After the first ten minutes on Sunday when we all realised that Emery was adopting a 4-4-2 against Fulham, I think it took me an additional ten minutes to believe it, such is the way with football fashion and the penchant for following trends. Wenger himself moved from 4-4-2 way back when so he could try to replicate the swashbuckling intensity of Rijkaard’s Barcelona and when Antonio Conte swept all before him in his first season at Chelski with a back three and wing backs, it felt like an almost universal switch took place as other Premier League teams followed suit.
I’ll be honest with you and say I thought that the 4-4-2 was dead for the top teams in most divisions and as a man who loves his traditions (hence the delight at the Adidas announcement yesterday and possibility that a return of the bruised banana could be on the cards) like three o’clock kick offs on a Saturday, seeing a good old-fashioned 4-4-2 was heartwarming.
But it was also effective. Lacazette and Welbeck struck up a decent relationship ship and it was Welbz who flicked the ball on for Laca to swivel and shoot for our second goal. A genuine ‘little and large’ combination bearing fruit too. My nostalgia glands were certainly up on Sunday lunchtime.
The relationship and interchanges of possession between Welbeck and Iwobi was good too. The two were always in close proximity and it was Welbeck’s movement and distribution which often enabled Iwobi to find space on that left hand side.
On Sunday we played a formation which suited so many players including when Laca and Auba were on the pitch together and it really bore fruit, but from my perspective what was also pleasing, was that I didn’t see it coming from Emery. This is the guy who is supposed to take us to the next step post-Wenger and whilst it’s still early days, I must admit I was worried he was going to continue to persist with the four central ‘Big name’ players in matches despite it not really working.
Sure, his hand was forced, but he could have just as easily started Ramsey, played him where Özil was playing the week prior, had Welbeck on the left and Mkhitaryan on the right and we have a similar situation as we’ve had with plenty of congestion. But he tried that adapted formation and it worked.
What’s pleasing too is that the players adapted with only minor issues at the beginning of the game and on the stroke of halftime, although that goal was more down to individual error than the incorrect deployment of formation or tactical instructions.
We’ve spent plenty of time telling ourselves that adapting to tweaks in formation takes a while to take in to effect but I’ve always wondered why it feels like that takes longer for us than it does for other teams. Perhaps this shows that it doesn’t; perhaps it’s just that when you’re told something often enough from a person in a position of authority you start to believe it as gospel.
But here we are having seen a very successful deployment of a 4-4-2 and it feels like there’s a world of options opening up to us. The predictability of Arsenal was a frustration at times in recent years. Perhaps teams won’t be able to prepare for us as much now. That’s the hope anyway.
There is one concern I have though. This formation got the best out of plenty of players on Sunday, but there’s one play I love who wasn’t playing, and that is our mercurial German maestro Mesut Özil. How does he fit in to this team? How can we get him into this side? As a right midfielder?
We know that he is a number 10 and so is best playing centrally and finding pockets of space to occupy so that his vision can deliver us goals at times in which it looks a forlorn hope. But if 4-4-2 is something that Emery adopts more often, how can we have a number 10, particularly if Aubameyang and Lacazette are the two central strikers?
It’s something I’m still searching for an answer on. I want Özil in the Arsenal team. I think he adds something nobody else does in the squad. But can he be deployed as a right or left wide man and still deliver balance to us? He would naturally move infield during a game and that wouldn’t give us the same width that Iwobi gave us.
Perhaps the answer lies in Mkhitaryan’s performance on Sunday. He drifted in field plenty of times against Fulham but still found time to drift to the right hand side occasionally. Could Özil do the same job?
Possibly, but I’m still left feeling that it would be a world class square peg in a round hole, and I’m still no wiser as to how to make the best of Mesut in a 4-4-2.
Any ideas would be gratefully appreciated.
Catch you all tomorrow.