What is that one deciding factor with which a manager settles down with his attacking formation? Is it the team’s mentality? Is it how the opponents play their game? Is it purely based on the manager’s discretion as he wakes up one day and decides to go all Catenacciotic and line up his team in a 4-5-1? Whatever it is, an improper formation is almost a deal-breaker, it can cost you a game, well, it can cost you a trophy.
Over the years, at Arsenal, under Arsene’s reign, the formation has been heavily reliant on the key attacking personnel of the team. It has been dictated by that ‘main man’, who has been at the helm of every attacking move at Arsenal. We’ll take a look at those players who have made Arsene improvise on his ‘base formation’ so that the team’s game revolved around the anchor-man.
Dennis was an incredibly intelligent footballer, he might not have been an irresistible goal-scorer but his vision and foresight was so revolutionary, the entire team needed to play their game around his movement and game-play. Arsene had, often, over the years, designed his formation of his team around the Dutchman. Back in the days, when Dennis formed a strike-force partnership with Ian Wright, he was played at the ‘False 10’ position wherein he would brilliantly link up the midfield with Wrighty and even get into goal-scoring positions himself. Later on, he would play a similar role, when he would partner Thierry Henry at the top of the park.Arsenal
Dennis was a player capable of giving that eye-of-the-needle pass that would unhook a stale game in the blink of an eye. His understanding of football was second to none, he often dropped deep to start stellar counter-attacking moves with his lethal passing sense. There are very few modern day strikers with an ‘assisting’ competence of Dennis. Arsene improvised the classical 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 whenever the Dutchman took the Highbury green. The manager had so much belief in Bergkamp’s ability and aptitude, he was quite content to play his team in the way it suited the Dutchman’s game. Simply put, Arsene and Dennis were a dream-team as far as formations and football strategies went.
A lynchpin at the middle of the park, a brute-force pillar of the team, a source of unparalleled inspiration in the team, Patrick was a leader, the best that ever was, the best that ever will be! Since his playing style was quite box-to-box, Arsene had to play another defensive-minded midfielder next to him, or at least a ‘machine’ who was capable of contributing on both aspects of the game. Whether it was Petit or Gilberto Silva, Patrick always had a player next to him who was ready to ‘cover up’ whenever the captain rushed forward.
Defensively astute – solid in tackles and faultless shoulder shoves aside, Patrick often fell back and covered his defenders whenever needed. The Frenchman was always capable of scoring that all-important goal whenever his team needed one. Arsene shuffled his traditional 4-4-2 to a 4-2-2-1-1, wherein, Patrick was allowed to play box-to-box while Gilberto would sit deep and screen the defense. Vieira was capable of playing the perfect defensive midfielder too, which made life easy for the Arsenal wingers in Parlour, Wiltord, Pires and Bergkamp, they could venture forward at will knowing quite well that, thanks to Patrick, the defensive shape of the midfield would be retained.
If a player is capable of scoring as well as assisting (he did so in the ‘Invincible’ season) more than 20 goals every season, he is special. Thierry was far from enigmatic, his moves were quite predictable, his skills were quite human, but he was so ruthlessly proficient in what he did, he was unstoppable. His link-up play at the left of the park with Ashley Cole and Robert Pires is part of Arsenal folk-lore now; it was like Pink Floyd’s music – the perfect harmony of style, improvisation and impact.
.Thierry was capable of playing as a top man with a False 10 or even as the False 10 himself whenever Arsenal needed him to play that. He even played as a solo striker in a 4-5-1 formation, and was quite decent at that, at least the Real Madrid team at Bernabeu can vouch for that! Arsene and his team knew how ‘big’ a player Thierry was during the mid 2000’s; he was capable of game-changing moments at any time. Arsene had deployed Wiltord, Bergkamp, Reyes and even van Persie as striking partners of Henry, keeping them as the support-men even though they were capable of playing ahead of Henry too.
The midfield anchor-man from Spain served the club splendidly well, stitching together attacking moves and finishing them with aplomb. Cesc was a delight to watch, he was capable of finding anybody on the field, possibly even blind-folded and injected with some hallucinating drug. Cesc was always in control of his game, of ‘Arsenal’s game’; he dictated the flow of the game at Arsenal. His faultless spotting of a striker just embarking on a sprint towards goal before breaking off an offside trap was what made him the complete attacking midfielder that he was at Arsenal.
With Cesc in the prime of his capabilities, Arsene changed the formation to one more suitable for Cesc – a 4-3-3 wherein his partners can sit deep and let him attack in the Totti mould. But, with time, Cesc was more involved in play which started in his own half, nevertheless, the Arsenal team revolved around Cesc’s game, he was the fulcrum of the team, and he was the engine on which the Arsenal ship ran.
Arsenal’s latest acquisition is a dream-come-true midfield ace capture. Cazorla is an ambidextrous footballer, who is capable of long passes, short passes, lobs, dinks and shoot-from-distance – all of these with either foot. Cazorla will almost make Arsene shadow the formation and strategy that was deployed when Cesc played Arsenal.
.The Spanish ace from Malaga will make Arsene stick to a 4-2-1-3 formation wherein he will be employed just behind the front-man and paces ahead of the two defensive minded midfielders. Cazorla prefers roaming around the park than staying central; he’ll be seen linking with both Gervinho and Theo from a deep midfield position as he starts attacking moves. He was quite impressive in the 45 mins he played at Germany recently, his link-up play, vision and work-ethic already fascinating Gooners world over.
With important personnel dictating Arsene’s formation and effective team strategy, it is quite clear that Arsene has formed his teams over the years, around one individual, who becomes a part of Arsenal Legendary folklore. Can Santi Cazorla be that man who will take Arsenal to a different level? Well, only time will tell!