The victory of Arsenal in FA Cup rekindled discussions about a game plan with two strikers, as Giroud and Sanogo played together during an hour on Saturday. On this point, I would like to discuss about a formation with two strikers, called the diamond 4-4-2. I don't know if some of you are familiar with this formation, or if you have ever played like that, but this is a very interesting strategy, which would fit to the Arsenal way of playing and to the actual squad.
Inspired by the style of play of Latin teams, the diamond 4-4-2 relies on a diamond shaped midfield, with a defensive midfielder at its base, two side midfielders (not wingers!) and one play-maker at the top of the diamond. It has been broadly used this season in France by three top teams, Monaco, Lille and Lyon. It gave pretty good results, even with squads in lack of quality or composed mainly of young players.
The use of such a game plan is mainly justified by a desire to play a possession based football with a strong midfield and sometimes because of a lack of real wingers. A diamond 4-4-2 is composed with four central midfielders, adaptable according to the situation. It can be a 4-3-1-2 with 3 midfielders defensive minded and an offensive one. Or, a more classical 4-1-2-1-2 with a defensive midfielder, two central ones, and a playmaker. The latter is the more commonly used, giving a solid midfield while being turned to the attack. As you can see on the drawing I made underneath, you will find yourself with a diamond shaped midfield, giving the name to the system.
The first thing you can object regarding this system of play is the lack of activity on the sides. That is why this strategy is effective only if you play with offensive full backs. Otherwise, the possibilities to pass the ball for the number 10 are very limited. This is why you must have resistant players on the sides of your defense, capable to make crosses and to offer solutions to your attack leader. As a result, side backs don’t really play as defenders, more like wing players who cover all the field in its length, with an important offensive output.
A natural question follows the previous statement : what about the defense ? What happens when the other team counter-attacks ? Who is covering the sides ? Well, this is obviously the weak point of this strategy, it demands a lot of effort from the players to stop the counter-attacks as soon as possible. In concrete terms, when the full backs are high on the field, it is really important that the defensive midfielder stays close to his central defenders, in order to stay at least with 3 players in counter attacks situations.
Offensively, the number 10 has a huge role. That is why this game plan is frequently used in South America, because of their culture of play based on a strong playmaker, located high on the pitch. In this 4-4-2, the attack is led by technical midfielders with good passing accuracy, able to find solutions on the sides with their side backs or in front with their pair of strikers. Regarding these two players, their play is not static, it is not a line of two players playing next to each other. Generally, it is composed of a tall and strong player (in a target striker role) and a quicker striker capable of finding free spaces behind the defense. But you can also play with two strikers isolated on the wings, giving a more offensive and scoring role to your number 10.
A lot of teams have played with a diamond-shaped midfield through the years. The main differences between the various diamond formations precisely come from the player at the top of the diamond. Most commonly, he is a pure playmaker, renown for his passing abilities, like Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Junior), Clément Grenier (Lyon) or James Rodriguez (Monaco). However, the top of the diamond can be occupied by a false nine, like used to do Johan Cruyff or Cesc Fabregas with Spain, where the attacking players are not strikers but wingers. In this case, the diamond is at the heart of a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-4-2. This proves that a diamond midfield can be used in various situations, and that it can be very flexible, depending on the players you have and how you want to play.
In the case of Arsenal, we can arguably point out the advantage of playing with two different types of strikers together, plus, the squad of the Gunners is mainly composed with technical and central midfielders. And obviously, we can consider Mesut Özil as our famous number 10 at the heart at the system, with Aaron Ramsey as an other legitimate candidate in this role. Then, we turn our lack of wingers in an advantage to set up a strong midfield (with Arteta, Ramsey, Cazorla and Özil), a versatile attacking line (for example a duo Giroud - Walcott or Sanogo - Podolski) and a pair of side backs even more offensive. I think this game plan would correspond to the Arsenal way of playing, while getting full use of our actual squad. According to me, the only thing that could put this system in danger is perhaps the absence of a strong defensive midfielder because I can’t imagine Arteta or Flamini as viable solutions in this role. But if the actual rumours around Morgan Schneiderlin or Lars Bender would turn out to be true, we would have the good profile to fill this spot. Once this problem taken care of, this 4-4-2 with a diamond shaped midfield could be a very good solution to improve the game of Arsenal, in my opinion.