By Tony Attwood
On the afternoon of 13 October 2016 two things happened. First the other Untold site, Untold Dylan, started to get hits like it has never done before. Untold Dylan is doing ok with an audience of over 300,000 page views a year, but its subject matter is a bit esoteric. It deals with the music of Bob Dylan. In detail. Looking at the meaning of the lyrics, the way the music is constructed, and how Dylan’s style and approach evolves from song to song.
4-3-3 came later, and eventually morphed into 4-2-3-1 that we have had of late.
Now of course this article in the Telegraph isn’t a total eulogy of Arsene Wenger – the Telegraph doesn’t do that. Or at least even when it tries it can’t resist the sarcasm. So they speak now of Arsenal’s summer of 2016 as one in which the club was “Unable to secure that World Class Striker (c) the fans crave for under £8billion,” and it was this that took Mr Wenger back to 4-4-2.
They have picked up on the point however that everyone has been noticing, that Alexis has scored goals at the rate of Henry thus far and is a very good centre forward who sometimes plays on the wing… rather like Thierry Henry.
A man “suited to starting wide and cutting inside” in fact. Just like… well you get the idea.
They even quote the statistic that we now all know by heart. “Henry scored 48 goals in his first 100 games for Arsenal. Sanchez had 47.”
Ozil, again as we have seen, “is played as a second striker rather than a straight number 10, and is tasked with dropping deep, linking midfield and attack and facilitating those beautiful fast passing moves that Arsenal are capable of.”
(OK at this point I had to lie down for a bit – another reason for this article being late. I mean this is the Telegraph we are reporting here for goodness sake).
Of course they do bring us down to earth sometimes, as part way through the article there is a timeless picture of Mr W pointing and underneath apropos nothing it says, “Arsenal struggled to create opportunities against Burnley but still left with all three points.”
Then we get… “Either side of him is Alex Iwobi, another player who can play in any position behind the striker, and Theo Walcott, who is a winger, a striker and an inside forward.
“And that is the beauty of Arsenal’s 4-4-2.. it isn’t really a 4-4-2.”
Thus they are into the fluidity of it all, of which some people have been speaking for a while. Ozil dropping deeper to find space between defenders playing a fixed approach, Alexis becoming a false nine. and Sanchez is a false nine. They might have added Theo becoming centre forward, Bellerin on the wing, but probably missed that bit.
But the piece does note that we end up with situations in which “the defenders have no idea who to mark” and that is when it started to get fun.
So they conclude, “Although Arsenal’s team sheet is technically a 4-4-2, in this move they’re actually in a 3-3-1-3. This is only possible with players who are technically and tactically good enough to know how to play such a system – Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi are fantastic at it.”
Well yes, I think we got that.
But where this gets very interesting is in the comparison between the Invincibles and this team. As the Telegraph says “Robert Pires starts where Alex Iwobi starts, Freddie Ljungberg is Theo Walcott.” Ozil is Bergkamp.
Now add in the amazing passes of Xhaka and voooooom….
“A quick succession of passes finds Walcott in the wide right position, with Bellerin – who is effectively a winger and a defender in one for Arsenal – moving into the number 10 position. Sanchez, furthest over on the left, waits on the shoulder of the last man, giving himself a couple of yards of space from that defender.
“Walcott fires a pass along the ground hard enough that it can’t be intercepted, Cazorla – the deep-lying central midfielder – arrives from deep into the number 10 position which Ozil has left empty. With one incredible touch, the Spaniard takes all the pace out of Walcott’s pass and sets up Sanchez for a one-on-one.”
Of course this being the Telegraph then they add, “He doesn’t score. Typical Arsenal.” But its a bit like the sarcastic teacher you probably remember from school. He might praise but can’t resist the cheap simplistic one-upmanship because, well, that’s what teachers do. It’s what Telegraph writers do.
But it is a good exposition, and one I am glad to see, instead of the simplistic, “Arsenal will never win until they pay £50m for a centre forward” stuff that we have had for years.
“A benefit of having Sanchez, Ozil and Iwobi focus a lot of their play down the left, or at least in a similar area of the pitch, is that opposition defences get drawn in and leave space on the opposite side. Theo Walcott’s recent resurgence has been a direct result of his taking up central striking positions, moving into space vacated by the designated striker dropping deeper.”
Yep – just what we were saying in recent games. Of course they will be down on Theo now that he had an ordinary game for England, but that’s what the media does.
Using this system, the moment Arsenal don’t score we will of course have all the outbursts about how we will never win anything without a striker, but that is just the “last game is all that matters” bloggetta approach.
But as the writer concludes, “The Invincibles lined up as a 4-4-2 but never actually looked like that on the pitch. By swapping positions and covering for others making forward runs, at times they’d look like a 3-1-3-3, 4-2-4 or 2-2-2-4.”
The trick of course is to get results whatever system you play, whatever tactics the opposition throw at you, whoever is having a duff day.
For us, as readers, the trick is to avoid the nonsensical throw aways that the editorial worksheet tells the journalists to throw in suggesting that “Arsene Wenger, after years of tinkering and trying to get the best out of players like Nicklas Bendtner, has finally assembled a team talented enough to play in the system he first perfected nearly 20 years ago.”
No mate, Arsene Wenger, after years of restricted funding as he kept the team in the top four while allowing the club to clear the debt of the stadium, now has had some money. And you know what. He has spent wisely.