Arsenal Gunning For Change

Change is a word Arsenal finally seem to be embracing - and this could mean good things for the coming season.

Football News: Arsene Wenger Arsenal
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

The arrival of Montpellier striker Olivier Giroud at Arsenal brings up many interesting points to consider for Gunners' fans next season.

First, a bit about the France international who turns 26 this September. Giroud scored 21 league goals for Montpellier last season to lead them to the Ligue 1 title - his tally included two hat-tricks and was matched only by Paris Saint-Germain's Nene.

Giroud is a ‘fox-in-the-box' type striker which, depending on how long you have been supporting Arsenal, is cause for dread or optimism. The last time Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger signed a player described by the media in such a way was in 2001 when he shelled out £8million for Francis Jeffers who eventually left the club three years later having scored a measly four goals. But rest assured Gunners fans, Giroud is much more of a finished article than Jeffers was when he signed for the club.

The only issue we need to think about right now is where Giroud is going to fit into Wenger's team given the arrival of Lukas Podolski, and assuming for the sake of argument that Robin van Persie stays.

Changing the formula

Arsenal play mainly in a 4-3-3 formation with Van Persie as the key striker flanked by two pacey wingers. But now that he has splashed the cash to bring in Podolski and Giroud -both are international calibre forwards - does this signal an end or at least a modification to Wenger's existing system?

One option Wenger has is to revert back to 4-4-2 which has served him well in the past. Arsenal were ‘immortal' in 2003/04 when Wenger deployed a 4-4-2 system which saw Dennis Bergkamp play just behind Thierry Henry, with Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg attacking from the flanks while the solid Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva anchored the midfield.

Could an Arsenal system today with Van Persie tucked in behind Giroud and flanked by Theo Walcott and Podolski (who can play wide) with Alex Song and Jack Wilshere in central midfield work?

I am not so sure it could or even if Wenger would try it.

Modern football tactics - most notably at the bigger clubs - seem to have moved on from 4-4-2, and even Manchester United who favoured it heavily in the past use it less and less these days.

The problem with 4-4-2 is - and England found this out against Italy at Euro 2012 - it can give your opponents the opportunity to outnumber you in the middle of the pitch, especially if they play primarily through the middle.

Therefore, Wenger may opt for a more fluid 4-5-1 approach. Wenger has adopted this system in games last season but never with two strikers in the line-up - Van Persie was usually left to create and finish off chances on his own.

It's important not to get too hung up on the classification of the system (4-3-3 vs 4-5-1), the key is that Arsenal will be playing with two strikers.

To begin with, Wenger could favour a starting XI which has Van Persie as the main striker supported by Podolski while Giroud will likely begin life as a Gunner from the bench.

This isn't such an inconceivable idea because while Giroud is currently part of Laurent Blanc's France squad, his record at international level pales in comparison to Podolski and as a result the German will probably need less time to adjust to the Barclays Premier League.

Also, Podolski is unlikely to be too happy with a permanent place on the flank - even though he is comfortable playing out wide - which would have to do should Arsenal opt to play Van Persie and Giroud together.

Additionally, Arsenal severely lacked striking options from the bench last season so having a proven goal-scorer as an option would be a definite improvement for them.
The other option with the 4-5-1 is that Wenger could play Van Persie behind Giroud, but this does not seem likely for two reasons (1) Podolski's unhappiness at being primarily converted to a winger and (2) Van Persie's success playing as the main striker last season.

The repercussion of the 4-5-1 theory would almost certainly mean the end of Nicklas Bendtner's time at Arsenal - given that he once proclaimed himself to be "one of the best strikers in the world" he is unlikely to accept falling further down the pecking order at the Emirates for the coming campaign.

This would leave Morocco international Marouane Chamakh as the main emergency back-up striker although his future is far from clear. Chamakh joined Arsenal in the summer of 2010 but has struggled badly despite a productive start to life in England. The striker insists he remains happy at Arsenal even though he is no longer in Wenger's first team plans.

Another potential effect on the team this model could have has to do with Theo Walcott's happiness at the club. Walcott has often spoken of his desire to play as a forward rather than the flying winger mould Wenger has cast him in.

The arrivals of Podolski and Giroud will obviously greatly hinder his chances of ever developing into this type of player at Arsenal - and perhaps indirectly reveals Wenger's lack of belief in Walcott fulfilling this role.

However, with the 4-5-1 system, Wenger should make Walcott his starter on the right wing next season joining Song and Jack Wilshere in central midfield. Assuming Walcott is first choice on the right wing, this would leave Gervinho and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain to fight it out for the remaining spot on the left.

Both players are unlikely to be regular starters in this left winger position - Gervinho is inconsistent while Wenger continues to treat AOC, who is still only 18-years-old, with caution - so you may see the pair rotate and share more games between them next season.

It would be great to see ‘The Ox' get more game time. He can play on the left because he is so good at cutting in off the line which suits Arsenal's style just fine when they have an attack-minded left-back in Kieran Gibbs available to provide the width.

Aaron Ramsey and Andrei Arshavin do not get too much of a mention here because they're likely to play bit-part roles, if that, for Arsenal in the new campaign.

Change is good

Arsenal have gone without a trophy for seven years now, so it's good to see the wheels of change starting to turn at the club before the new season starts.

New players are coming in which as discussed here could possibly lead to tweaks to the playing system. But change has also come at the back end. Former player Steve Bould has been promoted to assistant manager, replacing the long serving Pat Rice.
Rice had a 44 year association with the Gunners dating back to his playing days in the 60s and 70s so you can only have admiration for him. It's not a slight on his abilities to say though that the time was probably right for him to leave his post as assistant manager.

The role of being No.2 calls for someone to be able to work closely with the manager, but it also requires that the individual be able to bounce ideas and create principles for the club to move forward on. With Wenger and Rice having spent so much time together, it is possible the ideas may have become a little stale.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has had seven different assistants in his time at the club and they have managed to sustain success in the Premier League better than anyone else.

Wenger is sure to have a plan as well. He wouldn't have sanctioned the purchases of Podolski and Giroud otherwise. Whether it involves sticking with the 4-3-3 system or modifying it to a 4-5-1 remains to be seen.

A lot will depend on his captain Van Persie's willingness to stay, although even if does leave, Wenger is likely to have a contingency plan already in place for this.

Would the signings of Podolski and Giroud be good enough to fill the gap left by a Van Persie departure?

Food for thought.

Olivier Giroud - A French Fox in the Box?
• Born in Chambery, he made a discreet start to his career in Ligue 2 with Grenoble Foot 38 and was subsequently despatched on loan to third-tier FC Istres, where he scored 14 goals in 33 league games.

• Left Grenoble in 2008 for Tours FC, also a Ligue 2 club, where he struck nine goals in his debut season before becoming the club's top scorer in 2009/10 with 21 in 38 games.

• Recruited by Montpellier in summer 2010, he scored the winning goal on his debut, a UEFA Europa League qualifier away to Hungarian club Gyori ETO FC.

• Made his Ligue 1 bow on 8 August 2010 in a 1-0 win against FC Girondins de Bordeaux and scored his first goal three weeks later at Valenciennes FC; he would end the campaign as the club's top scorer, with 12 goals.

• Propelled Montpellier to the Ligue 1 crown in 2011/12 with a joint league best 21 goals, a total which included two hat-tricks and was matched by Nene of title rivals Paris Saint-Germain FC.

• Opened the scoring against Germany on his first start for France, a 2-1 friendly victory in Bremen on 29 February 2012.

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