Arsenal have been linked with Mario Balotelli, but would he need to adapt ti the Gunners or would they change to best accommodate him?
Arsenal have played a 4-5-1 or a 4-3-3 in recent years but last season were been over reliant on France striker Olivier Giroud without much in the way of competition from Lukas Podolski or Theo Walcott for the centre forward position.
Youngster Yaya Sanogo was given opportunities to cover and or replace Giroud in the line-up this term by manager Arsene Wenger but during the Gunners’ FA Cup Final thriller at Wembley in May, the French coach took a gamble to play both strikers in a 4-4-2 system.
The 4-4-2 that Wenger deployed in the late stages again Hull harked back to the old days of the Invincibles and even prior to that, but Arsenal have tended to operate a loan striker in the years since, often utilising Thierry Henry or later Robin van Persie on their up front.
However, with the Gunners still 2-1 down in the last 20 minutes of normal time at Wembley, Wenger took a gamble, taking off probably his best finisher Podolski in the 61st minute and throwing on the still very raw and inexperienced Yaya Sanogo and whilst the Frenchman or his elder compatriot Giroud did not score the Gunners two goals, their work in tandem completely unsettled the Hull defence and created space for Aaron Ramsey most notably, who scored the winning goal some 48 minutes later.
It worked and the rest, as they say, is history – the Gunners ended their nine-year trophy drought and Ramsey ended the season as the star hero after a sensational season but the presence of both the French strikers was arguably what was the winning factor and Wenger will not be unaware of that.
Giroud has also flourished alongside Karim Benzema for France at the World Cup and in pre-tournament games.
Now, as the club are now linked with Mario Balotelli, there may be a hint that Wenger could be preparing to be more flexible in his system and approach in the Premier League.
Giroud is a physical forward but he doesn’t provide much of a threat with his pace but the return to fitness of Theo Walcott could compensate for that and keep Giroud occupying the traditional No.9 role as a target man with Balotelli potentially functioning behind him in spaces where defenders don’t know whether to come or go.
A 4-4-2 as we saw in the latter stages of the cup final was:
Fabianski – Sagna – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs – Arteta – Ramsey – Ozil – Cazorla – Giroud – Sanogo
Ozil and Cazorla pulled wide before being replaced like-for-like by Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky just before Ramsey’s goal but the Welsh ace had been getting much more space and opportunity to strike as soon as Sanogo came on. If Balotelli or a similar strong, powerful and efficient striker came into the club, such as Mario Mandzukic, Wenger could emulate the system that was so effective at Wembley:
Szczesny – Jenkinson – Mertesacker – Koscielny – Gibbs – Arteta – Ramsey – Ozil – Walcott – Balotelli – Giroud
The presence of two powerful and dangerous strikers in the box will cause chaos for the two opposition centre-backs and the fullbacks will have their work cut out for them on the flanks, reducing their ability to pull in to help out and the central midfielders will need to double up to stop Ramsey, leaving space for Ozil to operate coming in-field.
Overall, Wenger took a risk in the final and it paid off and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him deploy a similar system where appropriate in games, where the Gunners are struggling to break the opposition down, especially when teams park the bus, switching from a 4-5-1 to a 4-4-2 mid-game - or even take a greater 'risk' and do so from the start.