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Why Arsenal’s 4-1-4-1 Formation Is Not Working


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.

The question some fans and pundits are asking is if Wenger loves the 4-1-4-1 formation so much, why didn’t he go after a top defensive midfielder during the transfer window? William Carvalho, Lars Bender, and Sami Khedira were all linked with the Gunners over the summer, but Arsenal and Wenger could not seal a deal for any of the imposing midfielders.

Nonetheless, Arsenal fans will hope that Wenger’s experiment with the new formation could end soon, as winger Theo Walcott will be returning from injury soon. The pacey forward should be deployed on the right wing, pushing superstar Alexis Sanchez to the left wing, which will allow Özil to play in his preferred position in the number 10 role. A return to the 4-2-3-1 formation would help solidify the middle of the pitch for the Gunners, and also permit the struggling Özil to be utilized in his correct position on the pitch.

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  1. jon pentraitus

    November 14, 2014 at 7:39 am

    4141 i thought was a very defensive formation so you would think arsenal would be strong in defensive and not concede so many goals. never heard of a team conceding heaps using a 4141.
    the 4141 formation is usually for teams who want to park the bus

  2. Cody

    September 18, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I have a question for my fellow Arsenal fans. Can you really tell the difference between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-2-3-1? I’m looking for honest opinion, and not just the tired old adage of “Ramsey plays more advanced”. Because last year, when we played 4-2-3-1, Ramsey was in or around the box more often than not.

    This formation debate (Ozil’s positioning aside), just seems like semantics to me. Whats really to blame is the lack of a true defensive midfielder, & Fullbacks that press to far upfield at the same time, leaving a very slow Per Mertesacker & Arteta relying on Koscielny to close down speedy attackers on the break.

  3. brdgunner

    September 18, 2014 at 2:59 am

    What bothers me most is that we started a formation based around the ‘number 10’ role for Cesc. When he left, we didn’t replace him with a number 10 but kept the formation.

    Arguably the 4 1 4 1 would have worked best after Cesc left. Last year we signed the worlds leading number 10 and then changed our formation to no longer have a number 10. What?

    Its baffling to say the least.

    I believe this new formation is for Jack. I believe Arsene is trying to get Jack games and playing.

    However, it appears to be choking Ramsey on the pitch by forcing him to sit deeper and share the same ground as Jack and its killing Ozil, playing him as a winger.

    I suspect we will either go back to the 4 3 2 1 or swap Ozil for Theo, when Theo returns.

    That will make the formation stronger, however, it still be exposed as you brilliantly point out.

    Carvalho would have been perfect, shocked we didn’t make the purchase.

    Oh well,


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