Arsenal Vs Chelsea: Tactical change shows what needs to be continued

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 24: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Carabao Cup Semi-Final Second Leg at Emirates Stadium on January 24, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images) /
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At half-time of Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Chelsea on Wednesday night, Arsene Wenger made a tactical change: Mohamed Elneny dropped deeper to make a back-three. The switch shows what needs to be continued: tactical flexibility.

When Arsene Wenger first implemented the 3-4-3 system in the closing stages of last season, it always felt that a short-term patch to cover the immediate problems, rather than a long-term endeavour that the Arsenal team would be moulded around for months and years to come. Well, it seems that such a premonition was off the mark somewhat.

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While Wenger has rotated between the back-four and back-three systems this seasons, the fact that he has continued to keep the back-three in his pocket shows that he believes there is value in it.

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And, in the 2-1 win against Chelsea in the second-leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final on Wednesday night, that value came to the fore. Speaking to the media after the win, Wenger revealed that he made a couple of key tactical changes that punctuated performances of such disparity:

"“I felt that in the first half there were psychological and tactical reasons for us not expressing the quality of our game, we rectified that at half-time In the second half we won the ball high up, we could then get our midfield which is technically very talented into the game and then we controlled the game in the second half. I think the system, once I changed something at half-time, worked quite well.”"

Specifically, the change that Wenger made centred on Mohamed Elneny. Rather than start as an anchoring midfielder, flanked by Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere, Wenger instructed Elneny to sit a little deeper, splitting Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, emulating a shape very similar to a back-three — it wasn’t quite a back-three as Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin remained fairly deep, but very similar principles were mirrored.

The change allowed the home side to match Chelsea up man-to-man all over the pitch: a front-three against a back three; wing-backs against wing-backs; two central midfielders against two central midfielders; a back-three against a front-three. It limited the influence of a drifting Eden Hazard, who was enjoying space in between the Arsenal lines in a free-roaming, false-nine role, and it allowed the whole team to press higher up the pitch or sit deeper as a collective, connected unit.

The ability to switch between systems is invaluable. For far too many years, Wenger has been stubborn in his tactical implementation. His theory is that his side should be able to play at a standard that the opposition must then adapt to them. But in the modern world, with such talented players at so many different teams, playing with differing styles, principles and tactics, it is a naive, outdated approach.

Next: Arsenal Vs Chelsea: 5 things we learned

Flexibility is key. And, now, Arsenal have it.