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Talking Tactics

Could Ozil As A False 9 Solve Arsenal’s Formational Issues?

At a club where midfield talent is bursting from every corner, Arsene Wenger has typically opted to cram as many central midfielders into his Starting XI as possible. To the mindless, heartless social media conglomerate that lives and breathes to criticize Wenger’s next move, this is a terrible decision. Pairing Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, and Mesut Ozil all at once creates a space issue that ultimately forces Ramsey out wide and into a winger position. Ideally, this formation should more-or-less be a guideline and those three plus Alexis Sanchez would create an unstoppable wave of offense through a sea overlapping runs, balls, and general position fluidness.

In theory, this is a wonderful idea but Ramsey ends up drifting towards the middle on most occasions and Alexis lives and dies by his outside-in cuts in the final third of the field. This, of course, leads to a space issue, which leads to teams sitting back and absorbing Arsenal’s offensive pressure and, ultimately, pointless possession. Clubs like West Ham and Dinamo Zagreb have feasted on this tactic and now teams around the world have learned that beating Arsenal starts with congesting the middle and then countering down the wings.

For many, the answer lies in dropping Cazorla or Ramsey and allowing two true wingers, a combination of Alexis, Theo Walcott, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, to stretch the field wide and open up space for their technically gifted midfielders. Alas, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain aren’t willing to put in truly strong defensive shifts, thus leaving backs like Bellerin and Debuchy under constant attack.

If these are all accepted facts or, at the very least, something that Wenger must be acutely aware of at this point, what is the answer? Well, and I suppose this may be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but what about deploying Mesut Ozil in the False 9 position?

At its bare bones, such a switch would allow for Ramsey’s return to the middle of the pitch, a place he often featured during his incredible 2013-2014 campaign that saw him score 16 goals over 34 appearances. Teaming him up Cazorla and Francis Coquelin in the center would likely keep the defense fortified and strong while giving Ozil the chance to move upfield, have less defensive responsibility, and feed the team’s two best scorers.

Although the criticisms of Walcott as a poor striker are a bit unfair, this allows him, as well, to move back to the position in which he’s found the most success. Undeniably, Walcott and Alexis are the team’s best goal scorers — this is not a slight against Giroud by any means, by the way — so getting them into attacking spaces as the squad’s wingers is simply practical. Pushing two of our faster athletes to wings will stretch the field and allow for Ozil to have absolute free reign.

Admittedly, the success of such a formation would depend on Ozil’s willingness to take on some of the scoring responsibilities. According to Twitter’s OptaJoe, Ozil has created 76 goalscoring chances in the Premier League in 2015, and although those type of statistics can be misleading, it’s a testament to the German International’s skills even amongst the crowded feet.

As an absolute maestro, Ozil often looks at shooting as the absolute last option and he’s constantly searching to make the next pass, even if it would benefit him from being selfish. Ozil has scored some absolute crackers in his time, so this is a skill he most definitely still possesses and, with a little role readjustment from Wenger, could be a position he flourishes in.

Such a formation would allow Alexis to track back defensively — and he will do it whether you like it or not! — and Ramsey, one of England’s best box-to-box midfielders can help provide cover for the speedy Bellerin or defense-deficient Walcott. Pushing Giroud to the bench will change the approach, obviously, but it seems like we’ve been waiting to see Ozil, Walcott, and Alexis in advanced positions with space since Sanchez signed last summer.

Following Giroud’s double yellow against Dinamo Zagreb, is it possible that we actually witnessed a better Arsenal team after they went down a man? The red forced Ozil into a more advanced attacking position and it was noticeable as the movement upfront considerably improved. The Dinamo Zagreb is a tough in terms of creating any concrete conclusions, what with Ramsey at home in London and the defense not noticeably improving until Coquelin’s introduction in the 64th minute, but their spacing and Giroud issues are not likely to simply disappear.

Simply put, their current formation helps get the majority of Arsenal’s talented central players on the field, but at what cost? Clubs are all too comfortable sitting back and absorbing the stacked, narrow midfield, so maybe giving something like the False 9 is a good shout. Experimenting with this against Chelsea isn’t a great idea, but if they save it for Sunderland or Olympiacos, then they’ll also have a built-in excuse for why they were run out of the building by any more middling to poor teams!

What do you think? Would something like this work for Arsenal?

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