The Arsenal Affair

The Arsenal Affair

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Shape of Arsenal: 4-5-1 or a Triangle.

Arsenal are football team to be admired, not for their success or efficiency, but for their uncompromising desire to play beautiful, unreserved football at all costs whether it lay detriment to the result or their quest for silverware. While the latter remains a thorn in the side of all Arsenal fans, the intricacy of movements and the cunning disguises worn by a pass allow Wenger's men to outwit the opposition which affords the fans a degree of swagger within their walk. So how does Arsene Wenger's philosophy transcend onto the pitch, is the structural integrity of a modern formation, predominantly 4-5-1 or is it the freedom Wenger gives his flair players to express themselves?

Wenger has tended to be historically hesitant towards tactical changes over the years, In his early years at the club he was known to often finish games without using a substitute. The boss has always preached the benefits of consistency and this can be detected in many of his decisions. As the years went by he slowly he tweaked his style here and there, but it wasn't until the dominance of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona that Wenger realised he had to move with the times. He immediately adopted a more high pressing team that would hunt in packs, drastically flooding his midfield with a 4-5-1 without the ball and an expressive 4-3-3 with the ball. This allowed Arsenal to build up their attacks patiently, recycling the ball until the space appeared. When without the ball they could squeeze the opposition, intercept and breakaway, however by doing this the defence would have to retain a high line. Defenders would need to be tactically acute with great recovery pace. In the last eight years, these two essentials were Arsenal's Achilles heel, contributing to a trophy drought that saw the leadership of Arsene Wenger openly questioned by media and home fans.

In more recent times there have been reasons for optimism. Last season Arsenal performed adequately winning the FA cup. The only negative was heavily losing to the top teams in the Premier League, however this season they seem to have eradicated those question marks by beating Manchester City, United and Liverpool. So how have the North London club become more effective in the last two years?  Whilst it is true some of the clientele have changed over time what there appears to be is a togetherness and understanding on the pitch that was previously lacking. The most effective way to further articulate this is by the use of triangles. We're not talking Pythagoras but more the shapes and patterns that Arsenal create using ball retention, innovation in movement.

The Gunners have a plethora of creative midfielders, all comfortable out wide but more attracted to the centre of the pitch in order to try and be the one who delicately threads a London bus through the eye of a needle. This has tended to be a problem over the years, trying to score the beautiful goal had almost become an obsession and it's worth noting that Arsenal have been trying to find evidence to vindicate the triangle experiment since the days of Fabregas,Hleb and Nasri but have often fallen short in the findings. So what contributing factor has refreshed Arsenal's theory to give hope to a new winning formula?

All results point to one man : Francis Coquelin. This is the type of player Arsenal have been missing since the days of Gilberto Silva.  The Frenchman boasts athleticism and an aggressive nature that protects the movements of others with interceptions, tackles and defensive screening. This security allows Ozil, Cazorla and Sanchez to play within a triangle that tessellates in dangerous areas. The majority of Arsenal's assists do not come from wide areas, but more the spaces that the aforementioned patterns can open up. What we have learned is that Arsenal's formation may be displayed differently on a television, but a true reflection would reveal four defenders, Francis Coquelin and the tessellation of the British game's most revered triangles. In the simplest of terms a beautiful marriage of football and geometry.

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