It’s that time of year again. Arsenal are in full-on crisis mode as their season, once full of promise and optimism, has well and truly unraveled into an utter disaster.
This time it’s even worse than usual, with the Gunners sliding all the way down to sixth place after losing four of their last five Premier League matches. At the moment, Arsenal look devoid of direction and ideas—in the 3-1 loss to West Brom, they managed just two shots on target despite having an incredible 77% possession.
As Wenger’s system clearly isn’t getting the best out of his players right now, it would be refreshing to see him attempt to reverse Arsenal’s misfortunes by shaking things up tactically. While it would be unlike the Frenchman to revert from his 4-2-3-1, a change to a completely new formation could be just the revamp that the squad needs. Playing a three-man defense is one of the hottest tactical trends in world football, with Antonio Conte’s Chelsea playing a 3-4-3 since their 3-0 defeat to Arsenal back in September (the irony!), and Luis Enrique’s Barcelona recently pulling off the greatest comeback in Champions League history using
Lionel Messi celebrates Barcelona’s 6-1 win over PSG, in which the Catalans used a 3-4-3
Here’s how Arsene Wenger’s side might look if they switched to a 3-4-3.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech
Since signing for Arsenal last summer, Petr Cech has been the Gunners’ first-choice keeper and would remain so if they switched to a 3-4-3.
The 34-year-old has shown some signs of aging this season: he lets in shots he wouldn’t have let in five years ago and doesn’t get to ground quite as quickly as he used to. Still, he’s capable of making crucial saves and, as a Premier League veteran, brings valuable experience and leadership to the team.
Alternate: David Ospina
Right Center-Back: Shkodran Mustafi
Mustafi’s Arsenal career began in tremendous form, setting a club record by going unbeaten in his first 20 games in red and white. He’s gone off the boil since the turn of the year though, playing all 180 minutes of Arsenal’s 10-2 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and failing to cope with the departure of Laurent Koscielny in both legs.
Still 24-years-old, Mustafi is young for a center-back and has shown as much promise as he has weaknesses during his first season in North London. Frequently deployed as the right center-back alongside Koscielny in Arsenal’s back four, it would make sense for the German international to be deployed on the right of Arsenal’s three-man defense.
Alternate: Rob Holding
Center-Back: Laurent Koscielny
As Arsenal’s defensive rock and captain, Laurent Koscielny would be deployed in the heart of the three-man defense.
The Frenchman’s importance to the Gunners was reinforced by their Champions League loss to Bayern Munich: with Koscielny on the pitch, Arsenal won 2-1; without him, they lost 9-0.
Koscielny’s sending off against Bayern Munich was the catalyst for Arsenal’s 5-1 loss at home
David Luiz plays in the center of Chelsea’s back three and often acts as a sweeper, bringing the ball forward into midfield to start attacks and dropping deeper into defense when needed. As Koscielny already performs this role for Arsenal, he would naturally slot into the center of the back three.
Alternate: Shkodran Mustafi
Left Center-Back: Nacho Monreal
Given that his natural position is left-back, Nacho might seem like a strange choice here.
The Spaniard has some experience playing center-back for Arsenal, though, having been deployed there a handful of times during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns when the club faced extreme injury crises. He looked solid when he played there, too, despite being in an uncomfortable position.
Gabriel Paulista, a natural center-back, is another potential option to complete Arsenal’s back three, but Nacho’s passing ability and left-footedness sees him just edge it out.
Right Wing-Back: Hector Bellerin
Bellerin wouldn’t have to adjust his game much if he were to play right wing-back. A winger in his academy days, the 22-year-old is often Arsenal’s biggest attacking threat on the right side with his searing pace and overlapping runs.
In this position, Bellerin would have the lay of the land on Arsenal’s right wing. When the Gunners don’t have the ball he would assume his normal role at right back, essentially turning the back three into a back four or five, depending on if the left wing-back drops back as well.
Although the Spaniard would have more responsibility than he’s used to, this could end up being the perfect position for him.
Alternate: Mathieu Debuchy
Central Midfield: Santi Cazorla
There’s an argument to be made that Arsenal’s troubles in the last two seasons largely stem from Santi Cazorla’s absence.
The diminutive Spaniard is essential to the way Arsenal plays, keeping things ticking and linking the midfield to attack. His season-ending injuries in November of the past two campaigns have left Arsene Wenger struggling to find a functional midfield pairing.
As one of the first names on the team sheet when he’s fit, Cazorla would be a crucial cog in Arsenal’s 3-4-3.
Alternate: Aaron Ramsey
Central Midfield: Granit Xhaka
While Xhaka’s debut season for Arsenal has had its ups and downs, the 24-year-old has nonetheless established himself as a first-team regular.
Xhaka’s form hasn’t been helped by the lack of consistency in midfield, as Wenger has tried pairing him with Francis Coquelin, Mohammed Elneny, and Aaron Ramsey, with mixed results. The partnership of Xhaka and Cazorla, however, worked well at the start of the season (notably in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Watford) and ended all too soon due to the Spaniard’s injury.
In a 3-4-3 Xhaka would anchor the midfield, sitting deep to break up play and launch long balls to the forwards, while Cazorla buzzes around with energy and creativity.
Alternate: Francis Coquelin
Left Wing-Back: Kieran Gibbs
Marcos Alonso’s fluency at left wing-back has been key to Chelsea’s 3-4-3 working as well as it does. The closest thing Arsenal have to Alonso is Kieran Gibbs, who’s essentially been out of the picture this season making just six Premier League appearances.
Although his ability has plateaued in recent seasons, Gibbs would be hungry to win back his place in the first team if he was given a chance in the league. Bringing him back into the fold to play an unfamiliar position would certainly be a risk, but risk is something an increasingly stale Arsenal side could use right now.
Alternate: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Right Forward: Danny Welbeck
On his day, Danny Welbeck can be Arsenal’s most dangerous player. He possesses a combination of pace and power that few, if any other players in the squad have.
While he’s still shaking off the rust after returning from a knee injury sustained last May, Welbeck’s attacking threat will be an asset for Arsenal in the final weeks of the season as they aim to finish in the top four.
On the right side of the attacking trio, Welbeck would play off of the other two forwards while supporting Bellerin when necessary.
Alternate: Theo Walcott
Center Forward: Alexis Sanchez
Spearheading Arsenal’s attack is none other than Alexis Sanchez, the club’s star player this season with 22 goals in all competitions.
Arsene Wenger’s decision to play the Chilean at center forward has maximized his attacking prowess—Alexis has 17 goals from 23 appearances there. Not only is Alexis having the most prolific season of his career, but he’s also having the most creative, with 12 assists in all competitions.
As a center forward, Alexis often drops into the No. 10 position to stamp his influence on the game and look for runners ahead of him. He would certainly benefit from the movement of another forward, like Welbeck, to play in tandem with.
Alternate: Olivier Giroud
Left Forward: Mesut Özil
Mesut Özil completes the attacking trident as the left forward, an unfamiliar position for the German.
The front three of the 3-4-3 should be fluid, though, as Chelsea’s three (usually Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, and Pedro) are. Özil would be less of a forward than a creator, operating in the area just behind Alexis and Welbeck. Having two quick forwards ahead of him takes full advantage of the World Cup winner’s ability to drift into space and play the final ball.
That said, the fluidity of the front three means that Özil could be the one on the end of through balls, especially when Alexis drops back to create. The former Real Madrid man demonstrated his ability to score goals earlier this season, and regaining that goalscoring touch will be key to Arsenal putting together a run in the final stretch of the season.
Alternate: Lucas Perez
Although undeniably a risky move, a switch to a 3-4-3 formation would give Arsenal an element of unpredictability that they’ve desperately lacked since the turn of the year. The fluid front three takes advantage of Arsenal’s attacking talent as it allows them to freely interchange positions on the pitch. The extra support at the back—when the Gunners don’t have the ball, the back three essentially turns into a back five—would help to shore up a defense that’s shipped 11 goals in its last five league outings.
The chance that Arsene Wenger makes a radical formation change is slim, but it may be just the type of fresh thinking needed for Arsenal to break out of their rut.
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