Arsene Wenger has notoriously been accused of being reluctant to adapt his managerial style to the modern game.
Once more, we find ourselves witnessing an Arsenal side in turmoil – scrambling for a top four position. In recent times, Wenger has just about pushed his side over the finish line.
But something is different this year. With so few games remaining, Wenger clearly realised that drastic measures were necessary to transform the unconvincing performances of late. Regular uninspiring performances indicated that the squad were depleted of ideas, so the Frenchman, very much out of character, decided to abandon his normal formation and replace it with what seems to be the favoured choice in football at the moment.
Fashionable and effective, the 3-4-3 formation has all but guaranteed Chelsea title glory this year; Antonio Conte’s men can now be backed with odds of 1/250 to win the title this year. It is also undeniable that the 3-4-3 formation has worked wonders for Spurs. And although it hurts Arsenal fans deeply, even they simply must acknowledge that they have been far inferior to their North London rivals this season.
It must be wondered whether Wenger has switched to this formation because it genuinely suits his players, or rather he is desperately trying to replicate the success of his London rivals. Early signs show that it has brought back a sense of togetherness that was eradicated by performances such as the embarrassing 2-10 on aggregate demolition against Bayern Munich, plus the disappointing 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace. Recent defensive hiccups have made clear that Arsenal needed more protection at the back, and this system at least allows them to play with three central defenders. Their FA cup semi-final against Man City demonstrated a far more disciplined Arsenal make-up, and their patience paid off as they impressively came back from behind to win the game.
It has also seemed to have benefited certain individual players, too. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been for the large parts disappointing this season, but he has been exceptional in recent games and seems to be enjoying the extra space to dart past players. Thankfully, he is also prepared to get stuck into his defensive duties, too. However, whilst some players have thrived in this new system, it was never going to be something that every player adjusted to overnight. For instance, it seems at times that Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka have pushed a bit too far forward, leaving the back three exposed.
As a result, it is far too early to fairly assess whether the 3-4-3 formation is the right formation to take forward. Indeed, Wenger himself admits that the jury is still out. But one thing is certain: it is refreshing to see Arsene Wenger have the guts and determination to try something new.
The FA Cup final against Chelsea looks set to be the battle of the 3-4-3, and a victory against Conte’s formidable side would go some way in proving that the switch to this formation was justified. But clinching a top four place would be the real miracle, and huge credit would have to go to Wenger for his courage in trying something different at a time when the team so desperately needed a shakeup.