The biggest difference of late, apart from the alignment of the stars, is that we’ve stopped drawing games. It’s now only one draw in the last 10 Premier League fixtures for The Arsenal. We drew half of our opening 10 fixtures. You know L-W-W > D-D-W and all that.
The start of the season Arsène set-up the side with a very different feel, shape. The 4-1-4-1 formation. It led to the side looking very disjointed and at a point where the general consensus was a warm fuzzy feeling that we might be onto something here, but we certainly weren’t playing like it. More Puke-y. I wonder if Arsène ever got caught roaming the corridors of Colney with a bottle of Neuf-de-Pape screaming “COHESION! you peasants [swigs]”. What seemed bizarre was the timing of the decision and trying to implement a brand new system without (really) trialling it during pre-season. The old system (4-2-3-1) had its benefits, but Arsène’s decision was based on making us more defensively sound in the bigger games, at which point I’d like it on record that I’m a huge fan of not conceding six at Stamford Bridge (please, never, ever again).
I think Arsène was/is trying to build a tactical flexibility into this group of players. Something we seem to misplace at the most important times. If we can go into games with the opposition trying to second guess us, it can only be a good thing for the team, make us more unpredictable and more likely to have victory through tactical outwitting. We saw against Manchester City that possession wasn’t as precious as it once was for us. It’s more about how, and where, we use the ball. Giroud, for example, seems to be less of a bumper in a pinball machine, but now more of a roaming target. He’s becoming a very all-rounded football player. I’ve always been very obsessed with skill and technique. As aesthetically pleasing as Giroud’s face is, sometimes when he’s travelling with the ball, he looks like a new born giraffe on a skateboard. Putting that glorious image to one-side, tactically, mentally, physically, he’s very astute and helps the side purr.
I’ve found it very interesting watching Mesut at the weekend. His demeanor, hunger to play football again appeared to be shining bright again. I wonder how effected he was after winning the World Cup. Per openly admitted he struggled with coming back to normality. I wonder if Özil needed a shock to his system to get him firing again. Before he went off on gardening leave, down to the potting shed, there was angst amongst fans that was born from his deployment “out wide”. I’d like to shatter some hearts and say that doesn’t make a fucking difference to Mesut Özil.
*Whispers* I think Mesut can only be on the flanks in a 4-1-4-1 (opposition dependant). I think he has to admit to himself that he has to make some ‘sacrifices’ to his game to benefit the team as a unit. He’ll have to learn, adapt his movements. When to swap flanks, when to drift. In the coming weeks, I’ll think you’ll see him become more of a ‘Nasri’; offer balance to the side out wide. He’s always calm in possession, he can carry the ball, but Özil cutting in from the wing will give him several options and opportunities to play the killer pass he’s so good at.
The other ‘1’ in the team to get a honourable mention is Francis Coquelin. He’s benefitted and impressed with his promotion. Not long ago he was sitting on the bench at The Valley for Charlton. He was not only playing for his Arsenal career, he’s was playing for his Football career (at the top level), but Coquelin’s introduction coincides with our stronger unit. A strong unit makes a holder’s job so much easier. In his first few games his decision making was very erratic and dubious, but he’s grown very quickly and if his presence means more focus on ‘unit strength’, I’m all for his inclusion.
The biggest strength of 4-1-4-1, also seems to be it’s greatest weakness. It’s great when everything clicks into place and the balance is right, but if a few things are out of place, it will go tits up.