It has been claimed many a time that a team is ‘just like watching Brazil.’ This is usually due to that side playing free flowing attacking football with plenty a tricks, flicks and style. Arsenal are currently playing like Brazil. However it is nothing to do with our attacking football. Our or flicks, tricks and step overs. It is in the way we line up. The way we play overall.
This year, Arsene Wenger has moved away from the tika-taka football which saw Arsenal become the second best passing side in Europe – albeit with no success – after Barcelona. With the new signing of Mesut Ozil to go alongside Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott, Arsenal are now lining up 4-2-3-1. The traditional Brazilian formation. And we are playing like a Brazilian side, from front to back.
Starting at the top, the Brazilian 4-2-3-1 relies on a target man. A forward who does not wonder too much. A pivot for the 3 men around him to play around. Previously Brazil had Fabiano. Now they play with either Jo or Fred. Neither will frighten a defence. Both are assumed a ‘weak link.’ They lack flair, and are often not the main goal outlet. But, like Giroud, that is not their job. There job is to allow others to link up with them. To run across the defensive line. And to hold up play. To work hard for the team creating space for others to run into. There unselfishness allows others to play.
Aaron Ramsey’s second goal was a typical example of how important a role the striker plays in the 4-2-3-1 as a creator, rather than a goal scorer. Ramsey played the ball into Ozil, who then played it 1st time into Giroud. Giroud who had dropped deep played the ball into the space he’d left in behind, back to Ramsey who was now occupying said space as the defence moved out following Giroud, leaving the Welshman with a simple finish. It was a goal you see a lot in Brazil. The striker dropping deep assisting his midfield runner.
Oliver Giroud with his height, strength, touch and ability is an ideal man to play the pivot. Only Ibrahimovic springs to mind as a player in world football who can play up top in the 4-2-3-1 better then Giroud.
Moving backwards from the striker is the most important aspect of any Brazilian side. The line of 3.
Every Brazil side shares similar characteristics of players in the line of 3. Each having an important job. Each being important to the other. There is one which is. However most important. The trequartista.
The trequartista, or in boring British terminology, the Number 10, is the most important man in the Brazilian 4-2-3-1. He is the artist of the team. The man who makes it tick. He is the creator. The God. Everything go’s through him. He must be adept with the ball in tight situations. Be able to turn on a 6 pence and know what he is doing with the ball before it arrives. He must have impeccable feet, be two footed, and have vision second to none.
The best trequartista in world football is a chap called Mesut Ozil. He was born for 4-2-3-1 and has every attribute required for it.
Either side of the trequartista in the line of 3 you require two men with individually different talents.
Firstly, on one side you need a what I am going to call a wide trequartista. Essentially a trequartista with the ability to play on the wing, on his ‘wrong side.’ Robert Pires was a perfect example of a wide trequartista. Dropping inside to create and score, once again making use of the space that the trequartista creates with his own movement.
Last year we saw us slowly moving to the Brazilian inspired line of 3. When Rosicky was fit, he tended to play in the trequartista position, with Cazorla playing – and exceling – wide of him. It was a blue print of things to come, as Cazorla got more goals and assists per game playing out wide then he did inside.
In Santi Cazorla, we have a suitable candidate for the wide trequartista. Originally a winger, who started to play central midfield for Malaga, he will benefit this season from playing a bit wider. Whereas last season he sometimes got out muscled in the middle, starting wider gives him more space and time on the ball to work his magic. Able to drift inside into the space left by Ozil, these two will play together for fun. Creating space for each other.
And when they do, it will leave plenty of space on the other side for a speed merchant to wreck havoc.
In the line of 3, a speed merchant is of uber importance. If you played 3 technically gifted players, teams could then sit deep and crowd them out. Narrowing the pitch and making it impossible to play through. Sitting and letting them play infront of you. The speed merchant stops this. He is able to smash through the defensive line, diving into the space left by the other two. As defenders get drawn towards the men on the board, the speed merchant will always be open.
And ideal for this role is Theo Walcott. Twice against Sunderland we saw this work. Their defence drifted right towards Ozil, leaving Walcott in acres. Yes, his finishing was not top level, but things will come good. The speed merchant feeds off short passes from the trequartista, a flick round the corner from the pivot, and defence splitting early balls from the two midfielder’s protecting the back line.
In Theo Walcott, alongside Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, we have a brilliantly balanced line of 3. Perhaps one of the best in the world?
Behind the line of 3, you need 2 central midfielders with very similar characteristics. They must be able to defend. They most be able to cover a lot of ground. They must be able to distribute quickly. They must be adept in both attack and defence. And finally they must be intelligent.
Going forward, this two man central midfield will be Aaron Ramsey and Jack Whilshere. With Arteta providing back up/cover/competition for the two. All 3 are proper central midfielder’s. They have the speed of thought to launch the attacks, as well as being decent enough in defence. Ramsey and Wilshere might be a little raw, especially when it comes to defence, but it is worth persevering.
Aaron Ramsey has already shown he is made for this position. He has made more interception’s and tackles then any player in the Premier League. He is also now scored 5 goals in 6 games. Showing he is able to be defensive and attacking at the same time. He makes full use of the space and gaps 4-2-3-1 gives you. Wilshere is suffering a bit. But remember he is coming back from 2 seasons of injuries. His time will come.
Behind them, you have the defence (obviously). The make up of the centre backs is pretty standard. An Alpha and a Beta. The Alpha is usually slower, stronger, bigger, more organised and the leader. The Alpha go’s up for the headers. Sets the line for others to follow. He is your Vidic or your Blanc. The Beta is the athlete. The cover. The one that sweeps round the back. The one who comes out with the ball. He is the submissive partner of the two. The one who often looks better on the eye, but is the lesser man when it comes to pure defending. His strength is in athleticism. In speed. In being able to play. He is your Ferdinand or your Desailly.
For a long time it has been recognised that you need an Alpha and a Beta as part of your defence. Very rarely do you get a Sol Campbell come along, who can be the alpha and beta both at once. The majority of top defenders are one of the other, so for balance it is good to have one each.
Remember playing with Gallas and Toure? Two Betas. Imagine how having Per Mertesacker and John Terry at the back. Two brilliant Alphas but would get exposed for pace and balls in behind.
As with all Brazilian sides, the full backs are important. On the side of the wide trequartista, you need an attacking wing back. The wide man will drop inside creating space, but also creates a lack of width. The full back – in Arsenal’s case Gibbs – needs to be able to get forward, providing that width.
On the other side, you need a defensive full back. He will be exposed more by the speed merchant ahead of him. And with his opposite fullback bombing forward, he will often have to play centre back as the team adopts a 3 man defence with the centre back shifting over to provide cover for his marauding full back, forcing the other centre back and full back to shift over a little.
Bacary Sagna is ideal for this. Never been great at going forward, but capable in defence and comfortable at centre back, he is ideal for this formation. Again, to think Brazil, they used to have Roberto Carlos bomb forward with Cafu sitting. Likewise now they have Dani Alves bombing forward, with their left full back often sitting and dropping into centre back.
With the current World Club Champions being Brazilian and the next World Cup being held there, adopting a Brazilian 4-2-3-1, rather than the current Spanish version, could be the future of football.
And we are nicely set up to lead the way.