Koscielny began our venture into a back 3 formation as the deepest lying centre back and in recent weeks Mustafi has switched into this position. Why has this stumbled upon formation been tinkered with so much by the boss? We’ve already seen wingers play as wing backs (on the opposing flanks no less), central midfielders play as centre backs and David Ospina play in goal so we’ve seen our fair share of players out of position. The switch between Koscielny and Mustafi however is a little more intriguing.
As I mentioned we’ve seen Koscielny placed at the base of the defence to begin with as he was seen as the most competent defender and footballer, meaning that he could run the line and organise from the back. Now we see Mustafi there and I get the feeling we could well be seeing this due to his calamitous decision making higher up the pitch. It seems like Wenger doesn’t trust him all that much having tried to shift him on for Jonny Evans (!?) over the summer. With this in mind it has now manifested its way onto the pitch whereby Mustafi has become the ball receiver from the back and key decisions in terms of stepping out to press and sit off now look to be resting with Koscielny and Monreal who play a little further up. Mustafi does have the tendency to dive in too early and therefore leaves Koscielny more exposed. Maybe Wenger playing him deeper will have him think twice about diving in and keep him firmly on his feet.
The real benefit of this is that we don’t find ourselves exposed in the same way on counter attacks as Koscielny is a more measured and experienced defender. On top of this we also have the added benefit of having a surplus in the midfield, in a good way. Koscielny is the best ball playing defender that we have and him playing further up gives an extra body in the midfield allowing the Ramsey and Xhaka pivot to work with more effect with the ball and even when without it, we have a defensive minded player further up the pitch. He’s playing the David Luiz/Eric Dier role, which is usually left to the least defensively competent player of the back 3, however in our case it’s been flipped and yet works better. The reason the others use their least defensively competent players in those positions is because their midfield pivots consist of far better defensively minded players (Kante/Wanyama), which is something that our midfield simply does not have. The downside to this however is that Koscielny isn’t in the best position to martial the defence in off the cuff situations, which is essentially what your defenders need to do most of the time during a game, especially when you’re an Arsenal player simply because the way in which we concede goals is predominantly on the counter attack. This means that once again our balance across the whole team is quite fragile and also that in a mid game situation taking one piece out of a fragile puzzle will have the whole thing tumbling down. It’s very much a house of cards than a full proof plan in which we have a couple of players that can fill in for each other. It reminds me of when Wenger stumbled upon the CoqZorla midfield axis that worked so well for us in 2014/15.
Whilst it’s really encouraging to see the new defensive shape working for us, it has become clear to see that it’s not completely fit for purpose. We played away to BATE Borisov with players in their unnatural positions due to the lack of depth I mentioned, and we were found out. Yes we scored 4, and going forward has never really been an issue for Wengers’ sides, but we looked fairly calamitous at the back. It’s a defensive shape that we will need a few prayers for in terms of fitness (LOL) in order to sustain a challenge for the big honours this season.
In any case, the Koscielny/Mustafi swap looks to be working in the short term at least, which is no bad thing. Drawing away at the Champions with this change is no bad thing. Winning 2 games since that draw is no bad thing. The trajectory looks good, let’s hope it can be maintained.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.