Arsenal Still In Need Of Plan B

Last week, I wrote about Arsenal’s dependence on a core of four or five players. Our results suffer dramatically when a combination of Cesc, Djouorou, Song, Walcott and Van Persie are on the treatment table. The question is now; should we look at alternative playing styles when injuries deplete our first choice XI?

Over the last couple of seasons, Wenger has almost exclusively favoured the 4-2-3-1 formation designed primarily to put Fabregas at the heart of the action. Two probing midfielders sit behind, affording the Captain freedom to roam into the most dangerous parts of the pitch; a luxury not available in an orthodox two-man central midfield. This is built onto a defence which, when key players are fit, is far more solid than many would have you believe yet also adds an attacking threat in its own right.

This formation has worked to good effect when we’ve had all the components available. Chelsea and Barcelona at home are good examples. The problem arises when its key protagonists are missing. If one of Djourou, Song, Fabregas, Walcott or Van Persie is out then we have enough depth to maintain our level. There is enough flexibility in the likes of Nasri, Arshavin, Denilson, Bendtner and Chamakh to do passable jobs, despite the bad press some of them get.

The problem is at its most stark when you look at the team we put out against United in the recent FA Cup game. Shorn of Fabregas, Song and Walcott we had to play a midfield 3 of Wilshere, Denilson and Diaby. That midfield trio lacks the mobility of Song and the mercurial spark of Fabregas and it places unrealistic expectation on the replacements.

Maybe we could have moved Nasri in off the flank to cover Fabregas leaving Denilson and Jack to work in a pivot. This looks better but then we are left with Arshavin and the underwhelming Rosicky to offer an attacking threat behind RVP. In short, it’s hard to argue we had the appropriate players available to carry on in the usual shape and calls for a minor clearout in the summer grow ever more persuasive.

Still, expecting reserves to come in and emulate Fabregas et al is a tall order. Maybe the answer is to alter the set up to make best use of the players we have fit. Take Bendtner as an example. Too often he is marooned on the right hand side, part of the existing formation in a role that doesn’t get the best from him. His obvious talents would be better suited through the middle and, I suspect, as a partner to a more explosive striker; someone like Arshavin or Vela. This would most likely mean a four man midfield.

We have more than enough players to play the wide roles but the challenge would be to find a dynamic enough central combination. Song has the athleticism to cover the ground and we have no shortage of passers. But without Song we lack some presence. Diaby has flattered to deceive so there is an opportunity for Henri Lansbury or Emmanuel Frimpong to add some impetus to the group.

Far be it from me to implore Wenger to revisit his tactical outlook. There is no doubt that a more workmanlike 4-4-2 – or more likely, 4-4-1-1 - wouldn’t be as attractive as the fluid formation we use now. With that in mind, sacrificing his philosophy, even in the face of poor fortune, just isn’t Arsene’s way.

Arsene’s Plan A is to keep the ball, to pass teams to death and to be masters of our own destiny playing with trust and belief in our own virtues. The Plan B, at present, seems to be to try and be better at Plan A.

This is the difference between our boss and Kim Jong Ferguson. Can anyone seriously imagine Wenger packing his side with seven defenders during an injury crisis like Fergie did against us? Not a chance, Wenger would have looked to the reserve side and thrown in a couple of untested young talents. Whilst Ferguson fashioned a winning tactic out of adversity, Wenger lives and dies by his philosophy.

Wenger has flirted with different styles in the past, with varying degrees of success. Francis Jeffers was an ill-fated signing designed to add predatory instinct to our over elaborate passing. Later, Eduardo came in to do something similar and, but for his horrific injury, looked to be a viable option. Who remembers our smash and grab at Goodison Park in 2007? The Croatian’s clinical streak put us ahead with two direct goals in a game where our passing did not flow as would be expected.

We also had a couple of good seasons from Adebayor. When he was at his best – and not moping around believing his own hype - he offered a directness that we’ve cried out for. Chamakh looked like he could offer that at the start of the season but has since struggled to keep up with the rigours of the Premier League. One can only assume that the Moroccan’s steep learning curve has stopped Wenger from experimenting with Van Persie in behind him. Again, this draws questions about the flexibility of this squad. Do we need a clinical striker in the mould of Eduardo to play in more traditional forward line?

My intention here is not to simplify the issue and say that we should play 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 more often, I’m just  looking at ways we could be more pragmatic. There is not enough room here to cover all the eventualities of available personnel. If anyone reading this has any interesting tactical insights, feel free to comment below. Whilst wholesale changes are off the agenda, the idea that there is some room for manoeuvre might be gathering pace.