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3 reasons why new Arsenal formation is working

The Gunners have been firing on all cylinders since manager Arsene Wenger switched formations. Wenger, who has been using a 4-2-3-1 formation for years now, recently adopted a 3-4-2-1 configuration about a month ago. The move to go with three central defenders at the back has helped the north London club win five out of their last six matches, including victories over both Manchester clubs.

While there might be many reasons for the sudden upturn in the team’s play, including individual performances and great goals, there are three definite reasons that the Gunners having been playing well of late.

Defensive organization

Not only have the Gunners been winning since the change, but the new-look lineup has helped the club record three clean sheets in their last four games. Prior to switching formations, Arsenal’s defense was shaky to say the least. In fact, Arsenal only collected nine total clean sheets in 32 Premier League matches with the traditional formation.

Laurent Koscielny, normally deployed as the middle center back in the back three, has been superb. Nevertheless, as a world-class central defender, that’s to be expected from him. The real surprise is with the other two center backs in the lineup. Nacho Monreal and Rob Holding are the two unsung heroes in this team since making the switch.

Monreal’s Arsenal career was seemingly coming to an end this summer, as the Spaniard looked old and sluggish for a majority of the current campaign. Yet, the new formation appears to be adding years onto the 31-year-old’s time in north London. Holding, who is just starting his Arsenal career, looks like an absolute steal for the Gunners. Wenger brought in the 21-year-old defender last summer for just
£2 million.

The youngster hasn’t skipped a beat since he was voted Bolton’s Player of the Year a season ago. Holding plays as if he’s already an established veteran, and he doesn’t look out of place playing next to the outstanding Koscielny. While he could play in a back four as well, this formation seems to be an absolute perfect fit for Holding.

Central midfield partnership

Much has been said about new boy Granit Xhaka during his first season with the Gunners. While it hasn’t been the best freshman year with his new club, the Switzerland international is a quality midfielder, and has been exceptional in the new formation. In the six games since the switch, Xhaka is averaging a staggering 90% passing success (376/419), and has also racked up 4 key passes, 8 tackles, 6 clearances, and 3 interceptions in the half dozens games as well.

The formation utilizing wing backs in both flanks has helped Xhaka (and Aaron Ramsey) focus on the middle of the pitch. Below are two heat maps from Whoscored.com. In the first, we see how Xhaka was pulled out wide at times during Arsenal’s 3-3 away draw with Bournemouth back in January. The second map shows Xhaka being utilized much better staying in the center of the pitch during the club’s win over Southampton on Wednesday.

amsey’s contribution has also aided Arsenal during the last month or so. The Wales international has previously been deployed out wide, in the number 10 role, and in central midfield during his time with the Gunners. Ramsey’s key attribute is his creativity in an advanced central role up the pitch. He is not really the type of player that you want having to utilize long passes and create from deep. He does, however, make wonderful runs in and towards the opposition’s box, and can make key passes from short range.

Much like Xhaka, the new formation keeps Ramsey more central, but can also allow him to make these great diagonal runs further up the field. Though not the best on the ball, Ramsey’s movement off of the ball is crucial to his (and ultimately the team’s) success. As previously stated with Holding, the new formation is perfectly suited for Ramsey as well.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

While mainly used as a winger in previous years, the Ox has been deployed in a total of seven different positions for the Gunners this season. Now as a right wing back, the 23-year-old has been brilliant. Though not the most apt defender, Oxlade-Chamberlain has so far held his own tracking back and helping the back three. But by far his best quality in the new role is his contribution going forward.

On the season, Oxlade-Chamberlain is average a goal or assist every 146 minutes.  The impressive output is currently better than playmakers David Silva (189), Roberto Firmino (154), Adam Lallana (173), and Leroy Sane (168).  Rumors are floating around that the midfielder may be set for a switch to Liverpool this summer, but Arsenal should do everything they can to hold onto their new wing back.

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