Mikel Arteta was naturally jubilant following Arsenal’s win over Molde.
Off the back of some disappointing Premier League results that have left Arsenal sitting in 12th, seven points off of top spot – but crucially five off fourth – the need for a response away at Molde was imperative.
Not just for the sake of morale, but in the context of the competition where Arsenal can now relax knowing qualification is assured and the established senior players can earn time off ahead of a grueling December fixture list.
Two performances in particular stood out, with Reiss Nelson and Nicolas Pepe posing a threat throughout down either flank, notching the goals their performances merited. We saw the 4-2-3-1 setup used in patches this season before it was used from the off against Leeds, but while it failed it bear fruit at Elland Road, the benefits of the system were plain to see on Thursday.
Speaking on the official Arsenal website after the match, Arteta hinted to the possibility of using the system in the Premier League, although insisted it depends on both personnel and opposition.
"“It depends on the players that we have available and a few things that we have to make sure that we can control better than we did tonight.“There were a lot of positives, we looked a threat all the time but there were some issues there to be resolved. This will take time, and its that we changed the team a lot, we played a lot of young players but I was really pleased with the performance and the personality that they showed on the pitch.”"
What was different on Thursday in comparison to the draw with Leeds with that Arteta utilised natural wingers – not Willian shoehorned in a position he no longer suits. The width from both Pepe and Nelson provided symmetry and balance, with both adept at cutting inside onto their favoured foot to create space for the full-backs to overlap.
It meant Arsenal were dangerous from all angles. As opposed to multiple bodies down one flank, there were options inside to aim for as well as in the box and in wide areas.
As Arteta admitted, it was far from perfect. The first half wasn’t fluid enough, with progression through the thirds either too slow or bypassed entirely in favour of long balls to the wingers, a ploy which altered after the break and brought about heightened incision.
4-2-3-1 does work if the right bodies occupy the right areas. Nelson down the left and Pepe to the right of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is an exciting trio. Adding Bukayo Saka in the mix from a slightly retracted role on the left only adds to the giddiness.
A fine balancing act does come with that, admittedly, but 4-2-3-1 is a formation that is bringing the best out of certain individuals. With Nelson set to feature in the coming three fixtures, it’ll be interesting to see whether Arteta reverts to a flatter midfield trio or if Joe Willock is pushed into the advanced role to accommodate two wide players.
Or, Willian and Alexandre Lacazette could start. Who knows.