Arsene Wenger was successful in his early years at Arsenal, winning four FA Cups and three Premier League titles in his first nine years at the club.
However, he has not reached that level of success in recent years, and there are many reasons contributing to this.
The main reason being that Arsenal have had to fund the Emirates Stadium and sell their best players year after year while working on a limited budget. Some say remaining in the Champions League is a success on its own given the restrictions the club and Arsene Wenger had.
Wenger in all his early years was known to play 4-4-2; however, since Adebayor left the club in 2009, we have rarely seen this formation be used.
A formation which gained Arsene Wenger so much success in his early years. He has always had quality forwards at his disposal which lead to him playing two upfront to great success. Partnerships such as Anelka-Bergkamp, Henry-Bergkamp, Van Persie-Adebayor and even Eduardo-Adebayor was working before a horrendous injury to Eduardo in 2008.
This was incidentally the last year Arsenal put up a strong challenge for the Premier League title only finishing four points off the top. Adebayor was also playing as a lone striker with Van Persie and Eduardo sustaining long term injury problems before Adebayor took the high road to Man City leaving Van Persie to hold the lone striker mantle.
This was a role Van Persie felt he was not capable of but under the guidance of Wenger we have come to find out he is pretty excellent at it.
There were plenty of quality strikers that were all capable of playing the lone striker role well, we saw Thierry Henry perform this role in our Champions League run to the final in 2006 and perform at his usual high standard. Despite Thierry having the qualities to play this role well, Wenger still usually opted to partner Thierry with somebody else upfront in the league whether it was with Bergkamp, Wiltord or Kanu.
Fast forward to 2014; Arsenal are playing with one man upfront and that man is not on the level of the previous strikers Arsenal have had. That man being Olivier Giroud, a player who lacks pace and movement. Giroud is a player whose skill set relies on players being close to him to have any effect with light touches on the edge of the box and one touch finishes leading to most of his goals and assists.
When Barcelona came on to the scene with fluid movement, high pressing and a 4-3-3 formation Wenger’s thinking changed. He was always a lover of the beautiful game and saw Barcelona doing it in such an excellent way without big powerful players, which previous Arsene Wenger teams was based around. Players such as Vieira, Henry, Gilberto, Edu, Toure, Campbell and Pires all standing over six foot tall and had power to go along with their high technical levels.
Wenger was hoping to produce this Barcelona style opting to sign players such as Nasri and Arshavin while centering the team around Fabregas. All players who lacked physical attributes but can play at a high technical level. At their best this team was amazing to watch, however there were plenty of times when things got physical and tough these players naturally struggled not being able to compete with the best in the league.
This issue remains this season where Arsenal have struggled and been out powered by all the big teams especially since the loss of Aaron Ramsey to injury. Arteta is a player that is technical very capable defensively against smaller sides; however, he has been over run against physical sides, especially if partnered with a player who is also not up for the physical task which is the case for Jack Wilshere and Flamini.
Wilshere and Flamini tend to look like they are capable of the physical battle at first sight but both often lose out in duels and struggle against powerful players.
Gary Neville recently claimed on twitter that there is no proof of a team winning the league without physical players. Wenger’s successful teams of the past had big physical players that can play good football and win the battles.
4-4-2 is a formation which Ferguson was successful using and even now the most entertaining teams in the league often use this formation (Man City and Liverpool). The truth is right now Ramsey is the only player capable of performing the central midfield role well in a 4-4-2 as it is a position which needs physicality, strength and aggression.
Wilshere could develop to play that role well but at the moment is a bit short in terms of decision making both on and off the ball as well as his consistent fitness issues.
In the summer if we can sign a physical midfielder to partner Ramsey, I believe the 4-4-2 can make a return for Arsenal.
A player like Lars Bender to partner Ramsey, with Ozil and Cazorla both playing as interiors from the right and left. This would also mean signing a striker that can partner Theo who can be devastating with the right partner upfront, if Arsenal give Atleti what they want for Diego Costa they can have a devastating 4-4-2 which has power, pace and creativity.
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