Welcome back to my bi-weekly Shoot column, where once again I find myself again faced with an easy option of dwelling on negatives.
At the end of a week that saw Arsenal record two equally frustrating defeats, where would I start with only 800 words at my disposal? No I will leave others to depress themselves with the thought of Flamini or Arteta covering for the injured Coquelin and to preview a midweek visit to White Hart Lane in the Capitol One Cup. My only message to the manager on the latter would be to play a strong side as three defeats in eight days; the third against our North London neighbours is unthinkable.
Today I wanted to consider the misfiring Arsenal attack and how an alternative team setup might assist us. My theory or solution proposal is born out of a growing concern about Alexis Sanchez and his role in the Arsenal team. Last season Alexis hit the Premier League like a whirlwind, surprising defenders with his combination of strength, pace, tricks, energy and of course finishing prowess. After six league fixtures last September the Chilean firecracker had already scored on three occasions in separate games, yet this season he is yet to get off the mark. Now this is a player who could not be higher in confidence having just assisted his country to win their first Copa America in a century, so what has changed?
From my perspective at least, the problem is twofold – partly positional and partly that defenders are wiser to him one year in. At the beginning of last season Wenger deployed Sanchez on the right, centrally and on left before settling on the left flank role in his customary 4-2-3-1 formation, or sometimes in the 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 systems used in away games against strong opposition. One can only wonder how much of an influence the player himself had on this decision as he publicly admitted it was his preferred position, enabling him to cut in onto his favoured right foot. Here for me lies the issue as whilst he is undoubtedly our best attacker and capable of the wondrous, his play is so predictable that he needs to be wondrous all of the time.
Alexis is always on the touchline and easy to find for Monreal or Ozil, but the white line is only ever his starting position and never a friend to be hugged. For our, albeit loosely, left winger it is not easy to recall the last time he attacked his full-back on the outside and went for the byline to cross or cut back. This fact is now known by all defenders so our talisman just finds himself cutting inside into congestion and having to take on multiple obstacles, simply end up shooting into human barriers or passing back inside. His predictability in short is making our team play the same.
Surely the key for Arsenal and for the player is to change it up a bit as they say and restore the element of surprise to Alexis’ own play and in turn our own. We need to get our most exciting and potent attacking force of 14/15 back where we need him scoring and hurting the opposition, which he is not doing at present.
An obvious suggestion might be to ask him to switch to the right flank and to attack his full-back on his natural foot, and I have long favoured this. At least during the game it would keep the opposition guessing but that is not the more radical thought I cannot shake from my mind. In the summer, Chile shocked the football world by winning the Copa America. They did so playing an attacking, enterprising style of football, scoring 13 times in six matches, conceding only four, and they did this primarily using coach Jorge Sampaoli’s own version of the 4-4-2.
Bar the final, when Sampaoli went with a back three against Argentina, Chile deployed a 4-3-1-2 formation. The system uses three hard-working midfielders behind a playmaker, in this case Valdavia who in operates behind two industrious and fast strikers, Vargas and Alexis. Given our erratic start to the season and Sanchez’s apparent relative ineffectiveness in his current role, perhaps Arsenal might consider adapting to the Chilean system with the same players and perhaps everyone might feel more comfortable?
Given that we are not playing with much width currently, except of that being provided by the full-backs, perhaps it is time to try a new approach. We know from last season that Sanchez looked uncomfortable as a sole striker and we know he thrives with a partner, so how about we shuffle the existing pack and line up like Chile?
Obviously this assumes our strongest team is free of suspension and injury, which after the weekend we know is not the case, but this Chile style setup could well bring the best from Walcott and Sanchez and crucially give Ozil the moving targets which he craves.