Arsenal: Unai Emery embracing 4-4-2 for Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang?
Unai Emery is still searching out his best team. He is 11 games into his management era. It is only natural that he does not yet know the system and the personnel that best utilizes the talent of this Arsenal squad. It will take time. And as it takes time, it will also take some experimentation, some risk-taking, some curious decisions, some of which may come off, some of which may not.
During Sunday’s 5-1 win over Fulham, the Gunners’ best performance of the season, Emery unveiled a new system that has not been previously seen this season.
Almost exclusively, Emery has utilized a 4-2-3-1 this season, with a midfielder playing in the central attacking midfield position. On Thursday night, he changed to a 3-4-3 for the first half, before quickly reverting a 4-3-3-based shape after seeing some major defensive vulnerabilities during the first 45 minutes. But against Fulham, Emery almost opted for a 4-4-2 — it would be best described as a 4-2-2-2 or 4-4-1-1 — in which two center-forwards partnered one another through the middle.
It started with Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck, the latter of which was afforded the freedom to drift out of a central starting position and also tasked with dropping into midfield when defending. And in the second half, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was introduced through the middle, with Lacazette dropping off his strike partner.
Much of Emery’s chopping and changing this season has centered on the configuration of his four most attacking players, especially Lacazette and Aubameyang. Both are strikers, both want to play as close to the penalty area as possible, both want to be playing through the middle, not in midfield or out
In the modern game in which controlling the midfield is of increasing importance, playing two strikers is almost seen as an archaic. It is deemed untenable with teams unable to gain a foothold in games, finding themselves totally overrun in the midfield and incapable of providing service to two completely isolated players.
But on this occasion, Emery found a way to play with two strikers — admittedly one of them was asked to drop off the other into deeper spaces — without completely losing the midfield battle. It is something that many fans have been asking for regarding the usage of Aubameyang and Lacazette, particularly with the former being played on the left flank, which is most certainly not the best use of his
Could it be that this system used against Fulham is what we begin to see more of this season? It certainly seemed to work well at the weekend, getting the most out of both Lacazette and Aubameyang, who scored two apiece. We will have to wait and see, but Emery may be embracing the age-old 4-4-2 for the betterment of his strikers, and it might just work.