As Arsenal’s season winds to an underwhelming but not unexpected finish, and in preparation for the off season, it’s a good opportunity to define the key performance indicators (KPIs) for each position within a number of potentially suitable formation for the Gunners (i.e. 4-2-2-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2, 4-3-2-1 and 5-2-2-1) and, using data from http://www.whoscored.com, develop a clearer understanding of the tendencies of each player in Arsenal’s first team squad (over their professional career). The findings provide an invaluable insight as to:
Note: The player rankings, starting line ups and formations outlined in this article are based on the assumption that Arsenal’s tactical basis is to stretch the game vertically by creating generous spacing between their defensive and attacking blocks so as to allow for quick forward transitions and space in behind the opposition’s defence. Specifically the ‘defensive block’ is comprised of Arsenal’s goalkeeper, right and left full backs, centre backs and central midfielders. While Arsenal’s attacking block is comprised of Arsenal’s attacking midfielders and strikers.
Internal player rankings
In terms of how each player within Arsenal’s first team squad ranks against their internal competition, seven positional categories were considered (goalkeeper, right fullback, centre back, left fullback, centre midfield, attacking midfield and centre forward). Different weightings were also assigned to the KPI data considered for each positional group. These weightings were based on alignment with aforementioned assumption regarding Arsenal’s tactical basis.
It is also noted that the goals and assists per season data detailed in the below player rankings reflects the average number of goals or assists for the respective player in each season where the player has started at least 15 league games.
Formations and lineups
Based on the above analytical comparison, and assuming that Arsenal’s tactical basis is to stretch the game vertically by creating generous spacing between their defensive block (goalkeeper, right and left full backs, centre backs and central midfielders) and attacking block (attacking midfielders and strikers) so as to allow for quick forward transitions and space in behind the opposition’s defence, Arsenal’s most complimentary starting 11 in each of the below listed formations would appear to be as follows:
While the defensive focus of a 5-2-2-1 formation and a 4-3-2-1 formation make such systems attractive, both systems would deprive Arsenal of Lacazette’s goal scoring threat, which is deficiency Ozil and Mkhitaryan are not likely to be able to make up for in the form of additional goals.
A more traditional 4-2-3-1 also has its appealing qualities in that it would allow Arsenal’s three most productive attacking midfielders (Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Cazorla) to be on the field and within Arsenal’s attacking block at the same time. That said, this system would again deprive Arsenal of Lacazette’s goal scoring threat and all three attacking midfielders have demonstrated a tendency in the past to over complicate Arsenal’s attacking play and slow down the speed of Arsenal’s attacks when the ball enters the opposition’s defensive third. Such an approach fails to play to Aubameyang’s off the ball strengths.
Regarding a 4-3-1-2 formation, while the defensive security afforded by that system is appealing and it would allow both Lacazette and Aubameyang to be on the field and within Arsenal’s attacking block at the same time, the lack of multiple attacking midfielders may prevent Arsenal from being able to regularly create clear cut goal scoring opportunities for that striking pair.
With the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil and Mkhitaryan in Arsenal’s squad a more attacking 4-2-2-2 would appear to be the most balanced of the evident options available to Arsenal. However, for this system to work, Arsenal’s defensive block (i.e. goalkeeper, right and left fullbacks, centre backs and central midfielders) would need to consistently remain disciplined and focused on their defensively positioning and defensive responsibilities.
One thing which is for certain is that Arsenal, in regularly selecting Ramsey, Elneny and/or Wilshere in central midfield, have not got their central midfield balance correct this season. Repeated poor team selection in that area of the field, combined with a lack of defensive discipline amongst Arsenal’s defensive block and slow, overly complicated attacking play amongst Arsenal’s attacking midfielders, has rendered Arsenal ineffective both offensively and defensively. While formation and personnel changes would appear to help correct some of those deficiencies, the effectiveness of those changes are likely to be impaired without a complimentary stylistic change from the manager.