Is it a case of having the players and finding a system, or having a system and finding the players?
Possibly when Wenger arrived at Arsenal and evaluated the merits of Seaman, Adams,
, Bould, Keown, Winterburn, Bergkamp and Wright it made perfect sense to employ a 4-4-2. Perhaps he had the young Vieira in mind to be the combative fulcrum of central mid field. Maybe he knew that in Petit he would have the perfect compliment to Patrick. In terms of a straight through the middle striker who would thrive on through balls, he obviously had an eye on Anelka. In a 4-4-2 you couldn’t want more than Marc Overmars, and although Parlour was never great at crossing he had an infatigability that the system needed. Dixon
The 4-4-2 worked and the first Wenger double was secured. Key to this system was the two man midfield and with Vieira we had Gilberto with Edu as understudy. The benefits of the system reaped reward in silverware. So good where the players that came in that the system was able to function flexibility with Henry ghosting in and out and Bobby & Freddie in front of Lauren & Cole causing defenders nightmares. When the back four was transformed
was key, and alongside Keown and then Tourre defending was prioritised. Campbell
Then Wenger had a revelation; or so it seemed. The new method would be centred on Fabregas’ gifts and therefore there was no place for Flamini, Diarra or Gilberto, Wenger thought.
Wenger dismantled the key components of the Invincibles far too quickly and sacrificed experience for the potential that the thought his new breed and system would deliver.
It never came to pass. What is ostensibly a flexible formation has become a stylistic straight jacket as power and experience have been disposed of in order to fulfil a theory; that’s basically what Wenger’s dogma started out as.
In the six years that have passed the system has come first with Wenger buying players to fit into his dreamscape. Quality players who do not fit the ‘compact’ ‘technically good’ blueprint slip through the net time and again. The centre of this 4-3-3 universe has always been Fabregas and should he, as looks likely, depart will Wenger be forced to rethink?
In the English domestic league, which is clubs bread and butter, 4-4-2 is king. In the weekly grind of mediocrity, of teams playing for a point, 4-3-3 hits the brick wall, it fails to breakthrough, it misfires. The problem is that Wenger has only the players that can fit that system and when variety is needed we are found wanting.
So returning to my opening question: ‘Is it a case of having the players and finding a system, or having a system and finding the players?’
I think that maybe the answer is find the players that suit the league you and play the system that suits them, and importantly, to compete in that league on an equal footing of power and experience; the rest will follow.