All Arsenal-related eyes today will be firmly fixed on that board meeting in which the manager’s future will be discussed and the decision as to whether he stays or goes will finally be absolute. Lord knows we’ve all been waiting long enough to find out, but whilst speculation, hearsay and conjecture have all been the soup de jour since January at least, we’re literally out of time and there simply has to be an answer now that all of the football matters have been settled for the season.
The reality is though, that we mere mortals won’t find out anything probably for at least another 24 to 48 hours, although knowing Arsenal and the way they like to announce things it could be the weekend.
Instead we have to continue to speculate and with that in mind, my own mind has been wandering towards what an Arsenal set up for next season could be. After all, Arsène himself had said that he didn’t see a future in 3-4-3 (or 3-5-2 for some), so if what I suspect happens and we have another two years of Arsène clinging on to power, what will next season’s first XI look like for the first game of the season.
Obviously a lot of that depends on who is managing the team. If it’s Arsène then there really is only one debate and that’s whether or not he’s seen enough in the current formation to make it stick around. For all of the accusations of tactical inflexibility that can be labelled at the manager, one thing he has shown he’s willing to do is change a system. 4-4-2 died shortly after the invincibles, possibly lasting three or four years before he decided that the Barcelona approach of a 4-3–3 is the best way to go. But even that evolved in to the 4-2-3-1 as we all knew it at the start of this season and when needed Arsène has deployed a 4-1-4-1. But will he revert to type if he’s here in August.
That really is a question I have no idea how to answer. Having seen the success of the back end of this season, riding high on the 3-4-3, it seems utter madness not to think it won’t be the chosen formation over the summer and in to 2017/18. But we all know just how stubborn Arsène is and at times it has felt he would do things his way just to spite everyone else when an obviously better answer appears in front of him. He’s always been like that. He’s always wanted to defy the odds his way and whilst we all just accepted it in the early part of his reign as boss, the last ten years have shown that his way isn’t always the right way. Despite what some of the worshippers think Arsène doesn’t always, in fact, know.
So there’s a big part of me that thinks that if he’s still around for the community shield in August we’ll return to four at the back and he’ll park the 3-4-3 in a corner behind a glass panel saying ‘in case of emergency, break here’. He’s already admitted that he feels it’s a little too conservative to play with a back three and that’s the real crux of why I think he might revert back, because he doesn’t like conservative football, he prefers his teams to roll the dice a little.
The thing is though, this squad has proven that they’re certainly not the same classroom collective as the early Y2K breed. That collective of players would be told to manage in-game themselves and when this current side has been asked to do that, they delivered some real tripe this season. Especially away from home in the big games. They don’t set up in a big game with the tactical flexibility to manoeuvre themselves if the original plan hasn’t quite gone how it was expected, which is why the 3-4-3 had such a dramatic effect, because it produced something of a buffer for the team when it didn’t quite have the confidence of flexibility to shuffle formation and style in-game.
Our defenders suddenly found they were an extra man up when defending and that afforded at least one of them – usually Mustafi but also Gabriel at times – to be more aggressive in the tackle. When just two centre halves remained on the pitch that aggression in trying to win the ball higher up the pitch just resulted in acres of space opening up and repeated breaches in the teams defensive line.
But it wasn’t just the central defenders who suddenly found a little more licence. We saw how the full backs were suddenly freed from as much defensive burden. Bellerin and Monreal found that they could harness their forward play more and in some games if they were caught high up the pitch there was cover from the central defending trio. That cover also enabled the Ox to find a slot in the team. We’ve seen how he switches off defensively at times and even in the current formation – like the game at White Hart Lane – he showed that he can get caught out. But three at the back is a ‘percentages’ formation and that means that for every bit of space you cede to an attack in the wing backs, you get at least three or four more going forward, so for the wing backs they can gamble a little more than in a flat back four.
The same can be said for Ramsey. He has been unleashed in this formation and with Xhaka playing the deep-lying role so well in the latter part of this season, Ramsey has been given licence to push further forward. As his fitness has regained he’s found himself in positions like on Saturday and that has resulted in more impact in the final third. He may not have peaked quickly enough for us to salvage a Champions League spot, but he arrived bang on cue in the cup final, literally and figuratively.
The top of the pitch however, hasn’t really faired as well and given that one of the players has effectively been removed for a centre half, you can kind of understand why. This current formation has meant the role of a powerful centre forward is negated somewhat. The reason Welbeck has looked so good as opposed to Giroud is nothing more scientific than the fact he covers more space. Which given there is a man less at that end of the pitch, makes perfect sense, and if I was Ollie G one of the questions I’d be asking this summer is whether 3-4-3 is here to stay, as much as I’d want to know if Wenger was here to stay too. If both answers are ‘yes’, I’d be considering my position, especially given I’d potentially be France’s first choice centre forward next summer.
So which is it then? What’s the plan for next season? What’s the formation?
Well for me it should be ‘all of the above’ and sometimes it should be that over the space of 90 minutes. Football has evolved and whoever is the manager next season needs to realise that game-to-game adaptation is essential in the Premier League. You need to train and coach your players to shift from each match and as much as I hate to say this, that’s what Pochettino has managed to do to some success this season, which is what we should be aiming for too, because no two matches are the same and as a result we need to be able to shuffle our pack occasionally.
We’re not quite there personnel wise and we still have some players who have injury records that leave a lot to be desired, but I believe there’s a blueprint for success in this Arsenal team.
We just need the right person to make the decisions.
Catch you tomorrow.