So here we are, Christmas time, and facing seven games between now and the end of January.

The prevalent mood seems somewhat gloomy, with three scoreless games in succession, and no wins in the last seven outings. In this article, I advocate the use of a series of aggressive formations, which if adhered to, with quick, fast passing movements, may increase the likelihood of scoring goals, and winning matches.

None of these hyper-aggressive formations are designed for clean sheet outcomes. They are either 4-1-W set-ups and a 4-1-M formation.

The formations proposed are a mixture of new and old; the offensive sections of the 4-1-W or 4-1-M formations began, in part, back in the early 20th century when Herb Chapman, the incumbent manager of the Arsenal side, experimented with WM and WW formations.

A very large difference in the formations suggested here is the removal of the major role between the centre-half and centre-forward, and the use of the long-ball to connect these important links.

In each of the proposed formations, there is a built-in flexibility in formation where, at any time, a planned reversion to a more conservative 4-3-3 is a quick option, if the need should arise.

Before discussing each formation in detail, a few comments which are pivotal in the overall approach. The most salient point is that we should try to keep possession and play in the opponents’ half and/or defensive third of the pitch.

The philosophy behind this approach is to dominate possession and provide a constant sense of pressure/anxiety in the minds of the opposing players. The back four could be pushed further up the field in order to avoid dangerous flirtation with the opposition around our own penalty box.

Another advantage of this move up in the back  four, is in providing a closer contact to the central midfield playmaker. Alternatively, the left and right backs can be staggered a little further up from the centre-backs, again forming a closer contact to the central midielder.

In situations where there is a sudden turnover in possession, it is imperative that specific players can move back from an inside forward, outside wing, and/or a defensive player can move up, to quickly provide numbers and strength in midfield to slow down the counter attacking forays of the opponent’s midfield formation…

The 4-1-W (flat) formation

The first of the suggested formations, is one which incorporates a wide but flat winger.

The respective left and right wingers play a multiple role. Their primary role is to beat their opposing full-back, and either cut back a short pass to an on running central player, or providing a long cross, aimed towards the left side of the six-yard box, designed to pick out one of the two left side attacking players.

An alternative attacking move, involves the wingers making an ‘accelerative push’ (in front of the opposing defender), toward the middle of the penalty box and attempt to produce a direct shot on goal. A secondary, defensive, role for the these wide wingers, could involve a sprint back towards the middle in order to join up with the CPM, or a link with advancing right and left back, respectively.

The inside right and inside left players are essentially advanced midfielders, who may act in a secondary shooting capacity, or act as distributors to the central striker and winger. They can also make false short runs, with the idea of drawing opposing players out of position, and allowing spaces to be provided for their fellow offensive players.

When needed, they can quickly back-track to join up with the central midfielder, providing an alternative to the role that may be carried out by the wingers.

The centre-forward is intended to be an out and out striker, but a player who concentrates using his feet for shooting, or with good ball control, ‘holding’ up the ball for on-rushing team-mates. The centre-forward could also be seen as an offensive playmaker (OPM), with a license to wander, and also, if required, move deep to link up with the central midfielder.

This formation should allow for some potential role of Manuel Lanzini, but would not necessarily start with him…

The 4-1-W (deep) formation

This variant is a compromise between depth and width. By pushing the inside forwards deeper and placing the right and left backs closer to the central midfielder, the midfield takes on a more conservative and compact shape. The wingers have a greater responsibility in providing a moving link between the midfield and in joining forces with the three designated strikers…

The 4-1-W (asymmetric) formation

In this variation of the 4-1-W (deep), there is an allowance for one of the inside forwards to drop back in depth.

This position could have multiple roles; acting as an additional distributive playmaker, allowing forward, backward, and wide movement, while the other inside forward adopt a more static place on the other side of the field. The choice of which inside-forward plays a more roving role, should be related to the side of the field in which our play dominates.

If we look at the diagram, we can also visualise a situation where the central midfielder and right winger could interchange; Kouyate could move back, while Alex Song could act as a right-sided playmaker.

The 4-1-M (wide formation)

This may be the best compromise of all of the variations suggested.

The right and left wing positions are a bit deeper, but unlike IR and IL players described above, the wingers have to do a lot of running up and down the line in order to assist in mid-field. The inverted triangle part of the M formation, can serve as the roles.

The advanced IR and IL’s are, in effect, our main strikers; the lower central part of the triangle can serve as a third central striker, or as an offensive playmaker.

The latter role would suit Manuel Lanzini very well. In this set-up, I suggest that Valencia and Zarate act as the advanced forwards, Antonio on the right wing and Noble parked out on the left.

Kouyate could sit behind Valencia and Zarate. If Noble starts to tire, Obiang would be a good replacement on the left side. Alternatively, if Lanzini is able to play, Kouyate could be shifted to the left hand side, while Lanzini moves in behind Valencia and Zarate, thus forming a very menacing trio of interactive goalscorers.


While there is no formula for football happiness that is guaranteed to work, the unusual formations presented here offer a number of options, which may add a reignition pathway to the back of the opponents’ net.

In last year’s Premier League, 55% of managers incorporated a minimum of at least three different playing formations, some as many as eight.

While the 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, and 4-3-3 remain the most popular, none of these are working for us at the moment (given the ridiculous injury list and insistence on playing Carroll and/or Jelavic).

Time for a different approach?

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