Arsenal Vs Chelsea: Four at the back asking for battering

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager looks on during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at Bet365 Stadium on August 19, 2017 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager looks on during the Premier League match between Stoke City and Arsenal at Bet365 Stadium on August 19, 2017 in Stoke on Trent, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images) /

During Arsenal’s 3-1 win against FC Koln, they shifted to a four-at-the-back system. While they had success with it, there were vast open spaces that were not exploited on the counter. If the same approach is taken against Chelsea, then Arsene Wenger is asking for a battering.

Arsenal were far improved in the second half in their win over FC Koln. They were more accurate and creative in their passing, their attacking shape was far improved, with each player understanding their specific role and knowing and exploiting the freedom they got within their remit, and they scored three well-worked goals.

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In large part, that was due to a formational shift from 3-4-3 to 4-2-3-1, with Sead Kolasinac coming off the bench at half-time. However, for all of their developed attacking prowess, there were several signs that were extremely concerning ahead of a difficult trip to Stamford Bridge on Sunday. These signs lead me to believe that if Arsene Wenger implements a four-at-the-back system with the same philosophy, then Chelsea will dismantle his side once again.

Here is the first scenario that aroused my concern:

Mohamed Elneny has the ball in the middle of the park. It is comfortable possession for Arsenal without much threat from FC Koln. However, one misplaced pass from Elneny and a precise, incisive ball forwards from FC Koln, and suddenly, the Gunners are defending a three on three and look worryingly exposed. You can see that picture here:

The move is ultimately snuffed out thanks to a quickly recovering Ainsley Maitland-Niles, but, and this will be a running theme, a better team like Chelsea, who are famously clinical in these type of situations, would score, or at least engineer a clear-cut opportunity.

The second scenario is shown below:

Hector Bellerin has just done a terrific job working back, utilising his searing pace to recover his position, and win the ball back. He then drives forwards, with the ball at his feet, looking to instigate a counter-attack the other way. It is not a foolish idea, with space to run into, but after a poor pass from Alex Iwobi in the build-up is blocked and subsequently intercepted, Arsenal are not alert enough to the danger that is present.

This freeze-frame takes place just after Iwobi has lost possession. The trio of Arsenal defenders – Iwobi, Bellerin and Theo Walcott — all then move to close down the ball, lacking any sort of communication between one and another, all unaware of the presence of an FC Koln attacker behind them down the wide left channel.

One pass later, and this is the situation that Arsenal find themselves in:

FC Koln, as they did for much of the second half, wasted this opening. They should have slipped in the overlapping run and fired a low cross into the box once in behind the Gunners’ defence. Instead, they cut inside Mohamed Elneny, who does well in snuffing out the danger, ultimately winning the ball, but did so with a little suspicion of a possible penalty. Such naïve defending cannot take place against Chelsea. Again, the Blues score here.

The final scenario takes place when Arsenal are 2-1 up and in relative comfort.

The ball is played into the feet of Jack Wilshere, who turns but loses the ball in the process. After some neat interplay from FC Koln, the ball eventually reaches the feet of Jhon Cordoba, who has space and the speed to expose Nacho Monreal and Per Mertesacker. He skips by Monreal leaving him with just the lanky German to beat. This is this picture below:

Mertesacker does his best to stay with him, forcing Cordoba as wide as possible, but can only force a tight-angled shot, which is well saved by David Ospina. The issue for Arsenal here is the space that they leave in their own half when they have the ball. They are painfully exposed and a better side, like Chelsea, will take advantage.


In all of these different scenarios, one thing to note is the positioning of the full-backs, Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac. Both are looking to go forward with every opportunity. Now, when you’re chasing the game, in need of a goal against a lesser opponent, then that is okay and I can forgive the space that they leave behind them in this context. But if they do the same, away from home, against a team as lethal and clinical as Chelsea, then they will undoubtedly be punished.

And usually, you can differentiate between the two different contexts of the game; a manager will make the necessary tactical adjustments to deal with the given threat in the upcoming fixture. But that is not what Wenger does. How many times have we witnessed Arsenal play in a painfully green, attacking manner, seemingly undeterred by the opponent, the circumstances of the match and the defensive exposure that they are creating for themselves?

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It is all well and good trying to play neat, tidy, attractive football. But doing so in a naïve manner against a team like Chelsea will only end one way. If Arsenal play like they did in the second half against FC Koln, then they are asking for a battering, even if they did win that half 3-0. Wenger cannot be so innocent again.