Arsenal’s 3-4-3 Gives ‘Boro The Old 1 – 2

Middlesbrough 1 – 2 Arsenal

For the first time since Moses was a boy, Arsenal returned home with an away league win under their belts. Not only that but Arsène proved to be a ‘catalyst for change’ by turning to the much-vaunted 3-4-3 formation so in vogue.

It wasn’t a wholly successful experiment. The defensive solidity Chelsea have displayed for much of this season is built on the whole team defending from the front. That’s something Arsenal don’t do; it’s too degrading for the artistes.

A trio of Gabriel, Koscielny and Rob Holding were the lab rats for an experiment which had been practiced only in the week after the humiliation at Crystal Palace. Delivering three points was the objective, and that was achieved. Has it improved us? I’m nowhere near convinced of that.

Alex Oxlad-Chamberlain partnered Nacho Monreal in the wing back positions, with Hector Bellerin dropped to the bench. Wenger presented this as taking the Spaniard out of the firing line, having put the right back firmly in the path of the bullets during the build-up.

The opening half-hour of the match was a bit ‘meh’. The highlight, if you can call it that, came when Ayala grappled with Giroud to stop him capitalising on a corner. It was helpful because I’d forgotten the Frenchman was playing.

We slipped and clad everywhere as the inclement weather made the surface greasy. One or two ‘tasty’ challenges were made by Ramsey on Clayton and then by Clayton himself.

And Arsenal took the lead from the duly awarded free kick. Alexis, given half the goal to aIm at, duly did do, with a wonderfully flighted effort. Coming just before half-time, it should have imbued Arsenal with confidence and deflated Middlesbrough, according to football’s received wisdom.

Far from it.

Two’s Company, Three’s A Crowd

The second half was an about turn. Middlesbrough began to believe that they could equalise and duly did. Alexis gave the ball away, Downing got onto his left foot and delivered a cross which Negredo wanted to reach more than Koscielny. Three-man defence; same weaknesses.

‘Boro should have taken the lead. Cech saved from a header which was straight at him and a volley was blazed over the bar by Downing. The same frailties which beset the defence are still evident, which I guess is only natural given the way confidence has been shorn.

The only answer is to score which Mesut Özil duly did. A well-worked move down the left stemming from Xhaka’s pass to Alexis. Ramsey chested the ball into Özil’s path and the German found the finish.

Despite a late scare, the XI demonstrated that they can see out a match. Now before everyone jumps up and down, getting all excited about ‘Arsenal are back’, let’s remember this was Middlesbrough. You can only (just) beat the opposition in front of you, but this was not a ringing endorsement or return to form.

We’ve got to raise our game several notches to beat Manchester City next Sunday but that doesn’t mean there is no appreciation of a win. Let’s just keep some perspective here.

Every game has to have a ‘Man of the Match’ and there were few candidates so a goal and pre-assist got Alexis the reward. If only he was a loyal player and did as he was told, signed a new deal; he’d have deserved it then.

Gandalf Or Gandahellouttahere

The jolly japes returned to the press conference, oh how we laughed. At Ivan’s expense; a sign of the breached and broken relationship between CEO and manager.

A broken defence was something Arsène wanted to fix:

“We’ve lost a lot of direct fights centrally so it gets us a bit stronger in the air. It gives the team confidence to have something new to believe. I felt it was needed. We were vulnerable. Confidence in life goes away quickly but comes back slowly. There was some nervousness for us.”

Not a ringing endorsement but given Laurent Koscielny admitted that they had trained with the formation for just a week, we got the win which it was hoped to bring.

To give him his due, Arsène hasn’t given up entirely on the top four. We’ve just got to win the rest of our games and hope Manchester City or Liverpool collapse. Are you Tottenham in disguise? The trouble is, the audience doesn’t believe it possible so expect a brief metamorphosis in the message to finishing as high as possible:

“We were tested and maybe rode our luck on one or two occasions with crosses but we were committed and the back three worked well in the first half, we were solid. Now we have to win every game to have a chance of getting in the top four.”

Solid is an overstatement but three points was needed, on that we can all agree.

Finally, over at Dad’s Jukebox, the first of a new series of posts which covers the music which influenced musicians, starts with The Clash, and a playlist which includes, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, The Ramones and Roger Miller among others.

’til Tomorrow.

32 thoughts on “Arsenal’s 3-4-3 Gives ‘Boro The Old 1 – 2

  1. Thank you Yogi, three points yesterday doesn’t really change anything, we still look like hopeless outsiders for the Top Four Trophy.

    Wenger’s switch to a back three was all about showing the fans that he’s still “with it”, a bit like dad dancing and flared trousers.

    There was a time when Wenger was hailed as an innovative, even revolutionary, manager. Now he has been reduced to a desperate follower of fashion.

    Like all things at Arsenal, the change was an off the cuff, and ill thought out move, a reaction to the declining defensive standards which have become steadily worse since January.

    Koscielny admitted, in his post match interview, that they had only been practicing the formation for a week. I suspect it will take more than the next five days to refine it sufficiently to cope with the attacking flair of Manchester City at Wembley on Sunday.

    Yesterday’s match was a tedious affair with ‘Boro defending in numbers, forcing us to play in front of a packed defence and, as usual, largely failing to create clear cut openings until the closing stages when Giroud wasted the few chances that came his way.

    There were a few bright spots, Sanchez’s goal from a superb free-kick, Ozil’s well crafted goal resulting from a cross by Sanchez and a chest down by Ramsey about his only effective contribution to the game, and a fine display throughout by Oxlade-Chamberlain.

  2. Hello,

    Can’t help but think that the formation was in response to Gazidis word “catalyst of change”. Add to that his words at the presser of old dogs and new tricks (or something there about).

    Would he do that if the contract was signed. Is he adjusting or is it just that remarkable ability to pull a rabbit out of the jacket?

  3. WCG

    Or was it just a case of out of combinations and had to do something? Desperation where perspiration failed?

  4. “Confidence in life goes away quickly but comes back slowly”….. lets build a huge pile of generalisations shall we arsene ? i’d stick to football rather than your life philosophies which given the insular nature of your work dont seem especially broad. a wise man you are clearly not !

    no idea why anyone is talking about top four, one who cares, two it would be a disaster in terms of anything changing at all at the club and i dont include my own happy fantasises of the manager retiring within that.

    we were seriously average last night and a better premier league team would have beaten us zero celebrations are due. 442 352 343 541 34lemon, none of it will make any difference with wenger at the helm.

    no doubt arsene thinks we have “turned the corner”, quite what his prescription is for stopping the annual implode after we are humiliated in europe is anyone’s guess. and that’s the real point, he doesn’t have one, he is totally blinkered and obstinate and we remain firmly on the road to nowhere except stan’s back pocket.

  5. How pathetic is it that AW specifically commented that the formation change shows how he is not too old to change? He can’t help being a petty polemicist. Either that or he has no ideas and did something just for change’s sake so the players would believe in something, which he also seemed to admit post-match. But he seems not to have had much of a rationale tactically for it or to have communicated how to play this formation to the players. Apart from Ox, we looked pretty confused.

  6. With Theresa May calling a General Election for June, expect an announcement that Wenger is staying anytime now. A good day to hide bad news.

  7. Afternoon YW and all, the 3 points was the most important thing tbh i didn’t care how the goals came Boro are a well organised team that teams find difficult to break down couple with the brittle frame of mind the players are most definitely suffering, I am just relieved.
    on the game i though Ramsey actually played well worked his socks off and didn’t hold onto the ball and age like he likes to, but my MOM has to be Ox he was up and down that right touch line like his life depended on it yesterday also special shout out for Holding who rarely seems to put a foot wrong when called upon, for me he should be pushing for a recall against City on the weekend.
    For me their goal was completely avoidable the pundits seemed to focus on Kos’s positioning when the cross came in but Monreal should have made more of an effort to stop the cross coming in. Jury is still out on Xhaka, for me the game passes him by all too often, its funny but unless Carzola makes a miraculous comeback next season and wilshere renews we need to find another midfielder because for me that’s been consistently the most dysfunctional part of our team this season.
    I think Walcott must come back in for Giroud on the weekend.

  8. Against City we will have to find a way to control that midfield only then will we stand a chance. Walcott must come back in too.

  9. YW,

    Very true, I´m probably looking for a black cat, in a dark room, blindfolded that isn´t there 🙂

  10. The Ox on the right looks good. Beats players, whips crosses in. Shame there wasn’t a 6’4” centre forward on the pitch to connect…oh hold on.

    Holding looked more assured than Kos, who was bullied by a big forward again.

    It could be the start of something. We’ll see.

  11. For all those thinking that Arsene has changed (again I didn’t watch the match), straight from the horses mouth:

    “Overall I felt that it worked quite well today because we won the game.

    “We had practiced on it before at some stage, (but) we like offensive football so this was a bit more defensive-minded for us.

    “I feel overall it is not a long-term plan, but punctually it can work,”

  12. I thought Ox was MOTM. He didn’t stop running all night and put some good balls into the box. I also thought Holding had a decent game. Apart from that everyone else was average or below.

    Be interesting to see if he reverts back to a back 4 on the weekend.

  13. Possible lineup gibbs comes in for me due to pace of city on the break

    —Ozil, Sanchez, Theo
    Gibbs, Ramsey, Ox, Bellerin
    –Monreal, kos, Holding
    —— Cech

  14. silvergunner,

    I know it would never happen but I would actually drop Kos for Mustafi, move Ox to the left flank and have Xhaka and Elneny if we continue on with the 343. So it would look something like:


    Kos is becoming more and more of a liability and Aguero is in form. I would prefer Elneny being more defensive against De Bruyne and Silva as opposed to Ramsey.

  15. C,

    not sure about Ox at left wingback, but i think wenger will go for his fave Ramsey over Elneny, if mustafi is fit he is a shout to start but not at the expense of Kos in a game of this magnitude it would have to be mustafi, holding or monreal vying for 2 spots.

  16. silvergunner,

    i only said at left wingback to accomodate Bellerin and since I have no faith in Gibbs, I would rather go with Bellerin and Ox. Ramsey over Elneny, well don’t get me started; I know some are dismissing Elneny after 1 match but to judge him based on one match is a bit crazy. I know its a big match but Kos continues to defend poorly and that is leading directly to goals being scored and that is a major problem especially against an in form Citeh. Personally I would go with Holding/Mustafi/Nacho but if Kos is going to start which I would think Arsene would, then I would go Mustafi/Kos/Nacho.

  17. A win is a win but , boy , Boro are poor. Dropping anything to them last night would have been disastrous & it wasn`t too far from happening.

    I too liked The Ox at RWB , but it`s difficult to tell how he`d do in a back 5 defensively.

    Holding looked composed & read the game well – therefore is a cert to be dropped should we stay with a back 3 & Mustafi is fit , or else dropped if we revert to a back 4.

    It will certainly be intersting to find out what the Arsene tactical masterclass will be this week. Obviously he`ll be working on how to stop City`s danger men & targetting their defensive weaknesses. Or not.

  18. Old ‘Arry has found himself another job, manager of Birmingham City following Gianfranco Zola’s resignation.

    He’ll have a job on his hands keeping them in the Championship, currently in 20th position only three points above the drop zone. I can’t think of a greater difference between two managers than between Zola and Old ‘Arry. £2 million a year plus bungs, luvvly jubbly.

  19. Not easy to muster much about yesterday’s game.

    Three valuable points to retain European football (no irony here, I’ll take the EL over nothing) – The Ox was the only ‘determined’ looking player on the pitch, Holding composed yet again (would regular outings would diminish his game?) and the rest looked equal parts nervous, confused and dare I say a little desperate.

    I felt sorry for the Middlesborough fans, the club itself. Promotion and then things just went awry. The manager (who had so much promise) appeared to wilt and whilst half the team has done a sterling job their offense never gelled.

    Which leads us back to our change of tactics and ‘innovation’.

    I found it cringeworthy. Not the three at the back – that’s something we could have studied, drilled and implemented months ago – but rather the execution on the picth. As if it it was not obvious, the post match reveal was the team had never even put the idea into practice until this week.

    If we were in a slightly more comfortable position, there is no indication Wenger would have even considered such a change- so if anything it simply underlined how so many teams have accelerated past us. It’s a clarion call for a younger, more flexible and creative mind to be in charge.

  20. Leicester in one season have shown up years of our rubbish European performances, over 15 chances in the second half, frankly they probably should have won over the two legs, amazing !
    Pep better put us to bed this weekend, leave this regime nowhere left to hide. We are almost impossible to support in this current form – windless, soulless and rudderless. And that’s even before we get into the leadership at all levels. Why would anyone want us in Europe we are a waste of a space, there purely for financial reasons. Leicester have shown more ambition to win it.

  21. Changes from his one tactic and publicly pats himself on the back. Arsene Wenger, managerial genius. Next he’ll make a substitution before the sixty fifth minute to show how ‘dynamic’ he is.
    I wish he’d show some real innovation and retire.

  22. Just can’t listen to Wenger anymore. He never takes responsibility when we lose, but is quick to take the credit when we win.

  23. I have been choking back my treasonable thoughts for some time now, but the game against Middlesborough confirms for me that Koscielny in sadly in decline. He no longer is ‘the best centre-half in the PL’ and hasn’t been all season. I have great hopes for Holding who I think has great potential, but we now need a commanding presence alongside him. The sort that Mertesacker used to be.

  24. I stopped watching the Pre-Match and Post-Match Wenger talks. I can now recite them with my ears closed. It’s a waste of time since he doesn’t say anything of substance any more and has been for years.

    We were not winning against anybody, so a win against the last team in the PL table is legally a win. Will give him the benefit of the doubt till next game 🙂

  25. A report in this morning’s Telegraph says that Jack Wilshere’s season is over as he has a suspected fracture of the lower leg. He sustained the injury in the match against Tottenham at the weekend.

    Wilshere has played in twenty-seven games while on loan at Bournemouth but this latest injury must cause doubts as to his long term future.

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