Arsenal’s best performance this season came against Chelsea. A 2-0 victory in a game that The Gunners dominated.
The formation we played in that match was 4312. It is a formation we have played numerous times since; and one which Unai Emery has come in for some stick for.
Fans wrongly claim that we are playing 3 defensive midfielders. Lucas Torreira Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi. They are not all defensive midfielders.
Gunners Town recently spoke to a Lorient fan about Arsenal target Alexis Claude Maurice. During the discussion they talked about Guendouzi, who signed from Lorient last summer.
They expressed surprise at Arsenal fans labelling Guendouzi as a defensive or holding midfielder, as he has only ever been box-to-box growing up and was utilised in an attacking free role last season in French Ligue 2.
And that is the truth, Guendouzi does not play as a defensive midfielder. He is more box to box. A proper central midfielder. Like what Patrick Vieira was.
It seems in many fans mind, you are either an attacking midfielder (Mesut Ozil) or a defensive midfielder (Claude Makelele). There is nothing in between. But there is, and that is where Guendouzi sits.
Xhaka has also never really been an out and out defensive midfielder. In fact he struggled at Arsenal when he was the primary defensive midfielder.
For Borussia Mönchengladbach and Switzerland, he always played with someone behind him doing the bulk of the defensive work.
A hulk of a man, Xhaka did contribute to his sides defensively, but his man job was transitioning the ball from defence to attack with his excellent passing. He is not as box to box as Guendouzi, more a deep lying play maker. He certainly is not a defensive midfielder.
Lucas Torreira is the closest we have to a defensive midfielder, but even he is not a Makelele or Gilberto Silva.
The Uruguayan gets forward a lot more than someone who is simply a shied in front of a defence. And he is a much better passer and creator then people like Makelele, Gilberto or Fernandinho.
Whilst for Arsenal he is the deepest of the midfield 3, he is more than capable playing further forward. He is a talented guy.
The reality is, Emery is building a high energy midfield trio who can provide solid cover for the defence, but also push forward and press high.
Playing all 3 ensures that they can push forward backing up the front 3 when they press, knowing that one will still sit so that they are not all cut out with one ball through the midfield.
They also allow Hector Bellerin and Saed Kolasinac to bomb forward and provide extra cover for them.
I like the 12 upfront as well.
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette both love dropping out wide. This then creates space in the middle for an attacking midfielder to bomb into. Aaron Ramsey would have been ideal for this role with his goal scoring record.
Back to the midfield, I can see us continuing to play 3 in the middle next season. It is why Emery is looking at the likes of Adrien Rabiot and Christopher Nkunku. If we play 3, we need 6.
If we secure both Frenchmen, it will enable us to cash in on Mohamed Elneny and, alongside Ainsley Maitland-Niles, we will have the midfielders we need to play the way Emery wants.
As for those who are still moaning about it being too defensive, let me ask you a question:
Is Liverpool’s midfield too defensive?
Liverpool also play a midfield 3. A trio combination of Jordan Henderson, Naby Keita, Georginio Wijnaldum and Fabinho.
Let’s compare their Premier League statistics to the lads at Arsenal:
Xhaka – 1885 minutes played – 3 Goals; 1 Aassist
Guendouzi – 1466 – 0G 0A
Torreira – 1790 – 2G 2A
Fabinho – 1096 – 1G 2A
Wijnaldum – 1774 – 1G 0A
Henderson – 1234 – 0G 0A
Keita – 970 – 0G 1A
5140 minutes played
5 goals; 3 assists
5074 minutes played
2 goals; 3 assists
Yet no one is saying Liverpool’s midfield is “too defensive.”
The truth is, playing Xhaka, Torreira and Guendouzi is not too defensive. It is probably the only part of the Arsenal side that is solid and actually working at the moment.