4-4-2: Could a formation change do us good?
By Max Champness
For the last decade or so, it has been a popular belief that 4-4-2 is an outdated and outworn system to play in the modern game. It’s my aim to prove to you why this is a generic misconception- and why 4-4-2 could help elevate this Arsenal side.
One of the protruding issues at Arsenal this season has been the failure to get the best out of both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. On their day, they are two of the best and most clinical strikers in the world and thus it is key to the progression of Arsenal that we get them both firing on all cylinders. It has often been, in recent months, that Aubameyang (although it is clear he is best down the middle) has been sacrificed to the wing in order to accomodate for Lacazette, or the Frenchman has been dropped to the bench, with the former leading the line. How can we combat this, you may ask? Play them both up top. Together. Simple. This is what a 4-4-2 can allow us to do.
With both Aubameyang and Lacazette up top, the two would both be able to do what they do best; Lacazette can link up the play and Aubameyang can run in-beyond, or be a ‘fox in the box'. The understanding between the two can undoubtedly be excellent (not just because of their relationship off the pitch of play), so working out when one comes deep and one runs in behind would be simple, and that is yet to mention the link-up play we could see between them. Simply put- having both Lacazette and Aubameyang up top together will allow them both to do what they do best, which surely cannot be bad for the team!
To address the belief that a 4-4-2 is outdated, I implore you to consider the example of Everton. In the short period he has been at Everton- a similar time frame to that of Arteta- Ancelotti has worked wonders on an under-performing side. How? By using a 4-4-2 system. The former Champions League winner has been implementing a style where striking pair Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison have started as a front two- where the former acts as a ‘target man’ of sorts, with Richarlison using his pace to get in behind. Both players have benefited from this system; Calvert-Lewin has 6 goals in 8 games under the new manager, with Richarlison regsitering 2 goals and 2 assists. This is exactly what we could operate in the Arsenal system. Our strikers fit these roles to a tee.
Furthermore, another way that Arsenal can improve is by getting the best out of record-breaking signing Nicolas Pepe. The 24-year-old most frequently operated as the right sided player in a 4-4-2 at Lille last season- racking up 33 goal involvements with (all respects to the players of Lille) his teammates of a lower standard. If we can get him doing exactly what he was last season, I see no reason why Pepe cannot reach the pinnacle of English football. Having Martinelli on the opposite flank would greatly increase the attacking threat of the Arsenal frontline.
It is common understanding that, if you are to play a 4-4-2 formation, a strong midfield pivot is paramount to the success of the team. Since Arteta’s arrival, Granit Xhaka has been a changed man. His understanding alongside Lucas Torreira has caught the eye of fans- who have been delighted to finally have a stable midfield balance. With the potential addition of a box-to-box midfielder in the summer as well as Ceballos, Willock, Guendouzi and Maitland-Niles all itching for the chance to start week in week out, we have a plethora of different combinations we could use to our advantage.
What is perhaps most controversial about this formation is the exclusion of German playmaker Mesut Ozil. Despite statistics suggesting he’s working much harder under our new head coach, I simply don’t think Mesut Ozil is worth sacrificing the whole team for. It comes down to playing Lacazette in a 4-4-2 or Mesut in a 4-2-3-1, and for me the former displays too many benefits to reject. We know how excellent Mesut Ozil can be ‘on his day’, but his days don’t seem to be occurring frequently enough. This formation is reliant on the playmaking of Lacazette as well as the threat of pace, width and long balls from Xhaka and Luiz.
By no means am I suggesting what we have now is not working. The improvements under Arteta are clear to see. I simply believe that the 4-4-2 formation possesses too many benefits to be ignored- even if it means sacrificing our highest-paid player. I wholeheartedly believe this system is worth a go, to get the best out of our key players.
And that is why a potential formation change to a 4-4-2 could elevate our side to the next level.