4-3-3: discipline, creativity and desire more important

Arsenal’s 4-3-3 formation against Leeds last Sunday with Aubameyang leading the line was a change many expected; however, the result was not, writes Jamie Bramson Grant.

It is no secret that Arteta is fond of the 4-3-3 formation, following three and a half years as Pep Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City.

It is widely suggested that one of the main reasons that Thomas Partey was signed this summer was to give Arteta the tactical flexibility to transition into a 4-3-3 as the season progressed. However, in this game, the core winning ingredients when playing any formation, were missing.

Arsenal’s players were second best to nearly every first and second ball. The press lacked conviction and there was a clear lack of desire in the first half. Tim Howard labelled the players as “disinterested” following the first half performance.

Given the fact that Arsenal had not scored a goal from open play in the six hours and 26 minutes leading up to this game, it is understandable why Arteta changed to a more attacking formation.

However, it was Leeds who controlled the game and created the lion’s share of chances. Xhaka and Ceballos were consistently man marked in midfield, which meant Arsenal’s defenders struggled to play out from the back. There was an overall lack of cohesion and fluidity to Arsenal’s performance.

If Partey had been present, the result may have been different. He has proven himself to be player who can both shield the defence when the team is in danger and provide a creative spark from midfield with through balls feeding the attacking players.

Pepe, who was needlessly sent off for headbutting Alioski, also neglected his defensive responsibilities tracking back when Leeds had the ball in the final third. This left Bellerin frequently exposed on the right-hand side.

It is clear for a 4-3-3 formation to work, Arsenal’s front three players need to be disciplined enough to protect their fullbacks when defending in their own half.

In the second half Arsenal showed greater solidarity, digging in to hold out for the draw with 10 men and showing effective organisation as they have done many times this season.

There were additional positives to take from the game, such as Saka’s energetic substitute performance following his recent international cap for England. Whenever he received the ball, he looked dangerous, attacking with speed and showing great, skill, composure and
control to link up effectively with Aubameyang on the counterattack.

If this 4-3-3 formation is Arsenal’s new look, Saka must surely be a prominent feature. He has shown he has the versatility to play both in midfield and on the wing and gives Arsenal an effective attacking option.

Overall, this was a night to forget for Arsenal. Although Arsenal’s defence has dramatically improved since Arteta has taken over, clearly work needs to be done on the creative side of their game. Playing a 4-3-3 may be the first step towards achieving it, however first Arsenal need to address their character.