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4 Reasons Why Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1 Works So Well.

On the 17th of April 2017, Arsène Wenger made the biggest tactical decision of his career…..switch to three at the back. Ever since that day, the Gunners have looked like a new team. They’ve been everything they weren’t since December, but many fans feel like it’s too little it’s too late. Antonio Conte has made the 3-4-3 system fashionable again, leading his team to an epic title victory.

Now Wenger’s team have followed suit and it seems to be working a treat. The system seemingly brings out the best in every single player on the pitch, allowing them to attack teams in new ways. The Gunner have only lost once in seven games with the new formation.

Here are 4 reasons why the 3-4-2-1 formation works so well for Arsenal.

#4 Brings out the best in Granit Xhaka


Granit Xhaka has maintained 89% pass accuracy this season.

Ever since the monumental switch at Middlesbrough, Arsenal have finally discovered how good their £35 million asset is. As the sole dictator of the 3-4-2-1 formation, Granit Xhaka is now blessed to have a plethora of passing options available to him at all times. The wing-backs are always ever present down the flanks, Olivier Giroud is always central occupying the opposition’s centre-backs and the trio of Ramsey, Alexis & Özil are freely scattered around the final third.

Now the Swiss international can add variety to his passing as well as dictate the flow of play. He regularly picks out his teammates in dangerous positions in between the lines. In defence, his positioning is not as important as there are already three players defending behind him. However, his deep role still gives the team more solidity, as it prevents them from ever getting overloaded.

#3 Sustained width

width with new arsenal formation

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has produced 7 assists this season, his highest total ever.

Many point to the fact that a 3 at the back system not only impacts the defence, but it also has a knock-on effect on the middle third too. With the implementation of wing-backs on the either side of the midfield, Arsenal now have a constant presence down the flanks in the attack. The rigid positioning of the wing-backs means there is now always a player open for a pass in the attack.

The sustained width also allows Arsenal to stretch out opposition low-block defences. Wing-backs draw out opposing full-backs, allowing others to make runs into the space vacated. This has allowed Arsenal to overload opposition defences with ease as they occupy every single one of the other team’s defence. This constant width gives defenders the dilemma of whether to go out to a player or hold their position in the low-block. Sustained width stretches the pitch and allows Arsenal to shift teams from side to side with one pass.

#2 Alexis Sánchez & Mesut Özil can roam

formation with alexis and ozil roam

Arsenal have scored 15 goals in their past 7 games.

When you have world-class players on your team, it’s imperative you give them space and time to influence games. In the 4-2-3-1, both Alexis and Özil were stifled. They were both usually marked out of games and surrounded with the wrong system for them to affect play in tight spaces. The 3-4-2-1 formation allows Özil and Sánchez to be the two behind the striker, giving them ample space in the final third.

With no defensive responsibilities, Alexis and Özil are now allowed to free roam in attack, taking up positions they feel most beneficial to build-up play. As the wing-backs sustain the width of the attack, Özil and Alexis are allowed to dominate centrally alongside the help of Aaron Ramsey from deep. Now Arsenal can attack from all angles of the pitch whilst simultaneously overloading opposition defences.

#1 Defensive solidity


One of the main advantages of playing with three at the back is the defensive solidity it gives the team. Three centre-backs instead of two means there’s more cover afforded to any defender who wants to step out of line. The formation allows the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding to step up into the middle third to help build up possession, knowing one of their defensive partners is still behind them.

In times of real defensive pressure, the formation allows for a simple but effective change of shape. It facilitates the seamless dropping back of the two wing-backs on either side. This means Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain/Hector Bellerin & Nacho Monreal/Kieran Gibbs can drop back 10 yards and turn the back three into a back five.

This means every half space of the back line is covered, leaving no angles for the opposition to exploit. In a low-block, further gaps could be filled by the midfield pivot in front of the newly formed back 5.

Overall, the system covers all angles of the pitch and allows Arsenal to switch between mass attack and mass defence with a few positional changes. And the proof is clearly in the numbers... Since switching to three at the back, Arsenal have only conceded 5 goals in 7 games.

About the Author Mathaeus Abuwa

Arsenal fan with a soft spot for Pascal Cygan.

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