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PA Playing Styles: Arsenal

Boring, boring Arsenal. This is what the Gunner used to be called in the pre-Wenger days. But then nearly 18 years ago the Frenchman started his employment with the north London club and transformed them into a dominant force the league had never seen before. Arsene Wenger built a team there that could be as physical as any in England but could also play their opponents off the park with their quality, writes Gavin Nolan.

Through his first ten years with the club, Wenger excelled in producing and cultivating two types of player. One type were always the fantastic club men he inherited or others that he brought in like Vieira, Adams, Keown and Gilberto Silva who would bleed and die for the club making sure the team were never dominated. The second were ones of undeniably class and brilliance who would provide the attacking threat for the Gunners, the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, and Anelka.

The philosophy of the club has changed somewhat in the last eight years with a more of an emphasis on developing young players and not to spend crazily in the transfer window. The club has seen a dip in those years with the last trophy being the FA cup in 2005 and a number of high profile departures to Premier League rivals being the only things of note to report on in this time. This season has been much more positive with the club leading the league for the majority of the season. Could this be the season Arsenal finally return to the top of English football?

The formation

Arsenal always play a 4-2-3-1 system today. They have a standard back four, two holding midfielders, two wide men, a striker up top and a man in the hole. Normally teams will have slight variations in these positions but it is not uncommon for all three of these players to be over one side of the pitch when Arsenal are attacking. This leaves them very vulnerable defensively though as they have an all or nothing approach in attack with both full backs usually high up the pitch as well.

In attack

Arsenal tend to keep the ball a lot. There plan is to enjoy long periods of possession in the middle third of the pitch to try and move their opponents around and out of position and then capitalize on their laxness defensively. The wingers always come inside unless Walcott is playing out wide. Every other player who plays on the wing for the Gunners seems to want to play in the centre more and as such they all come inside. This means that the full backs are vitally important in this Arsenal side as they are the only source of width for the north London side.
When Arsenal have the ball they tend to build slowly from the back with the centre backs exchanging passes with the two holding midfielders waiting for one of the more attacking midfielders to become free. Once the ball is at the feet of one of those midfielders, they try to either play one-twos around the edge of the box with the striker or keep the ball and wait for one of the full backs to make a run out wide to play the ball over the opposition’s defenders. When the full backs get the ball out wide they very rarely cross the ball unless it is an early one. If the defenders are standing in the box waiting for it, Arsenal will try to keep the ball and start the move again.
Of the two holding midfielders, one is usually much more attacking while the other is free to get forward and join in with the attacks. If Arteta was playing in the holding role with Ramsey, Wilshere or Flamini; Arteta will be the one to stay back while the other one gets forward.

In defence

Arsenal play with a standard back four; two centre halves and two full backs. Over the last five years or so Arsenal have used the defensive tactic of playing a high line and trying to catch opponents offside instead of actually dropping back deeper into their own half when the opposition have the ball. To be fair, Arsenal were quite good at doing this and catching players offside but they gave away a lot of goals as everyone has to be working in tandem for it to be done correctly.

Towards the end of last season and all of this season there has been a definite change in the way that Arsenal go about their defensive duties. When they lose the ball they take up a good shape and sit very deep, inviting the opposition on to them. The two men they have sitting in front of the back four do a great job of denying any players in between the lines and the wide men sit very deep to make sure the full back isn’t left with two men to deal with.

Best formation and team

Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Ramsey, Arteta; Walcott, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Giroud.

This is the team I would put out if Arsenal had a full squad. The back four picks itself really with them all playing well this season, particularly the central defenders. Arteta keeps the ball moving well so he gets the nod ahead of Flamini while Aaron Ramsey was scoring goals for fun earlier on this season. Walcott and the Ox provide some pace in wide areas, something that the Gunners have been lacking all season while Cazorla is a little magician and he has played his best football for Arsenal behind the striker. Giroud is the big target man that Arsenal need up front to hold up the ball and he is a good goal poacher. There are some big names missing from that team though. I couldn’t put Wilshere in ahead of Ramsey and he doesn’t provide the defensive stability that Arteta brings. The biggest shock is probably the demotion of Mesut Ozil but he hasn’t performed to anywhere near his best for nearly two months now so he loses his place in the team.

So what do you think of my assessment of Arsenal? Do you agree? Leave any opinions you have in the comments section below. Next week I will take a look away from the Premier League and be analysing the playing style of the Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Pundit Arena, Gavin Nolan.

About Gavin Nolan

A second-year journalism student in Dublin City University, Gavin Nolan hails from Santry in Dublin. A passionate writer, Gavin's articles are never boring and always stimulate debate.