Unai Emery hasn’t been half-hearted when chopping and changing formations at Arsenal.
The Spaniard has used several different tactics, including a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2. It’s been a season of mixed results for the Gunners so far this season, so there is a debate to be had about which formation Emery should favour as his side looks to secure Champions League football.
Arsenal have kept just four clean sheets in the league since the beginning of the season, a worrying stat for a team in pursuit of a top-four finish. Arsenal’s defence has long been their Achilles heel, Emery has looked to rectify this by deploying a 3-5-2 system, however, the extra centre back has made no difference as Arsenal continue to leak goals.
When playing a 3-5-2, Arsenal’s style of football also suffers, with the north Londoners creating fewer chances per match, relying on a solid team shape and counter-attacking opportunities.
The likes of Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi are midfielders who benefit from fluidity of movement from attacking players, the 3-5-2 formation often leaves Arsenal light in attack, creating fewer options for passes for the aforementioned players.
Arsenal’s best performances of the season have arguably come against Leicester City at home and Fulham away. In both games, the Gunners were at their best in terms of flowing attacking football.
Against Leicester Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-3-1, whereas against Fulham they took to the field in a 4-4-2 shape. Both formations include overlapping fullbacks and an extra body in attack.
It is looking increasingly likely that the strongest form of defence for Emery’s side may be a strong offence.
A star-studded attack
Arsenal’s front men Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have been in scintillating form, scoring a combined total of over 30 goals in all competitions. If the Gunners are to enjoy any success from this current term, it is vital that they structure the team around their potent strike force.
Arsenal are unbeaten in any league game in which both Aubameyang and Lacazette have scored in. The French-speaking duo enjoy a fantastic partnership on the pitch, and indeed off it - their efforts in front of goal have been key to several of Arsenal’s victories.
With a 4-3-1-2 system, it allows both players to play in their natural striking positions, with the added beneficiary of a number ten behind them to provide opportunities. In Emery’s preferred formation of 4-2-3-1, it often results in one of Aubameyang or Lacazette having to occupy a role on the left flank.
In Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in January, Emery used a 4-3-1-2, with Aaron Ramsey in behind Aubameyang and Lacazette - this front three posed a threat to the opposition defence whilst maintain a strong work ethic off the ball to help the team keep a measured control over ball possession.
With Arsenal’s lack of natural wingers, playing a narrow formation with width provided by fullbacks may prove to be the most balanced approach. Especially when taking into consideration the attacking qualities of Saed Kolasinac and the recent injury stricken Hector Bellerin.
The addition of Barcelona midfielder Denis Suarez on loan may see Emery tinker with his philosophy once again, but when taking results into context, a system compensating for the lack of wide players at Arsenal could be the way to go.