Changes – The Start?

17/04/2017. Enduring three successive away defeats in the PL, for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s era, we’re heading to the Riverside, the personnel lists were out and Voila! There was something distinctly fresh! In what was an absolutely must win game for us, for the very first time since 1997, we started with a back three and the formation read out as 3-4-2-1. Down the years, getting astounded seeing the names in the team sheets, is something we’re accustomed to. But changing an entire system is kind of unimaginable. Recently, especially since the turn of the year, the word ‘change’ is reverberating in our club. And with the ever worsening situation, some sort of change was the need of the hour.

After this tactical tweak, we’ve played six and have won five of them. It, of course, isn’t anything revolutionary – using the ‘in-trend’ back 3. Plenty of other managers are giving it a go. But the fact that our manager, too, showed tactical flexibility says a lot about the shaky situation we’re in.

The Change – “What [the change in formation] did was it got the players to focus on something that is concrete, to forget anxiety and a little bit of uncertainty. Sometimes when a team doesn’t do well, just focusing on something different helps to focus on something that might be better. We realised that we have to fight like mad to come back and win our games.” This is our manager’s take in the changes that took place. For far too long, we’ve been fragile defensively. Apart from Koscielny, the other CBs at our club don’t, yet, look assured enough. The lapses, without Koscielny in the team, are too dreadful to forget about. But in the new setup, the wing backs, while defending, make it a five-man defence. This extra man, in the defence has worked in favour and as of now we’ve kept 3 clean sheets and have conceded, on an average, less than a goal per game since the switch. We’ve defended narrowly and crowded our penalty area in order to deal with the crosses. There were 31 clearances, to take up the stats, in the match against City alone. The wing backs in this formation, haven’t looked out of place, too. A run of games, though, will provide a far better test of their tirelessness, which is so essential in this formation. We started with a complete different set of wing backs in our game against Leicester and the likes of Bellerin, Ox have already looked to be in congenial surroundings. Bearing in mind the dismal run we’re in with the confidence levels as low as they’ve been in recent years, the changes, taken in the eleventh hour, have been effective. Again, it’s far too early to reach to the conclusions, yet, the signs are promising.

Future – Just like any of our seasons, of the past decade, we’re in May and are competing for the UCL spot. That isn’t, of course, anything strange. But the season has certainly offered us so many out of line events. And an even more interesting and important period is awaiting us, once this season concludes. Probably no one, barring our manager, knows who’s going to be at the helm in the upcoming seasons. If we’re going to pursue with this formation, regardless of the manager, then that calls for a few tweaks in our squad. The 3 men defense is kind of sorted with the personnel at our disposal, but the left wing back position needs attention. In the recent weeks though Gibbs has played there, to add the defensive solidity, but had lacked the attacking element. This formation, as we all know, adds an extra man in defence. The likes of Walcott, Iwobi, Perez will be getting even lesser opportunities with this system, if our manager persists to it.

Though this isn’t exactly the time to experiment, but, no one related to our club, will like to go through the sunless events of this season. “Evening is the time of real experimentation. You never want to look the same way!” There are loads of questions wandering around our club – regarding the manager, the formation, the players – to get addressed. And this summer can be our ‘evening’.




Mehul Patel

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