The England under-21 international’s introduction to the game against West Ham allowed the Gunners boss to put his long-term vision into practice
Arsenal’s game against West Ham was one of the craziest you are likely to see in a while.
The Gunners found themselves 3-0 down inside 32 minutes thanks to goals from Jesse Lingard, Jarrod Bowen and Tomas Soucek.
The Czech midfielder then deflected Alexandre Lacazette ‘s shot into his own net before another own goal from Craig Dawson and a Lacazette header completed a dramatic come back.
In and among all the madness though Mikel Arteta still found time to try out something Arsenal fans had rarely seen before during his time as Arsenal manager.
Since he was appointed in 2019, the Spaniard has largely stuck to a 4-2-3-1.
There was a period towards the end of last season and at the beginning of this one where he had his Gunners side set up in a 3-4-3 en route to FA Cup and Community Shield success.
But since the 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day it has almost exclusively been a back four with two midfield sitters in front of them and a conventional number ten in behind a front three.
While it may have helped Arsenal climb up the Premier League table, Arteta himself has admitted in the past this is not how he envisions his side playing in the long term.
“For me the way we occupy space and who is going to move in there is more important than the formation,” he told DAZN last year.
“And from there we have some very similar players that are not used to playing in those positions so we have to keep changing the formation a little bit.
“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.
“The aggressiveness, the effectiveness, the amount of steals we make in opposition half I think we have been very steady against some big clubs.
“I think that what we miss is in the opponent’s area and the last part of the pitch. We have to find the key in the attack, that last decision, that last pass, that last cross to create a goal situation, a goal, a shot, a corner, etc.”
The 4-3-3 Arteta intends to implement at the Emirates is reminiscent of the style of play his former mentor Pep Guardiola has used so effectively at Manchester City.
The formation would see one sitting midfielder in charge of receiving the ball from defence and building attacks in the manner that Fernandinho does for City, with two ‘free 8s’ in front of him supporting the attack in a role we have become accustomed to seeing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden deployed in for the Premier League leaders.
Despite a 4-3-3 being Arteta’s long-term aim at Arsenal we have rarely ever seen him actually put in to practice during his time as manager.
After project restart the Gunners were set up that way against Manchester City at the Etihad only for injuries to Pablo Mari and Granit Xhaka and a red card for David Luiz to scupper the plan en route to a 3-0 defeat.
The set up was continued with during the next game against Brighton, but after seeing his side lose that match as well Arteta decided to ditch it in favour of a more defensively solid 3-4-3.
But as Arsenal found themselves chasing the game in the second half against West Ham on Sunday, the Spaniard decided to give his preferred formation another go.
He had began the game with Thomas Partey and Xhaka sitting in midfield and Martin Odegaard playing at ‘number 10’.
However, once he decided to replace the Swiss international with Emile Smith Rowe, the 4-3-3 was put into practice.
Partey was the sitter in the Fernandinho role, while the creative dynamism of Smith Rowe and Odegaard was put to use in the ‘free 8’ positions.
The plan worked to great effect as Partey – in the centre of the pitch – moved the ball quickly to Odegaard who from the right attacking midfield position found Nicolas Pepe in the box. The Ivorian was then able to dig out a delicious cross on his weaker right foot which Lacazette was able to nod in for the equaliser.