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How Unai Emery’s 4-3-3 Could Work At Arsenal

ProbablArsenal Probable Starting Lineup in a 4-3-3

Greetings Gooners. In Monday’s tactical discussion we gave our initial thoughts on who might make up Unai Emery’s preferred Starting XI. As our system of play we selected a 4-3-3, which is what he last used at PSG. Using that as our system we speculated on who the best fits were for that system. Now, we want to take a look at how we can expect to play in a 4-3-3.

First, let’s remember this is all speculation. We’ve seen 1 pre-season match against Boreham Wood and let’s be honest, you can’t really glean anything from that.

Before we talk about how we might expect Arsenal to play in the 4-3-3, let’s take a look at what the 4-3-3 is.

It is a high-pressure system of play that is what I like to call “ball hungry.” Simply put, the team who plays this system wants the ball and when they have the ball they want to keep it and use it to open you up.

Staples of the 4-3-3 include fullbacks who provide width and midfielders who are don’t offer any natural width on their own. One of those midfielders, the #6 (Torreira most likely) will drop deep to play the anchor or pivot from the Center Backs to the MF. The other turn will work in a piston like manner in a box to box tole filling the holes left by the 3 forwards. In some systems these two may do little-to-no defensive work

Finally, there are 3 forwards, a striker and two “wide” forwards. Looks for the forwards to operate on a similar line with the wide forwards interchanging position as situations require. Additionally, the wide forwards need to possess an understanding of how the FBs will play so as to effectively support any attacking runs they make.

In order for the 4-3-3 to be successful, players must exert tremendous amounts of energy both in possession and out of possession. The midfielders especially the two box-to-box types will exert even more energy as they are looking to offer support to the forwards in attack and then lock channels during the counter-press.

So what can we look for at Arsenal. Let’s first look at Arsenal in possession.

Let’s assume that the keeper (Leno) has gotten the ball and is looking for an outlet, he finds one of the two CBs (Sokratis and Mustafi) pulled out wide and the 6 dropping in – either in line with the CBs or at the top of triangle. A staple of Emery’s team is the ability to play out of the back and into the MF with as quickly as possible using 1-touch from player to player in order to beat any press.

From the CB, the 6 is the most likely outlet to begin playing through one line to the next.

At the time this happening the FBs (Monreal and Bellerin) will begin attacking runs down the flanks. The two other midfielders (Ramsey and Xhaka) will come in to the middle to help rotate the ball through the midfield.  The 7 & 11 (Mkhi and Özil) will pinch to create space in the wings for the FBs coming forward.

The striker’s (Aubameyang) role is to sit between the 2 opposition center backs making runs on either through balls from the pinched in WFs or MF players or attacking the box for low hard crosses coming in from the wide full backs.

In either case, Emery’s teams are actively looking to attack around the 18 with quick exchanges looking to open up the defensive block. We should expect less probing but won’t see it entirely go away. What we should see is more attempts at breaking those lines quickly and creating chances than we have see under Wenger’s more patient system. (This wasn’t meant as a criticism to Wenger – the two systems are different and have different requirements)

PlArsenal plaayer movement in possession in a 4-3-3

Player movement in possession

So, what happens when we are out of possession?

The first train of thought for Emery’s team is to win the ball back high. The center forward and two wide forwards will drop a little allowing the opposition CBs to have the ball.

They will hopefully open up space out wide for the them to play the ball wide to a FB.  As soon as the FB or wide player gets the ball, the outside wide forward and FB will immediately press, using the line as an additional defender.

Arsenal 4-3-3 high press

How the High Press Would Work

The midfielders will look to take away any passing options in front of the player with the ball. If by chance the press is bypassed, the front 3 will begin to drop deeper. The MF will look to win the ball and if successful look to spring the forwards on the counter.

Initiating the Counter

Initiating the Counter

As the counter develops, Emery is looking for his forwards to have space to dribble on the ball and attack the back line. He wants his forwards to interchange the ball with 1 or 2-touch passing to break the line quickly and create situations where they have caught the opposition out of balance (attackers with superior numbers.) This is one of the reasons why in our projecting the lineup, we selected Mkhi over Lacazette. The Armenian is simply better dribbling at a back line than the Frenchman.

One of the dangers of Emery’s 4-3-3 is one we are all well aware of. He likes to play a high line and it can get exposed if the MF is not disciplined enough. Its why a player like Torreira is so important to his set up.

Again, this is all conjecture. At Sevilla, there is some debate as to whether-or-not it was 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 Emery employed. Even if it is a 4-2-3-1 a lot of the precepts are the same. The notable exception is that the 6 actually drops more frequently into the defensive line when the FBs creating essentially a 3-4-3 in possession.

Regardless, we still have time to assess how he’ll play. The tour to Singapore and game in Dublin should give us plenty of time to really get a sense of how he’ll play and hopefully, we’ll be able to measure that against this post.

In our next installment, we’ll go over how you should watch the friendlies coming up. And yes, beer can be involved.

That’s all for now. As always we welcome your thoughts on how you think we’ll play this season under Emery.

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