Recently I read an article from a fellow Gooner which proclaimed that switching to a 5-3-2 formation comprised of one of the following starting elevens, was the immediate change Arsenal needed to improve their poor on field performances.
While I implore the author for their optimistic approach, there are some clear oversights in their proposition, particularly regarding the actual and perceived productivity levels of the players the author identified as central midfield options.
For a 5-3-2 formation, with mobile but slight of frame strikers, to effectively work, it requires the 3 central midfielders to be both productive defenders and highly effective at quickly transitioning the ball from defence to attack (whether via the dribble or a long range pass). This is critical as mobile, quick forwards need space in behind the opposition’s defence to effectively utilise their off the ball movement and a failure to quickly transition the ball from defence to attack allows opponents to set a deep defensive block, limiting the available space within which the forwards can run into.
Unfortunately Arsenal’s squad does not currently have enough central midfield options with that skills set in order to effectively execute a 5-3-2.
Firstly, while a midfield trio of Mkhitaryan, Xhaka and Ozil is undoubtedly talented on the ball:
- Neither Ozil nor Mkhitaryan are productive enough defensively to meaningfully protect Arsenal’s defence.
- If Ozil and Mkhitaryan were deployed further up the field to provide the link between Arsenal’s central midfielders and strikers, that would isolate Xhaka and allow opponents to press him (which he does not cope well with) and force dangerous turnovers in Arsenal’s defensive third.
- If Ozil and Mkhitaryan were to rotate, with one of them occupying a more advanced attacking midfield role while the other dropped deeper alongside Xhaka to ensure the Swiss is not isolated, Arsenal would have insuffienct attacking midfielders to effectively link their central midfield and strikers.
Secondly, Ramsey, Wilshere and Elneny are simply not productive enough defensively (tackles and interceptions) to play in central midfield and are not productive enough in an offensive sense (goals, assists and through passes) to play in an attacking midfield position. They might look busy (Elneny), appear to provide a goal scoring threat (Ramsey) or seem creative (Wilshere) but if you closely analyse their individual contributions, they simply don’t produce on the field.
For that reason alone, I’d be happy to see Arsenal move on from Wilshere at season’s end and sell Ramsey. I was also really disappointed the club recently re signed Elneny despite his lack of on field production. The Egyptian’s re signing demonstrated to two concerning issues:
- Despite a new chief scout and head of football operations, Arsenal still lack the objectivity and ruthlessness to make recruitment and retention decisions which will actually improve the squad and the team’s on field performances.
- As a favourite of Wenger’s, Elneny’s re signing indicates that Wenger is staying on for another season as manager which means there will be more team selections based on his personal relationship with players as opposed to players’ on field
On top of the above suitability issues with Arsenal’s central midfield options, neither Bellerin nor Maitland-Niles (though he hasn’t had many opportunities) have proven themselves sufficiently productive defensively to protect Arsenal’s right flank. In a 5-3-2 systems with two of Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Ramsey, Wilshere or Elneny in central midfield (either side of Xhaka), that would place that much more pressure on Xhaka and Arsenal’s 3 man central defence to cover up the right fullback’s defensive shortcomings.
All of the above indicates that switching to a 5-3-2 formation comprised of one or a combination of the abovementioned players, is NOT the immediate change Arsenal needed to improve their poor on field performances.
If Arsenal truely wished to adopt a 5-3-2 system of play, with mobile but slight of frame strikers, Arsenal’s central midfielders would need to be completely overhauled (possibly with the exception of Xhaka). Given that the transfer window is currently closed and Wenger is notorious for being resistant to changing personnel and tactics, I expect to see more disjointed and underwhelming performances from the Gunners between now and seasons’ end.