So what formation did Arsenal play tonight? There were moments when it looked like the back three might be enduring yet for much of this game – a 0-0 draw that was far more absorbing than that scoreline might suggest even before Joe Willock won a sudden death penalty shootout – it seemed that Mikel Arteta finally seemed ready to abandon an additional centre-back.
It is a move that ought to be considered a step in the right direction for Arsenal. Systems themselves are neither offensive nor defensive but ultimately by pushing Sead Kolasinac out to the flank and leaving the Gabriel-Rob Holding tandem to fend for themselves Arteta was able to get one more forward-looking player into his team.
That that player was Bukayo Saka, who took up the nominal third midfielder role that wouldn’t have existed without this change of system, only enhances the positives of Arsenal’s approach tonight. Because with the soon-to-be England international in this team there is so much more that these 11 players can do.
Arteta has spoken recently about his desire for a versatile approach to positioning and bristled at the implication that his side has been playing a three man defence for conservative reasons, indeed even that that has been the formation they have used.
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“It’s not all the time three at the back,” he said before his first side’s trip to Anfield this week. “It’s for short spaces and moments of the game.
“A lot of the time four at the back. I have the versatility to play.
“I use players in different positions to cause problems for the opponent. Some of the times we have to adapt, and they do, to be more efficient.”
That Arteta emphasised the versatility of his team felt telling but not entirely accurate. He has some versatile players but when they are either unavailable or not…