Oh the 4-3-3. It’s a formation that has been held on a pedestal as some kind of holy grail that once achieved will see Arsenal become this almighty force ready to take on Europe.
Like some evolutionary stage: Arsenal were Charmander (3-4-3), turned into Charmeleon (4-2-3-1) and are now just scrambling around the bushes hunting for that final bit of experience before emerging from the rubble as a ferocious all-conquering Charizard.
Did we see a glimpse of it against Norwich?
A lot has been made of Mikel Arteta’s second half substitutions in the 1-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium, effectively withdrawing Albert Sambi Lokonga for Emile Smith Rowe. It meant Ainsley Maitland-Niles shifted to right-back and Thomas Partey moved into the engine with no other recognised central midfielders on the pitch.
There is one huge stumbling block preventing Mikel Arteta from adopting a 4-3-3 formation at Arsenal – one that doesn’t look like going away
It could be seen as a potential turning point.
Arteta has long-since championed the idea of playing that system, one that echoes his former mentor, and The Athletic add this has been stated internally well as externally; Partey’s signing saw the idea floated.
A quote that is ingrained into everyone’s brains by now:
“We want to move to a 4-3-3 but for that, you need a lot of specificity in every position but now in five or six positions, we don’t have it,” he said in December.
Well, he bought six players over the summer. There was a fair bit of specificity in those acquisitions, but were they to catalysts for making the change?
Looking at the Norwich game first of all, it wasn’t really a 4-3-3. Plenty of debate has been sparked but Odegaard played deep enough to almost act as Partey’s partner in midfield so that it resembled the usual 4-2-3-1. More expansive, though? Without doubt.
Profile wise- having Odegaard and Smith Rowe in those central areas leans heavily to the two No. 8’s that this system requires, and there is a level of additional creativity on the pitch in having those two there with Bukayo Saka more advanced.
Fleetingly used during his reign in charge, the 4-3-3 hasn’t worked out as of yet. Signing a new No.6/box-to-box player like Sambi adds potential and Partey being the Rolls Royce he is with more adaptation to the league can also make a difference.
But there is something holding this whole plan back.