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3-4-3 | 3-4-2-1 | 3-5-2 | 3-5-1 -1. Three-at-the-back systems are very much on trend in the Premier League this season. Chelsea’s 3-4-3 is the most notorious due to their success, but Tottenham are now implementing a very successful 3-4-2-1 and Manchester City, Everton, Stoke, West Ham, Watford, Leicester and Hull have all recently tried variants of the system.
One team that hasn’t adopted the fad is Arsenal, which is hardly a surprise. Arsene was not an early adopter of the transition from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, and he’s shown no recent signs of increased tactical flexibility. Thus, I preface the following by saying that it is a dream. A hypothetical.
So, what would a three-at-the-back system look like for Arsenal? Something like this.
The back three: With Mertesacker fit Arsenal have five central defenders in the squad, making three centre-backs easy to field. Gabriel would enjoy the benefit of having two (better) allies close by, Koscielny could keep being unreasonably competent and Mustafi would excel at stepping out in possession to join the midfield and make passes from deep.
The wing-backs: Bellerin would love the freedom to bomb forward that this system provides. The defensive side of his game still needs a lot of work, and this would provide a safer platform for that development.
The left side is a more difficult equation. I’ve put Gibbs here as he is quicker and more offensive than Monreal and in the second hypothetical I’ve offered Oxlade Chamberlain as an alternative. It’s fair to say that none of the three choices for this position are totally convincing, but I’d suggest that the left-back area is a priority for the summer transfer window already.
The double-pivot: Nothing much changes here between the 3-4-whatever and the 4-2-3-1. The ideal starting pair would still be one of Coquelin or Xhaka with Cazorla, but at Arsenal the central midfield is whoever is fit. I would, though, be more comfortable with Ramsey playing in the double pivot in this system. With three defenders behind him at all times and with wing-backs ready to support, Ramsey’s positional promiscuity would be less of a liability, and he might see increased freedom to do what he loves – get into goalscoring positions.
The #10, or #10s:
In the image on the left, this is simple. Ozil in his usual role. In the image on the right which mirrors Tottenham’s 3-4-2-1, Ozil and Iwobi would take up dual floating roles behind the striker. Their ability and freedom to drift into whatever space they deem most effective would cause the opposition problems, just as we’ve seen Eriksen and Alli do in recent weeks for Spurs. It would also allow for quicker interplay between them, the central midfield and the forward, given the increased proximity all would have to each other.
In the 3-5-2 the obvious pairing would be Giroud as the target man with Alexis doing Alexis things just behind him. With Lucas and Welbeck also fit and Walcott to return, the options for a dangerous front two would be numerous.
In the 3-4-2-1, I’d start Alexis. If, late in the game you then wanted to add another striker, replacing Iwobi with Giroud, for example, and dropping Alexis into one of the #10 roles would work nicely. When Wenger wants to do that in the 4-2-3-1 it pushes Sanchez out wide, where he is far more predictable, has a lot more defending to do and is thus less effective.
So, there you have it. A system that suits most of the squad and might even get better performances out of some. Now to wait for news on Arsene Wenger’s contract to see how long it might be before this is remotely plausible.
Let us know what you think. @under_thecosh