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Will next season see Arsenal switch to the 4-3-3?

Is Mikel Arteta set to follow the teachings of Pep Guardiola?


While it’s hard to predict or imagine when the Premier League, and with it, Arsenal, will return, eventually action will be back at the Emirates. When that time comes and Mikel Arteta, along with Edu and the rest of Arsenal leadership, look towards the future of the club, how will they see the ideal formation, and with it the upcoming transfer windows?

For a long while now Arsenal have primarily played with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Wenger and Emery both used a three centerback system at times, but it never took over as the dominate formation for the Gunners. However, the past few years has seen the decline of the traditional #10 across some of the top leagues and teams around the world. Just comparing Ozil after his arrival in North London versus how he and the position are viewed today is striking.

Arteta may have played in that formation for Wenger, but he has developed his coaching mentality with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Pep prefers and has effectively utilized the 4-3-3 to dominate the Premier League until recently. Typically you’d see a traditional back four with the more defensive midfielder sitting in front of the centerback pair, two box to box midfielders flanked on either side and a attacking front three, freed from most of the defensive work. Sterling, Aguero, Jesus or Sane threatening the opponent’s backline as the remaining seven players maintained possession and defensive pressure.

Whether it’s this coming summer, next January or summer of 2021 when his contract expires, these are the final days at Arsenal for Mesut Ozil. And there are no great replacements in the pipeline ready to re-establish the position, even if Arteta wanted to keep that formation. Joe Willock needs more time to develop into a player who can lock down a Premier League starting role. And it’s unclear exactly where he is at his best just yet.

Emile Smith Rowe is talented, but needs more senior football to establish himself. That was the plan this season with Huddersfield Town until COVID-19 wiped out the rest of his loan. Hopefully he gets a redo and a full campaign of action on loan in 2020-21. Dani Ceballos isn’t the same type of player as Ozil, nor is he a permanent Arsenal player. If Mikel pushes to sign him from Real Madrid, he could easily slot into one of the two wide midfielders.

A move to the 4-3-3 would allow Arsenal’s attacking players to do what they do best. Too often in the past few years our wingers have been forced to help back, greatly reducing their threat of attack. Imagine a front three of Martinelli-Aubameyang-Pepe able to stay further forward and keep opposition defenses worried. Saka, Nelson, Nketiah all benefit from this switch. (Note: I’m omitting Alexandre Lacazette, because I think the club really needs to try and move him in the summer.)

A potential 4-3-3 two-deep using current players:

There are a low of caveats here. Again, Lacazette has been left out. Ceballos, Mari and Soares aren’t sure to be at Arsenal next season at the moment. David Luiz, Mustafi and Chambers all crowd the CB pairing, so plug in who you prefer there.

Arsenal have invested in the defense a lot over the past few windows - Tierney, Mari, Luiz, Saliba, and Soares that there is likely only one or two additions coming there. Where Mikel really needs to focus is on that midfield three. What does he need from each role? Can any of the current players suffice, given more time under his training - even as the backup? And then can he and Edu identify and bring in new starting level players to plug into his preferred style?

Leadership should have plenty of time to discuss their options and look back at tape to scout and consider future purchases. Either way, Arsenal need to move on from the 4-2-3-1 and have a fresh start under the new manager.