Does Giroud’s Signing Herald A Change In Formation? Merits Of 3-5-2 & WM

By Daniel Cowan
In Arsenal
Jun 26th, 2012

After my post yesterday a few of my regular readers asked me why it had been a full week between posts when I’m usually a 2 post a week a blogger. The reason is that I actually had a post that I’d spent the best part of 5 days working on almost ready to go last Friday when a piece of a very similar nature was posted on 1nildown2oneup, it was a great piece so check it out if you haven’t already. I decided to bin my post and work on something different. Dave Seager of 1nildown2oneup said I should just post it anyway but by that point I had lost the motivation to finish it as I didn’t feel it was original to North London Is Red any more. However, with the news of Giroud official signing breaking today I thought I could work with my binned post again.

My original post was going to be about utilising different formations, mostly the 3-5-2 in order to play Mertesacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen together and how we could easily change formations mid game and from game to game without changing personnel too drastically. I think that a 3-5-2 could improve us defensively but I also think it would be the perfect formation to fit our new signing Olivier Giroud!

I hope to see more tweets about his goals than his good looks

I believe that a 3-5-2 would offer us the very best of our current system as well as the very best of the 4-4-2 that as many believe is outdated as there are those that long for a return to it. Formations are like clothes and fashion trends. Some work for the masses, some only work in certain eras, some only work for a small group of people and some never go out of fashion.

4-4-2 works for many teams and is a formation I believe will never go out of fashion. 4-3-3 is the hot trend at the moment but I believe that it is on it’s way out of fashion. I believe that a 3-5-2, as an option, would help improve upon Arsenal’s defensive frailty as well as support our attack instincts but it’s not the only formation I want to explore. I also want to explore the famous WM formation of the Chapman era.

What 3-5-2 can go for Arsenal is aid our attacking mentality, possession based football, quick passing whilst also improving our already impressive counter-attacking and defending from the front. The benefits of having the ability to use many formations, WM and 3-5-2 being a couple of them, is that we can adapt to any situation be that a stubborn team, an attack minded team or even injuries crises like we had in January.

Arsenal play with their fullbacks high up the pitch which I believe leaves our centre backs exposed and often leads to the wrongful maligning of Alex Song for “failing” to protect the back four which are only really a back two. Unlike our great teams of the past under Wenger we rely almost exclusively on our central midfielders to create chances and without the worlds best chance creator (statistically) in Cesc Fabregas in our team we depended on our other players to step up. Unexpectedly that was Song which was a nice surprise but also led to him being “out of position” on a number of crucial occasions. It is because of this that I believe we can afford to push our fullbacks up a little higher and allow more creative freedom amongst our midfield without compromising defensive stability.

I believe that playing with one centre forward as we do isn’t suited to the English game unless you have a forward who is as much of a bully as the defenders he will undoubtedly face week in week out or a world class superstar. Luckily for Arsenal we have one of the worlds best strikers so coped reasonably well but I think Arsenal supporters reactions to every tackle on Van Persie and the dreaded thought of what would happen should be be injured shows how ineffective our system is with our back up players. However in Podolski and Giroud I believe we have more than adequate back up now.

These guys know a thing or two about the effectiveness of a 3-5-2

In a 3-5-2 you have three defenders with two players marking the opposition’s forwards and a sweeper behind them. The midfield has two wingbacks and three central midfielders who are organised depending on whether they have the ball or not. The two strikers are positioned high up the pitch with a traditional number 9 and a number 10 switching between playing in the hole and being a supporting striker.

Modern fullbacks overlap with wingers down the flanks to great attacking effect but at a club like Arsenal they are often exposed by the lack of effort or ability from their wingers in their defensive duties. This is only to be expected when you consider that Arsenal do not play with wingers; they play with wide forwards, on paper at least. So why not add the extra defender in the middle allowing the midfield to push up and add an extra man up top? The fullbacks would continue as they are as they have very little cover as it is already.

Our three defenders would be Mertesacker, Koscielny and Vermaelen of course with Mertesacker playing as a sweeper. There is a question mark over Mertesacker’s pace but playing as a sweeper or in the centre of a back three would suit him very well as he has fantastic positioning and his reading of the game is superb.

Koscielny and Vermaelen are both capable of playing as fullbacks which would help them as they set up slightly wider than usual and control the edge of the box on their respective sides when defending. When attacking Mertesacker could push up from his sweeper position and have one of the others tuck in beside him and allow the third man to take up a front sweeper position. From a defensive point of view 3-5-2 works well teams who play with two strikers which would help against United who were the only top team we haven’t been able to beat over the past couple of years.

Would playing all three together improve us defensively?

For wingbacks we have Sagna who is defensively and offensively astute so would work very well as a wingback. Aside from Jenkinson when Sagna is not fit we always have Coquelin whose proven to be capable in midfield as at fullback who I believe would also play this role to great effect and dare I say it even Ramsey could play this position. On the other flank we have two excellent players in Gibbs and Santos who both started as left wingers so aren’t short on attacking ability and are not entirely incompetent defenders. Dave Seager wrote a great piece on utilising Santos’ offensive abilities.

We can play with one or two deep midfielders which would accommodate any combination of Jack, Arteta and Song or we can play with two attacking midfielders by pushing our sweeper up just behind the holding midfielder. With two attacking midfielders we can play Rosicky, Ramsey, Wilshere and The Ox or we could even play with a very advanced attacking midfielder and play RVP or Podolski behind two other strikers.

In attack the flexibility of the formation would allow us to play any combination of Giroud, Poldolski and RVP or even all three if we so wished.

We could also change formation at will to a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3. I know it’s not Football Manager but all it would take would be a shout from Bould to change formation or with one substitution we could completely change formation and bring on an impact player.

Without making a substitution we could change from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 with no ill effect. With just one substitution we could change from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 or 3-2-2-3 (WM). 3-5-2 is a very flexible formation and is perfect for switching from defence to attack in the blink of an eye and vice versa.

I’ve made up a GIF but pay no attention to the actual player names as I believe that we can can play these formations to great effect regardless of the personnel. (The GIF shifts to a new formation every 10 seconds).

Formations GIF – See how easily we can move from defence to attack and change formation completely without making mass substitutions.


I cannot see Wenger buying players of the calibre of Giroud and Podolski just to put them on the bench and despite my feelings on RVP earlier this year I think we may just have planned for selling him. If we don’t then that means a change in formation which I would prefer and I honestly think that Wenger is considering. I don’t think he has been wrong with his tactics or his formations in the past but I don’t think that our current formation will best serve the players we have and the players we have added moving forward.

If RVP does stay, which I hope he does then I can’t see him, Giroud or Podolski being benched long-term so I think all three will play together but only if Robin stays. I believe that only 4-4-2 or WM will allow us to play all three together and that would be a very exciting proposition.

In Podolski we have an extremely versatile player but more importantly a player who is happy to utilise his versatility. Although Robin has played wide for his country I don’t believe he would want to do it for club and will only play as a 9 or a 10. Our latest addition, Giroud is less versatile in my opinion but no less dangerous. He can score with both feet and with his head, he can play with his back to goal and as a main striker. He is an aerial threat and is probably going to be our focal point in attack.

I think we could quite easily see Giroud being the main striker in any formation and the question I think is going to be who will partner him. I personally would like to see Giroud and Podolski upfront with Van Persie in the Bergkamp role.

The WM formation also intrigues me as I believe it could work well with the players we have.

Similar to the 3-5-2 you start with 3 defenders but as there are two holding midfielders I think you could easily get away with using fullbacks as the outer defenders and having the holding midfielders drop deep to allow the fullbacks to join in the attack. Ahead of the two holding midfielders you have two attacking midfielders/playmakers and I believe that Jack, Rosicky, Ramsey, The Ox, RVP and Podolski could all play in those advanced roles. You have a main striker who I think will be Giroud and two wide forwards who would most likely be Podolski and Theo. It’s an almost 90 year old formation but I think it still has merit especially against 4-4-2 teams.

I’m no conspiracy theorist (we only bought Park to sell shirts in Asia and only bought Giroud to sell calendars to girls ;-)) but the new shirt does have WM embroidered in the back. Maybe it’s a hint?

Are Arsenal hinting to a new formation or just paying homage to an old one?

I would be surprised if we are still playing 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 next season as our main formation but however we line up next season I think we’re in for a great season and I can’t wait.

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About "" - 509 Posts

I am a South London born Gooner now living in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. I'm a husband, daddy, podcaster, trainer enthusiast and aspiring author. My work is my passion and for that I will always be grateful. Here is where I write my thoughts and views on Arsenal Football Club, the greatest team the world has ever seen.

17 Responses to “Does Giroud’s Signing Herald A Change In Formation? Merits Of 3-5-2 & WM”

  1. nadiope ivan says:

    first of all its good to have depth in the team and it will help us progress and atleast win something. but am also asking myself about the formation to use for the next season.

  2. davi says:

    I like the idea of a 3-man centre of defence, playing something like the way Napoli play (but there would be some growing pains if we switched, I’m sure). I see your point about having Mertesacker in the middle of the three, but personally, I’d have Vermaelen or Song – someone who can bring the ball forward, pick a quick pass and/or make late runs into the box. TV has cries out for that freer role imo. His stamina and desire to attack (as well as his finishing ability) makes him a potent attacking force which could be utilised to it’s fullest in this formation.
    As a defensive sweeper, I’d have to say that Koscielny would be the best of the three because of his reading of the game and excellent pace over short distances, and he’s done quite a lot of sweeping for us this season anyway. Unfortunately he’s also our best marker, so you’d lose that if you gave him that freer role. (Best Arsenal CB since Sol Campbell?)
    Also, Sagna could be used in the centre of defence in such a formation, as he’s very good in the air and either “wide” centre back would have to cover their flank, which would naturally suit him.
    The other thing with that sort of formation is that it would necessitate moving Theo into a more central position, something that would be interesting to see. I think it’s pretty well accepted that he’s really a striker, but there’s no way he could play the way Van Persie does now as he’s not strong enough and isn’t so good with his back to goal. Playing off of any of Podolski, Giroud or RVP could be quite successful imo.
    Overall it’s just an exciting way of playing, and may be something that would suit the players, so long as we also have disciplined characters like Kos, Sagna, Arteta and Song(!) to hold it together.

  3. Matt says:

    I really like the thinking here. Allows a lot of flexibility depending on how the game is developing. However, slight concern is that if we were to have any injuries with Mert, Koz or Verm then current back-up is Djourou or Squillaci. Not happy with either of those!!

    • davi says:

      Well sagna or song could provide cover, particularly if a new DM is coming. Djourou could even make a good sweeper considering he was a midfielder and is really capable with the ball at his feet, although I’m not convinced his reading of the game is so good.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      True but then we just adjust the formation. We could utilise Jenko on the right of a 3 man defence as he is tall and strong and reasonably quick. Song can drop back there as well and we could even use Sagna if Mertesacker is still fit. Beauty of 3-5-2 and WM as described in the post is it’s flexibility and the ease of transition to a different formation with little or no substitutions.

  4. Hgooner_oneil says:

    I prefer the 3-5-2 formation.with the defs being sagna,kos and verm.then 2 def midfs dat is song and wilshere and 3 attacking midfs dat is arteta,rvp and pod and the lone man forward,Giroud. Sag—–kos——-verm song—wilsh arteta—rvp—pod giroud

  5. Adikwu says:

    As much as we’re buying I see (and hope) this season will be one we get a lot of break out players from the youth team and I’ll like to see how your formations accomodates them. In a 3-5-2 I think u’ll be compromising the formations by playing wing backs as part of the 5 man midfield, gibbs I still expect to grow into a midfielder so he can be our ldm with coquelin as rdm then have the rcm, lcm and acm role shared by all our midfielders.

  6. Quality article. A lot to think about. Always a bit worried about these 3-5-2 formations as there’s a lack of responsibility for defending down the wings…but a good read.

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I totally get that but our fullbacks get little cover as it as so it wouldn’t make much difference as very few clubs play with true wingers any moe. 3-5-2 wouldn’t be a permanent change but something we could utilise because of the ease of changing formation depending on the way the match is going.

    • cupsui says:

      i like the idea of the 3-5-2 system and the defensive stability it would bring…
      The left and right positions are the biggest ?? in this formation. Sagna would probably be one and that would stifle walcott and the ox. On the left it could be gibbs santos or podolski depending on the situation but gervinho does not seem to fit anywhere in such a system. The up top positions would be Giroud and RvP playing off his shoulder in an arguably more dangerous role than even last season…but then balancing the midfield is a serious dilema it could easily lack attack as this systems tends to focus on numbers in between ball and goal.

      Interesting system no doubt…

      you do not seem an exponent of the 4-3-3 and its variations. I do not think by any stretch it is outdated in fact i believe the opposite it is still the strongest in football. Teams get smashed in the midfield by a 4-3-3 just look at arsenal. and with more dangerous attackers and a stronger defensive midfield structure we WILL be a better team than last year…

      Sagna Koz TV5 Gibbs
      song arteta
      Walcott Podolski


      Sagna Koz TV5 Gibbs
      song arteta (whilshere in rotation w/ these two)
      Walcott RvP Podolski

      Thos formations are much more stable as the midfield is set up much stronger defensively than when we struggled last season with a song-rosicky-ramsey combo.

      Add to that the possibility of another DM arriving such as M’Vila/Capoue and that further strengthens this

      In attack: an attacking trio (in first formation of Walcott podolski & RvP) is deadly and the quartet in the latter (Walcott, podolski, RvP and Giroud) has goals written all over it. The latter we would however be a little more susceptible against the counter although RvP and Podolski have shown they are VERY willing defenders

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      I am not advocating a complete change to 3-5-2 just as an option and how I feel that it is a formation that allows us to be more flexible on the pitch in terms of changing formation as and when is needed without making substitutions. For example we could be playing 3-5-2 and if we find that we need to go to 4-4-2 we could drop the RWB to RB and push the LCB to LB and the LWB to LW and on of our CMs to RW and then if we need to go 4-3-3 we can do that by dropping the RW/CM back to CM and a striker to RWF. It is such a flexible system because of the players that we have. I completely reject the notion of “this will stifle a player” and in fact I really hate it when Wenger says “but it will kill this player”. If a player is good enough he’ll break into the team. If Theo or the Ox are good enough they will get picked. If Gervinho is good enough he will get picked.

      With regards to defensively stability on the wings I believe I have already covered that in the post but I’m happy to explore it again :-). I feel that at Arsenal, in our 4-3-3 system we have very little cover for the fullback as it is. Our “wingers” are more wide forwards so to expect them to track back and help defend like an out and out wide player would do it probably expecting too much. It’s like asking our main striker, in this case RVP, to drop back and cover the centre backs. In a 3-5-2 you have 2 deep midfielders protecting the back 3, two of whom are “wide” centre backs who also protect the space between the box and the flanks. When we are in defensive mode we will essentially have 2 fullbacks, 3 centrebacks and 2 holding midfielders. When we are attacking we have two deep playmakers (probably Arteta & Song) as well as two wide players (the wingbacks) and two strikers being supported by an attacking midfielder. It actually promotes a better balance between attack and defence compared to 4-3-3 which is all about possession and attack which leaves you vulnerable unless you have a team that is world class at pressing. What we conceive as 4-3-3 from most teams is actually 4-5-1. Very few teams play proper 4-3-3 in my opinion.

    • cupsui says:

      Good talk Dan

      And i definitely agree that the 3-5-2 system provides better wide cover. No doubting that…there is an extra defender in there!

      I also agree the 4-3-3 is really a 4-5-1, but i like to refer to all its permutations as 4-3-3…lets call it 4-3-3 et al.

      4-3-3 et al. can still have adequate wide cover even if the “wingers” don’t always track back (although they should a reasonable amount…helps us play out too) if the two more defensive minded midfielders do their job properly. When we saw Arteta AND song this happened and song often drifted out to assist sagna on the right and arteta on the left. When they both played we looked secure against both width and counter. just look at the stats, they are incredible!!

      Back to 3-5-2 very structurally sound system but as i mentioned in me second post we would lose A LOT of width and crossing. We already get slammed about 1Dimensional play, i believe a 3-5-2 would force us thru the middle too much and take the strength of Giroud out of play considerably…

      For me strengthening our defensive structure in midfield is the most important thing this off season. having versatile midfielders that can attack defender and get around the pitch such as song, arteta, whilshere (and possibly M’Vila/Capoue/Biglia) would give us just what we need…rotating these players in the three midfield positions (DM – CM – AM) and perhaps even occasionally playing RvP in a Bergkamp AM/F role gives us balance and defensive reliability!!

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Arsenal actually play through the middle too much already IMO. In the days of Overmars/Pires/Ljungberg etc we used our wide players a lot and scored a lot of goals that way. In the past 6/7 years we’ve played through the middle far too much and that has led us to rely on one major goalscorer when we used to have 4/5 players scoring 10+ goals a season. If we want to play with width then we need to play 4-4-2. Giroud is actually a very technical striker and plays fantastically with his back to goal so crossing into the box probably would be wasting his talents. Playing through the middle is more his style.

    • Cupsui says:

      Again I agree that we need more width as we threaten more with a bit of extra wide play draws defenders out of the middle of the pitch too!

      And I agree on girouds technical play. He has a great touch and great strength. I am def not suggest abandoning central play cause yes giroud wil contribute a lot here too, just balancing more width in too. We do threaten from wide areas and crossing mproved a lot last Eason and with a more competent target in giroud we will only improve again…

      But that’s where I worry that the 3-5-2 would be to narrow and too predictable in attack…anyway just my thoughts, I do enjoy the tactical banter!

  7. cupsui says:

    another note on the 3-5-2 is that attacking width can be a big problem. Essentially you are taking wingers out of the game to add another striker and CD. This means the wingback has to provide maybe 90% of the width and still cover down the line…a very narrow system! There would be no wing/fullback overlapping, a tactic which has been effective for arsenal and with a more talented target man up top you are taking a lot of potential good crossing opportunities away…seems a little counter productive in that respect!!

  8. RothbardRed says:

    Interesting ideas. I certainly agree with the idea that we need a more solid feeling that balances the defensive and offensive parts of our game…When we were winning leagues, we had this balance between offense and defense down to perfection. We had the likes of Viera and Petit or G Silva breaking up the play, starting a move or finding a pass to anyone of 4/5 players who could score or play a large part in a dynamic counter attacking move from defense to attack. Think when we were winning leagues…Pires was bagging 15 goals, Freddie was grabbing 15, Henry, Anelka, Overmars Bergkamp, Wiltord all scoring. I honestly think the biggest thing we are missing is contributive goals from attacking mid fielders, or from the squad at large. Gervinho, Arteta, Diaby, Song, Walcott, Arshavin, Ramsey, AOC(I know he has not had time yet)Rosicky do not contribute the number of goals of a Pires, Ljungberg, Wiltord, Bergkamp. Yes, we need the strikers to do the business in 60-70% of the games but what really tips the margins in a tight game, or an off day for the strikers is goals from midfielder/attacking minded players. This is where that extra 12-15 points comes from over a long season in my view. I would love to see a season where at least 2 of Gervinho/Walcott/Cazorla/AOC score 12-15 goals each, with players like Arteta/Ramsey/Wilshere/Diaby getting 5-10 on average between them, a few from our new captain, and the strikers bagging 15-20 each, or one scoring into the 20’s and another getting into the teens. Something like this would take us up to near 70-80 goals. The Invincible team “only” scored 73 goals. The key is as you say is getting that formation with the solid feeling at the back and MF, where we can turn defense into attack with the blink of an eye and about 5 or 6 players bagging the goals. Its games like the Wolves on 27/12 last season at Emirates where we need someone to step up to the plate and take the 3 points. The more players contributing to the overall goal tally, the higher the odds of someone scoring in any one game. Of course we need to concede about 30-40% less, but the margins can be tipped in our favour by something like what I have described in my view. From reading a recent post on how you think we will score more goals from the whole team, I think we are on the same page. Would certainly be interesting to see some of these formations tried out.

    P.S Good luck with the upcoming wedding. I trust its been organised for a day Arsenal are not playing,Haha!!

    • Daniel Cowan says:

      Yes, it’s the day before the Southampton game and we are going to watch the Southampton game before heading off on honeymoon on the Sunday 🙂

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