Arsenal’s Formation & Tactics Part 1 – Can Gabriel & Koscielny Work?
We’re thrilled to present the first of a three-part series written by @GizaGooner! He has reached out and provided three great, thought-provoking pieces on the Arsenal’s current status and future prospects. Make sure to let us know what you think and follow him on Twitter @GizaGooner!
Picture an Arsenal defensive lineup, numbers six and five have been selected together, and are set on the team sheet. Currently, many Arsenal fans find this a wondrous sight, and are emboldened and confident at the prospect of these two numbers together as the second-to-last line of defence. In previous seasons, however, though perhaps not when injury struck, a lineup featuring such numbers would’ve sent many a fan – perhaps the very same fans – into a row and frenzy: Thomas Vermaelen as Laurent Koscielny’s partner.
After one or two seasons of battling for dominance over the most prominent centre-back position, Laurent Koscielny has locked down the left centre-back position as his own for as long as he remains within his prime, which has surpassed many a defender in the world, perhaps all of them if one could be as bold as to make such a statement. Albeit, for all of the Arsenal number six’s prowess, his flaws cannot be overlooked, of which we are all too familiar with…
Preceding the arrival of Per Mertesacker – more on him in a moment – we were asked to be content with Thomas Vermaelen as Koscielny’s main partner, for better or for worse. Despite the now-Barcelona man’s inherent ability that no one could ever deny, injuries and oft-suspect decision-making had made him a bugbear for many fans in the past, as he’d been seen as the one holding Koscielny back, as the duo exhibited surprisingly similar attributes; positive and negative alike.
There exists a fascinating situation in football wherein two players occupying a dual role are so alike that it can almost be seen as an attempt at cloning gone near-perfectly, with the clone – Vermaelen, in such a case – is not quite as good as the original, despite being a near-carbon copy. Where I’m from, we have a saying: “Too much of anything good can often be harmful”, a pronoun I’m sure is prevalent within most locales. This applies to tactics, as well.
A match is a firefight between two platoons of one-man armies, each capable of shooting down the net, and subsequently, the other team. Using this analogy, let us imagine each portion of the field as a fireteam; a squad of soldiers cooperating for a common goal. Within most professional militaries, no fireteam features identical members: a team would typically feature a leader, a level-headed marksman, a clever, quick-minded rifleman to maintain the balance, and a heavy, stocky gunner tasked with covering fire; a brutish, seemingly clumsy member of the team who exists solely to allow all other members to perform their duties.
Within this analogy, Arsenal committed the folly of having a leader in Koscielny, another leader in Vermaelen, a marksman in Gibbs, – no, I couldn’t write that with a straight face at this point – and a gunner in Sagna; hence why Sagna often drifted inside, as the team must have its most important members – the leader and gunner – centrally, they must maintain the balance and lead the squad to glory.
Gabriel, tragically, falls into the Vermaelen-Koscielny category: he is another clone of Koscielny, which is why – I presume – he was bought in the first place: Koscielny is not getting younger. However, Arsenal’s defensive fireteam has gotten more balanced as of late: with the marksman on the right in Bellerín, the solid, stable rifleman on the left in Monreal, the ever-present leader that is Koscielny, and most importantly for this analogy, the missing piece: the central gunner in Mertesacker.
I suspect that Calum Chambers was bought mainly as a replacement for our ageing, much-maligned gunner, whose contributions will likely be seen favourably in hindsight; hindsight is quite the beautiful thing. While a partnership of Gabriel & Koscielny can work, it leaves Arsenal exposed as both rush forward and leave far too much space; two leaders do not make a team solid, even if both lead to their respective moments of glory.
Kindly join us for the second part of this case, however, as the defensive fireteam is not the only team in need of balancing at this point in time. Teams can often overlap, and in the second part, we’ll get into the intersection between the defense and midfield: the wing.