Arsenal are often noted as having a similar playing style to Barcelona- while yes there are similarities, Arsenal may in fact have a greater benefit from adopting Bayern Munich’s formation for the 2012/13 season, that is upon the potential purchase of Rennes midfielder and France International Yann M’Vila.
The left portrays Bayern Munich’s current formation. A relatively modernised method similar to Arsenal’s in using two wingers and a lone striker, but where the contrast lies is the employing of two defensive midfielders. This creates a greater shield of protection for the defence while also can be used as distributing passing channels- they are the ones who start the build-up play, they are the ones you can channel passes back to in order to switch the play & they are also the first line of defence.
This is a very bold formation, by having two deeper sitting midfielders there is a greater attacking responsibility demanded of the attacking central midfielder and the two wingers in support of the lone striker. They really require high quality players in these positions and Bayern Munich has them with occupying Robben & Ribery the wings, emerging stars Kroos or Muller in the attacking midfield role in support of the world’s best number 9 Mario Gomez (although personally I feel Robin Van Persie is better). But how does this formation transfer to Arsenal? & do we have the player quality to implement it successfully? It’s arguable but I believe we do with Van Persie leading the front line, Lukas Podolski (soon to be signed) occupying the left wing (Gervinho available as a substitute), the vastly improving Walcott on the right wing (click
here for Walcott season 2011/12 statistics) and the attacking midfield role occupied by either Wilshere or Rosicky depending on availability and player form. Admittedly not the same standard as Bayern Munich’s attacking formation, but still enough potential there to be considered world class.
Where the real benefit of this formation lies is in the often questionable defensive side of Arsenal’s game. Arsenal have conceded the most goals in the Premier League of the top 4 standing sides having conceded 41 goals so far this campaign, this is very high for a team 3rd on the ladder at this point of the season with even 7th placed Everton and 8th placed Liverpool having conceded less. As a benchmark league leaders Manchester United have conceded 28 goals this campaign and cross town rivals City have let in just 27.
Talking Arsenal recently reported on the creative ability of Alex Song (view article here) who is the Premier League’s most creative defensive midfielder. While his creative ability is undoubtedly a positive, the reliance on Song to create chances (notably since the departure of Fabregas & Nasri) can at times force him further up field and out of position leaving Arsenal vulnerable to a quick counter-attack. The Central Midfielder, mainly Arteta will often switch positions with Song while he ventures up field, but for all his positives Arteta is by no means a defensive midfielder and cannot continually be expected to provide cover for the defence. This is where the need for a second defensive midfielder arises, predominately a defensive minded player who will provide stable assurance as a line of defence and give Song the confidence and greater freedom to venture forward and provide that killer through ball. Rennes midfielder and France regular Yann M’Vila is just that. Widely touted as the best young defensive midfielder in world football and at just 21 M’Vila is already been touted by many to have the potential to surpass both Makalele and Arsenal legend Patrick Viera. Unlike Song, M’Vila is best known for his defensive qualities, his tackling ability is his greatest asset. This would undoubtedly give greater leverage for Song to track forward more regularly and would also provide greater cover for Arsenal’s defence.
While M’Vila is best known for his tackling, another trait is his ability to counter attack. M’Vila’s style is to always move the ball forward or across with speed. He is a player who can not only feature as the first line of defence, but as a player which starts the build-up play, at pace in order to move the ball forward. The speed in which he turns defence into attack could really benefit Arsenal with Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and emerging sensation Ryo Miyiachi all possessing extremely good pace and the ability to out-run defenders in a fast counter-attacking scenario.
It’s often hard to find decent video highlights of defensive players on the web, though the following link shows his counterattacking ability (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zyX0oafG1yg).
M’Vila also has a very high pass completion rate, as noticeable in the video above. This will help compensate for the lack of a CM if Arsenal were to adopt this new 4-2-3-1 formation. With Song capable of venturing to more advanced positions more frequently M’vila’s consistent passing could potentially generate stability and protect Arsenal against fast paced counterattacking football by other top sides-something which we have been prone to in recent campaigns.
Many fans have recently raised the question should Song be played as a central or even an advanced midfielder? While due to his great vision and passing ability this argument has its merits, though it only takes a look at Song’s defensive ability to realise that he would be wasting that side of his game playing in too advanced a role. Also note that most of his assists are made from relatively deep in play, typically anywhere in the forward half he is capable of providing an accurate through ball, it’s that ability that both proves his worth as a player, but also demonstrates that he doesn’t need to always venture forward and hence should be played still as primarily a defensive midfielder.
In conclusion, changing Arsenal’s formation to a 4-2-3-1 formation will undoubtedly have consequences. In all likelihood playing with two defensive midfielders will provide additional protection to Arsenal’s often leaky defence, but will consequently provide a greater attacking requirement from Arsenal’s wingers, attacking midfielder and lone striker, whether they are up to the task remains to be seen.