Once again Wenger went with 4-4-1-1 in the Premier League last night. He went with Hleb just behind Adebayor, as he did against Chelsea and Spurs. I know we won those two previous games but, to put it simply, we were not very good in those games. We did not create much and Adebayor was isolated on his own. We got goals to win it with our only real chances but last night we did not get away with it. We were very poor and failed to create anything of note until the final 5 minutes. If we want to win the League, that is not good enough.
We did have the ball in the net against Chelsea a few times towards the end and did look a bit more potent towards the end last night. Why was that? Wenger put on a second striker and suddenly the opposition defence had an awful lot more to think about. With the speed of the Football we play, two strikers make us so much more of an attacking force. Defenders are always marking and cannot step out to pressure the midfield runners. When Adebayor is on his own there is always at least one defender spare who can stifle any threat from him. It requires a moment of brilliance (1st goal vs Spurs) or a set piece (vs Chelsea and Spurs) to unlock defences. When we had two up front, we always looked like we could score, last night we did not.
Our biggest wins and highest scoring games came with 4-4-2: Slavia Prague (h) 7-0, Derby (h) 5-0, Blackburn (a) 3-2 (CC), Portsmouth (h) 3-1, Spurs (a) 3-1, Sunderland (h)3-2. We scored far more goals with the two forward men.
Our best results with 4-4-1-1 are: Reading (a) 3-1, Spurs (h) 2-1, Villa (a) 2-1, Chelsea (h) 1-0.
We also lost against Boro with it and drew to Newcastle, Liverpool (no shame), Man Utd (no shame) and Newcastle.
The pattern it seems is we score far more goals with 1 up front and games are far closer.
Many might say that with Van Persie out, we have noone to come in and do a better job than a fifth midfielder. However, it is not about whether he is a better player, it is about the system. Look at Eduardo for example; whenever Wenger has played him up front recently he has scored (Sevilla away, Sheffield United away and Blackburn away x2). Yet on countless occasions, Wenger has insisted on trying out Eduardo on the left but it does not work. He is a goalscorer, that is it and by no means is this a bad thing. Just look at the way he took his only real chances of note against Blackburn and Sheffield United.
Also, Nicklas Bendtner has changed countless games recently. I have heard a lot of fans claim he is better than Adebayor, for this reason, but Ade has done well all season. In my opinion it is partly to do with the system. A lone striker has to bring players into the game and if you do not get runners from midfield, you will not make opportunities. Yesterday, when we finally went with two strikers (way too late), it changed as each striker had more space and could work together as well as creating space for the midfield. Bendtner and Adebayor can play together, if Wenger is still unsure over this then give Eduardo a shot. It is now the second half of the season and he has shown what he can do down the middle, but for christ’s sake, do NOT PLAY HIM ON THE LEFT.
People might draw attention to the Villa match as one where the system worked and I see their point, we played some brilliant passing Football at times. Yet our goals came from simple crosses and a midfield runner gambling. We didnt make many amazing chances but simply passed Villa out of the first half. Flamini was playing the Cesc role but in one way went further forward than Cesc does. We have seen recently that he has dropped deep and for me he needs to get forward like Flamini did. Hleb plays a role in this.
Against Villa, Hleb played as a second striker coming deep. Recently he has played as a fifth midfielder getting forward in support. This difference is huge. As an extra midfield player, I believe he stifles Cesc when he tries to get forward. Whenever he plays much further up, closer to Adebayor, he is a major threat. The wide players looked good yesterday and when Rosicky cuts inside, there is no need for another player in the centre of the park. It is too congested. If one of the strikers come short to collect the ball then that is fine but we do not need an extra player in this area against teams who defend deep.
I call for Wenger to be bold against Everton – play Bendtner or Eduardo alongside Adebayor and re-think his midfield. He could drop Eboue who, despite a decent performance last night, has looked weak, predictable and still has no league goals to speak of. Hleb could re-take his place out on the right and from here he can dictate play without leaving his forward role in a 4-4-1-1.
Maybe the formation will work in Europe where the pace is far slower and against a Milan team whose midfield is the main threat.
As I touched on, there is not much to note about last night. The defence was solid enough and when they needed him Almunia did well. Rosicky was brilliant for me, the shining light. He got the ball and made things happen with some brilliant driving runs and skill. Eboue was decent on the flank but went missing in the second half. Fabregas was too deep to create much and really should have done better when put clean through by Ade. It is not like him to mess up his first touch but he did on this occasion. Flamini also impressed with some tough tackling and pressing. Ade got isolated and had to come deep and left the box void of Arsenal players. Hleb needs to get further forward in that role, if he can, goals will come again.
Gallas should have scored from 6 yards and Rosicky probably should have hit the target with the last shot of the game. That is it. If you only watched Match of the Day, you might think it was an exciting game but when you realise we were in the second half after only 2 minutes of highlights, it tells the whole story,
One last thing to question is: What is going on with Van Persie? Wenger claims he played him against Steaua as it was not a risk. Then he plays against Chelsea for 20 minutes and looks sharp but is suddenly ruled out for 3 games in a row (out of Everton game now!). The reason given was a thigh injury that was not being risked against Spurs. Is this another load of cobblers from the medical staff as I am worried if a precaution means players miss 3 games at a time. I guess it explains Rosicky’s constant absence!