wenger doesn't spend big money on defenders.
LondonGooner
excellent write up as usual Amos. The way I see it, we've got nice problems in midfield, its in central defence and attack that we have problems. When Wenger speaks of his fear of younger players being "killed" it comes out funny, but the development of Song, Denilson and co proves him right. We'll eventually settle for a clear pattern in midfield as theres an embarrasment of riches therein. In defence, we need a ball winning brute completely unafraid to put his head in when required. In attack, I am of the candid, if unpopular opinion that we need to replace Adebayor with a more economical striker. Yes, he can be a hard worker when he wants, but when was the last time he could be bothered it? He plays with a swagger and arrogance not justified by his returns and his conversion ratio leaves much to be desired, I won't even talk about his first touch.
deledudu
excellent write up as usual Amos. The way I see it, we've got nice problems in midfield, its in central defence and attack that we have problems. When Wenger speaks of his fear of younger players being "killed" it comes out funny, but the development of Song, Denilson and co proves him right. We'll eventually settle for a clear pattern in midfield as theres an embarrasment of riches therein. In defence, we need a ball winning brute completely unafraid to put his head in when required. In attack, I am of the candid, if unpopular opinion that we need to replace Adebayor with a more economical striker. Yes, he can be a hard worker when he wants, but when was the last time he could be bothered it? He plays with a swagger and arrogance not justified by his returns and his conversion ratio leaves much to be desired, I won't even talk about his first touch.
deledudu
can we forget about arshavin for now as he wont be playing, i want nasri in the middle somewhere but we will be a bit thin on the left,so i think samir will be left side walcott right adebayor striker, with cesc behind and covered by song and denilson, its not my favourite lineup, i would prefer eddie up front
fran merida
can we forget about arshavin for now as he wont be playing, i want nasri in the middle somewhere but we will be a bit thin on the left,so i think samir will be left side walcott right adebayor striker, with cesc behind and covered by song and denilson, its not my favourite lineup, i would prefer eddie up front
fran merida
4-3-2-1; isn't that the Liverpool formation? Nothing new in having players who can play in various positions and roles, it is the 'old' Dutch 'Total Football' where every player except the goal keeper had to be comfortable in at least two positions. I am just pleased and thrilled with how well the team now seems to be developing. Great things are just around the corner I think.
norfolk dumpling
4-3-2-1; isn't that the Liverpool formation? Nothing new in having players who can play in various positions and roles, it is the 'old' Dutch 'Total Football' where every player except the goal keeper had to be comfortable in at least two positions. I am just pleased and thrilled with how well the team now seems to be developing. Great things are just around the corner I think.
norfolk dumpling
 

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