The time is now for a two striker system at Arsenal – Here’s how!
Today’s article might appear a tad aggressive for a Goonerdave66 blog and it is meant to be. Why? Because it is looking to address a few attitudes and opinions which I am exposed to all too frequently. Personal opinions are just that, but there is a way to express an opinion without inferring superior knowledge and without appearing condescending. I am always very clear that my blogs are about my opinion and I am always happy to be challenged and I love the debate, but I do, on ‘1nildown2oneup’ where possible, seek to back up my arguments with research and evidence or precedent.
As most of my regular readers know, I am a supporter of variations of a 4-4-2 system to allow a 2 striker system. I have written numerous times espousing a reversion to the formula that won Wenger and Arsenal so many trophies. What I have not said though is that we should play the same system each week and for all opposition. No, more than that, Wenger should use his squad to the full and play different formations and systems dependent on the opposition, as other top sides and managers seem happy to do.
Now I am often supported when I write these blogs, but there are always those who condescendingly tell me that the system is out of date and does not work anymore in the modern game. ” A 2 man midfield would be hopelessly overrun by an opposition with a 3 man midfield Dave you are an idiot.” Many tell me I am an fool who is clueless for suggesting such a thing and that I would have us play like Stoke. This attitude irritates me hugely, (really Dave?) so I point out that Manchester City won the title in 2012 in the run-in by playing Tevez and Aguero as a pair and Manchester United clinched the league in 2011 with Rooney and Hernandez as a pair. I could go further back as numerous Premier League titles have been won with variations of 4-4-2 since we last won in 2004.
However, those who know so much more than me do not wish to accept factual evidence and they have an answer for how these sides have won titles with 442 variants. “Dave other teams can do it because they have better players than us.” Or this popular retort “Ah yes Dave but the thing is our players were so superior in 2004 and we just don’t have the players to play that system in 2012.” Really guys are you sure? Well let’s have a bit of fun shall we to examine this. Other teams who have won the league have better players and you cannot play a 4-4-2 and win without players of the quality of Pires, Gilberto, Vieira, Ljungberg, Bergkamp and Henry. Below are all the midfielders and strikers who have won the EPL with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City since 2004. The truth is that no team has had players as good as that and they have still won the title.
I have highlighted and underlined those winning players since 2004 who I think could have broken into the ‘Invincibles’ and I have just highlighted those who could have been squad members in my opinion. Play the game yourself but I doubt you will differ too much.
Claude Makelele E Gudjohnsen Damien Duff Joe Cole Didier Drogba
Arjen Robben Frank Lampard Michael Essien
Hernan Crespo Wayne Rooney Cristiano Ronaldo Michael Carrick
Paul Scholes Ryan Giggs Loius Saha Carlos Tevez Nani Dimitar Bervatov
Ji Sung Park N Anelka Flourent Malouda Michael Ballack Deco
Javier Hernandez Anderson Gareth Barry Yaya Toure Sergio Aguero
David Silva Samir Nasri Edin Dzeko James Milner
So there you have it. I am being dispassionate and am admitting that Makelele in 05 and 06 was better than Gilberto Silva, but no one in that role has been since. Ronaldo? One would have to admit you would find a place for him, he could arguably even challenge for the TH14 slot, sacrilege! You could argue Yaya Toure but for me he has not yet reached Vieira level.
Feel free to have a look at all the names and see if you disagree, but in the main I am sure you will not. This being the case, is it fair to assume that we have considerable evidence to suggest that you can win the league, playing variations of 4-4-2 with players inferior to those of the all conquering Arsenal 2003/4 team? Now Chelsea, Manchester United and Man City have all won titles varying their systems from game to game and opposition dependent. You will tell me that Chelsea in the main played 4-3-3 under Mourinho and you might be correct, but Gudjohnsen had the second most appearances in 04/05 and played numerous games in a 2 with Drogba. Manchester United played a conventional 4-4-2 all of 2010/11 initially with Berbatov and Rooney and then with Hernandez and Rooney. Incidentally they finished that season with a central midfield pairing of Park and Giggs and please don’t try and convince me that is a dominant pairing!
I could go on and look at how City began to lose their way last season playing a 4-2-3-1 with Toure, Aguero and Nasri behind Balotelli, but found their form again with the return of Tevez and the reversion to a diamond, but I won’t as that would be labouring the point, (heaven forbid!) In short, variations of 4-4-2 do still work in the EPL today and numerous teams have won big that way since we last did, with inferior players to those we had at our disposal between 2000 and 2005. The key is indeed quality players but also intelligent and flexible players and crucially a manager who is willing to in turn be flexible from match to match as I believe we need ours to be. Whether he will be of course is another question entirely.
So this article would be worthy but pointless if I did not follow my conviction and demonstrate how I would deploy a 4-4-2 variant with our current players in 2012/13 and crucially when I would suggest we do so. The way I see it, I hope might counter those who still feel a 2 man midfield could be dominated by a team with 3 in there. I first ventured this in July when Wenger hinted at a 2 striker formation at a press conference in the Far East and the system I would relish watching against weaker sides and against teams who ‘park the bus’ is for me a 4-1-3-2.
I see this as the same formation we played between 2001 and 2004 because Pires was not a conventional left winger in the Overmars sense and Freddie was a converted central midfielder or second striker.
For me, this is how we lined up shape-wise in our unbeaten season. It was not a conventional 4-4-1-1 because Ljungberg and Pires would not always stay wide in the way we might see Bale and Lennon do today for the Spuds. Both could take the ball wide and go for the by line and cross or more commonly cut back but equally both came inside and link play with Dennis or slide a through ball for Henry. In attack, Gilberto might join and the 4 might naturally spread but in defence both Bobby and Freddie showed exemplary work rate and discipline to work back and support centrally of their full back. When tucking in both of course were frequently over lapped by 2 superb attacking full backs in Cole and Lauren. Something with Jenko/Sagna and Gibbs/Santos I would contend we have in 2012.
This observer feels we have a squad of players to make this system works well this season and I would suggest their could be 2 versions. One version to break down teams set up to stultify us and another using the formation to defend high up the pitch, hit teams quickly on the break with fast slick passing a la Barcelona.
The above side would, I feel, compete well in the EPL and could be more flexible and dynamic when up against 2 banks of defending players, when at times our 4-2-3-1 can be predictable and slow. I truly feel that a fully fit Podolski is the natural heir apparent to Bobby Pires and his work rate supporting the full back when fully fit (which I question at present to support Gibbs) is superb. It is evident already that Gibbs and Lukas have developed a rapport potentially akin to that of Cole/Pires. Also, like Pires, there is no reason why he cannot hit double figures in goals when here as Pires did with ease. Whilst I would not always wish to see Santi on the right, he has done it for years and he and Jack would interchange as both are such intelligent players. The additional advantage for me is that we have Ox and TR7 both readily available to play either role as well. I am convinced Giroud would flourish in this 2 striker system, as indeed if called on would Chamakh, either flick ons, neat one twos or through balls would unleash Theo’s pace and finishing.
I also see a potential alternative starting 11 in the same formation for trickier games, certainly against top sides and in Europe, where technique may be utilised over power. The obvious objection to this team would be the lack of size but it seems to work for Barca, because of the speed of thought and technique.
This is my 11 in the 4-1-3-2 to out think the opposition, outplay the opposition and technically bamboozle the opposition. Whatever your objections tell me honestly that you would not like just to see this front 6 just pass and move through at team. No height, just pure skill and football intelligence with Walcott the main benefactor.
I know I won’t convince many who are intransigent in their view that any system other than 4-2-3-1 is invalid in today’s game. However facts do not back up that viewpoint as I hope I have demonstrated and Manchester United have used the exact formation I suggest on many occasions this season. The system I propose does allow the wider midfielders to tuck in and support when required, but crucially gives us a fast flowing attacking shape with flexibility, counter attacking pace, our early Wenger years trademark, and multiple options in the final third. The teams are made up of my fist choices but of course Gervinho can play the Walcott role and Ramsey can cover the central or right midfield. In time, Eisfeld could easily play for Jack and Coquelin for Arteta. This formation demonstrably plays to the strength of our squad and avoids some of the round hole square peg selections we have witnessed.
That’s enough of me today. I have convinced myself and perhaps I will have convinced some of you or not. Either way, I would love to hear from you on twitter or in comments. I defy anyone to not at least admit they would not like to see Cazorla, Theo, Wilshere, Podolski and Ox or Tomas on the pitch at the same time in the red and white.
Oh, and one last point. I would play this formation if Podolski is fully fit at Old Trafford with Giroud and Walcott. One thing is certain – Fergie won’t be expecting it.