Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has implemented a new 4-1-4-1 formation as of late, with either Mikel Arteta or Mathieu Flamini being deployed as the sole defensive midfielder in the middle of the pitch. The lack of manpower in the space just in front of Arsenal’s back four was one of the reasons (there were plenty) Borussia Dortmund dominated the north London team in their opening Champions League group stage match Tuesday night.
The German club ran rampant over the Gunners Tuesday night in Dortmund, winning the match 2-0, and there very easily could have been more goals for “Die Schwarzgelben”. The game in Germany was not the first match of the season for Arsenal to look inept in the middle of the pitch. The Gunners have yet to keep a clean sheet in all four combined Barclays Premier League matches so far this season, and have only tallied one victory in the four league matches.
While some of the blame for the lack of stability has been placed on the defenders, and rightfully so, Wenger’s 4-1-4-1 formation with an absence of a solid defensive midfielder is ultimately killing this team. 32-year-old Mikel Arteta was used as the lone defensive midfielder in Tuesday’s match in Germany and looked completely out of place at the position (although it must be said that it is not 100% the player’s fault, as Arteta is not a true defensive midfielder).
Mathieu Flamini, 30 years old, has also filled the role in front of the back four defenders this season; however, the Frenchman appears to have lost some of the athleticism and command that made him an outstanding free agent signing in 2013. Flamini is also dealing with a concussion at the moment as well.
The switch to the new formation most likely comes down to Wenger wanting Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, and Jack Wilshere all on the pitch at the same time. Wilshere is in top form at the moment and instead of Wenger deploying Wilshere next to Ramsey in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the French manager has opted to go with the duo both being utilized further up the pitch with Özil on the flank (although the Germany international has drifted towards the center of the field at times).
Pushing Özil out wide has also hurt the Gunners. As one of the best “number 10’s” in the world, Özil is best suited in the space just behind the center forward, not on the left flank. Özil’s best attributes are creativity, passing, and vision, and deploying him on the wing is like purchasing a Ferrari California to pick up the kids after school.