Ever since Chamakh signed for Arsenal there has been a question, how will the Moroccan play with Van Persie in the same team. Arsene has in the past mentioned that he will look at various options including a change in formation, something that many fans have been demanding.
Intriguingly enough, we saw Van Persie in a deeper role against Wigan in the Carling Cup. Some thought it was a 4-4-1-1 kind of a system, others felt it was a 4-4-2 and some others including myself thought it was the same formation that we use with Van Persie playing in the attacking role normally reserved for Cesc.
Ideally, we want our best players on the pitch. So this is an important decision for Arsene and an interesting discussion for the fans. I hope it isn’t rendered pointless by another injury but for now there’s no harm in enjoying the possibilities even if it’s only in our imaginations.
Regular readers will know I’m a huge Van Persie fan. I believe the Dutchman has incredible talent and is unique in many ways. His positional sense, vision, movement, technique, and confidence around the penalty box are fascinating to watch. He’s also made considerable improvements to his finishing with both feet and head. To me, that makes RvP the perfect player as a central striker in a 4-3-3 or in the hole in a 4-4-1-1.
In contrast, I don’t see him as a winger at all even though he’s played on the wings for a significant part of his career. The point is not that he can’t play as a winger but more that his best and most unique abilities are wasted on the flanks.
The issue is complicated a bit when we bring Chamakh into the picture. The Moroccan has been impressive in the central role and many would love to see him there for the rest of the season as well.
Moreover, he doesn’t seem the type who can change his game to that of a winger. I find it difficult to visualize Chamakh as a player taking on defenders and whipping crosses in. If he does have to play on the flank it will be pretty much similar to what Bendtner did at the start of last season i.e. receive the ball in the air or ground, hold it up, bring the midfielders into play, interchange with the striker once in a while, try and get into the box when the ball is on the other side. Obviously his heading ability would be very useful on set-pieces and attacking crosses at the back post. It’s not exactly the description of Premiership’s average Joey Winger but it did the job for Arsenal, especially when RvP and Cesc were in sublime form.
If Arsene does go with that option, we will see Chamakh on the right and Van Persie central but they’ll swap positions frequently.
The other option would be to change the formation to a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-4-2 and play two strikers or Van Persie in the hole. I actually like this option but the problem is that we cannot fit Arshavin into this system. If we go with four across the middle one of those just cannot be the Russian. His work rate is not at the level where he can help out at both ends of the pitch, something that will be mandatory in a four man midfield. Similar argument can be made for Theo or Vela. Even though they have a better work rate than Arshavin, I can’t see them succeeding as a regular wide midfielders.
I can still visualize this system with Nasri and Rosicky in the wide areas while Cesc and Song dominate the centre. Van Persie just ahead of them and Chamakh leading the line would make it a fairly balanced system. I can also see Diaby or Wilshere coming into one of the central positions if either Cesc or Song is not available.
The problem however, is that I find it very difficult to see how Arshavin, Walcott, Vela, or Denilson will ever fit into this system. One might say Arshavin can play in place of RvP when he is injured but will the Russian be happy to sit on the bench in most games? And personally, I’d prefer to see Arshavin on the pitch whenever he is fit. That follows from the same thought I mentioned above – we need to have our best players playing.
Another issue is that in this formation we won’t have a good backup for our wide players. For instance, playing someone like Denilson on the right could be a stop gap but it will reduce our attacking impetus. In contrast, playing someone like Theo or Vela will always be a risk defensively.
On a positive note, this formation might bring the best out of Sagna and Clichy but it’s taken them a long time to adapt to the new system. Do we really want to go back to square one?
Essentially, if we move to a 4-4-1-1 we might end up reducing the choices we have and the combinations we can create. There will be some positives but it could also lead to a few complications.
One solution might be to have a flexible system and switch between the two formations based on the opposition and the availability of players. I’m all for it but Arsene seems to have a very strong notion of staying with a fixed system with players having flexibility within that formation.
Obviously, if we change formations the players will have to cover different areas. The central midfielders will not have that much freedom to move forward, the wide players won’t be able to move around as much as they do right now and so on. Perhaps, training for this is very different than training for our present flexi-rigid system? That could explain why Arsene likes to stick with it. Another reason could be that with years of experience Le Boss believes the 4-3-3 is our most efficient system. Difficult to argue with his knowledge and experience so I’m just putting my thoughts forward.
To conclude, I’d like Van Persie to play in a central role without too many defensive responsibilities. He has a phenomenal work rate but that should be focussed on movement up front and for pressing, creating openings, and exploiting them. Even when he drops deep it should be for a creative purpose and not because the midfield isn’t able to bring the ball out. Wenger will have to tweak his starting line-up and system to accommodate this or leave Chamakh out (on the bench or on the flank).