Boss explains his thinking behind back three change


Arsene Wenger says that he was seeking defensive stability as he selected a back three for the first time since 1997 for the 2-1 win over Boro.

Laurent Koscielny was flanked by Gabriel and Rob Holding, and although it wasn’t perfect it helped bring about a much needed win.

It was a big departure for Wenger, and something new for the team, and after the game he explained his thinking.

“I felt that we were recently a bit vulnerable defensively and to give a bit more reassurance to the team,” he said.

“Recently we faced many direct games, I thought before the game maybe they’d play with Gestede and Negredo and go for a very direct game. Those are the reasons.

“It worked well in the first half, we didn’t give any chances away and we were quite solid on set-pieces. In the second half on one or two occasions, I felt we could have been a bit more dominant in the air, but overall yes.”

Wenger also quipped that it was a sign that even the old leopard can sometimes change their spots.

“The first time in 20 years, that shows you that even in my age you can change!

“But sometimes when a team lacks confidence, just to add something new to believe helps to focus and overall the fact that we conceded three at West Brom, three at Crystal Palace, I felt it was needed.”

How did the players rate last night in the new system? Add your votes here.

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57 Comments on "Boss explains his thinking behind back three change"

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Mongolian Gooner

So, I’m not a football tactician by any means and havent watched the game. How does 3 at the back work? I looks like you play 3 center halves giving you more security as opposed to having two, but that leaves the flanking midfielders having to track back diligently, is that so? And does the defender in the middle of the three move forward to support the midfield?


There can be a few ways in which it is an effective system. Usually it gives you a spare centre back, whose role will often be to step out of the back a little more, be proactive and use possession – almost like an extra midfielder. David Luiz has played that role very well for Chelsea and I think it would suit either Koscielny or Mustafi.

It does also tend to ask a lot of the wing backs, who need to be an effective attacking option and provide the team with width while also adding to the defence. As there is the extra defensive body, they will defend a little less than a conventional full-back but still need to at least be there, which is why players with great physical attributes whose strength is more attacking than defending (think Victor Moses for Chelsea, again) tend to do well in that role. Similarly, Ox was good last night and Bellerin would probably suit the role.


also i read a good article on how wenger can fine tune this formation to get the best out of the team . their points were essentially

play alexis as striker because we need a mobile forward.

play ramsey and ozil behind him , as ramsey can score goals.

play xhaka and elneny in centre midfield

play gibbs instead of monreal

Be Cool

I’d like to see Iwobi play with Ozil.


that’s a good choice.

Gudang Pelor

Btw, is mustafi injured?


Yes, the wing backs have to do their jobs defensively (Monreal didn’t for the Boro goal), and these days in modern football we don’t see anymore the man in the middle of a back 3 (the sweeper) supporting the midfield, it certainly didn’t happen yesterday (Gabriel kind of did it, but it was more to provide another option for Ox, since we played much more on the right).

First of all, it helps in the defensive transition, since we as a possession team likes to play with 8 players in the attacking phase. With this system, we maintained a much needed body in defense. That also helped against the long goal kicks that inexplicably we’ve been suffering a lot from, LOL.

Second, it helps to have another player in the first line as we start our attacks, since that was our biggest problem at Palace. We lost too many balls on our own half, always sending Mustafi and Koscielny into trouble.


Moreal was exposed because Xhaka was out of position..although he could have done better by getting closer to downing or showing him the outside instead of the have to give to give him credit for even having the energy to track back at full speed which i liked but that took serious amount of energy from him he didn’t have the legs to get tighter before the cross. But I liked what i saw and with the players we have I thought this should’ve been a system should’ve implemented a long time a go as an alternative to our normal system. We have the players mobile and technical enough to play the system if theyre drilled on it. and thats why some fans are against wenger because he refuses to change or experiment and be progressive while others have done so and moved past him. I’m glad a tried something new!! i’d like to see us play this system during pre-season with players like campbell who could be our victor moses and Takuma asano whos got a lot of speed on the counter. I also think this system will be suitable for PER with his lack of pace and height, he can be the middle CB with Koscielny on the left CB and Mustafi/Gabriel/Holding on the right CB. It sure looks very promising i hope he (Wenger) sticks with it as a variation.


So its more to do with allowing you having the 5 across midfield to screen the defence, because having the extra bodies in midfield *should enable the team to control the midfield better and cover the channels on either side more efficiently. And as you pointed out, you would get the added height too, because you can play 3 centre backs instead of two.

It also helps a lot with preventing counter-attacks because it should make it much harder for teams to break out past that many midfielders.

Its a super effective formation to play, but as you mentioned the key is work rate especially for the ‘wing-backs’ and I think Nacho did struggle quite a lot at times last night, I don’t think he really has the pace to play in that sort of formation.


I think we are better off with Montreal tucked in to the left side of the back 3 but we lack choices for left wing back.

Gibbs I’m not entirely convinced.

Ox can be switched to left wing if Bellerin comes in on the right.

Ideally I would prefer Mustafi on the right of the triumvirate but we then have to balance height. Maybe then left side needs Holding for height but Montreal has more experience.

Its tricky.

I think we will still be vulnerable because we play with what we have and obviously it is a new system that takes her to g use to.

If we sign the Bosnian rback, that would give us another solid option

I do think then if we persist with this system we should have two sets of options. A more defensive set with Bellerin and Bosnian Hulk
And a more attacking set with Ox and maybe someone-else.

More likely we will balance out an offensive option on one side with a defensive one on the other.

Its a new system which helps our poor balance in midfield. Not clearly perfected but at least so.ething that could work better for what options we have in midfield.


Wondering if Gibbs might work better in this system than Nacho


Throw in bellerin and move Ox to the other side


Ox was very effective on that side though


Bellerin is a natural wing back, but Ox has never looked as effective on the left flank as on the right, so given his strong performance last night, I think you keep him there for the time being (unless you move him forward into the front three, along with Ozil and Alexis). If we choose to play this long term, Bellerin will get his chance.

As for the other side, it’s tricky, because Gibbs is the more natural wing back, but Monreal is the better overall footballer. Again, in the longterm, I might think of moving Monreal to the left side of the back three, as a defensive fullback can also play there (think Cesar A. for Chelski), but right now we’ve got a lot of CB’s fighting for places, and we probably could use the extra height given our recent struggles in the air. If we get the Bosnian (or Serbian?) fellow from Schalke, he’d be the natural left wing back, as that’s where he’s been playing for them most of the season, apparently.


i think gibbs might be better


He’s good going forward and has plenty of pace


I like the idea of Gibbs, as its always great to have the young English players come through from youth set up and through to the senior team – but for me, I don’t think he will ever be Arsenal quality.

We need a new left back and potentially a new right back too, well depending on what Bellerin does, but even if he stays, there is still a case for getting someone in because we really need to get Debuchy out.


Was thinking more for the rest of the season. It would be nice if he could succeed here but it isn’t looking likely.


i really doubt

Uncle D


Uncle D

#Wengerout. Ouuut

Lord Bendnter

There is a lot of mini formations you could do with ease in the middle of the game if you train your players for it. The 3-4-3 makes your tactics more flexible and easier to manipulate.

For example, anytime during the game Monreal could be asked to come back n form a back four with Gabriel as right back.
You could have a deep lying DM to form sort of diamond defense with your three defenders and the DM. Or you could push your centermost CB and push him forward to make a mini triangular defensive setup in your side of the pitch.
If your RB/LB fails to run back in time, your RCB/LCB could cover for him to prevent opponent from crossing through the flanks while still maintaining a 2man CB ready to mark any players inside the box (plus your opp wingback could be back in time to provide more cover against that cross reaching an opponents head in the middle)
So, theres a lot of mini tweaks you can do with ease in the defensive department, giving you way more flexibility and adaptability against the opponent’s attacks. Of course, without the proper wingbacks for this, your plans fall apart.

In summary, you can switch between playing 3 defenders, 4 defenders, and 5 defenders in no time whatsoever, in order to benefit on both the offensive and defensive front.
Of course you have to practice like crazy until ur players get it, understand it, know when to switch, and are comfortable with it.
It’s not that easy, cuz if you get it wrong, you may end up with 3 defenders defending against 5 of the opponent’s strikers.

Dan Hunter

Welbeck could be good on that left side… hard worker and pacey.


Interesting thought. Or Perez perhaps.


Would be great if interview went like this:

‘So what was your thinking behind a back three?’

‘Well I thought… Fuck it. Can’t get any worse can it? Plus it’s not like we’ve got anything to lose. Might throw my dog in the striking role next week if I feel like.’

*drops mic*


Yet we had a 5 man midfield that they just bypassed like it wasn’t even there… If you want defensive solidity why not stick the Coq in there and tell him to screen the that 3 man backline? Wenger doesn’t make a whole lot of sense these days… Go back to a formation that you haven’t used for 20 years… Instead of sticking Alexis up top as was working for the start of the season…

That sorts out the defensive solidity then.. you know, other than allowing a team basically bottom of the league to have more shots on target than we managed.

He keeps banging on about this 3 man back line like it’s some kind of master stroke… IT WAS MIDDLESBORO.. and don’t give me the “oh they’re 19th so they’re gonna be up for it”.. No, they’re 19th because they’re terrible.




Keeps bangin on about it since when? We won, end of, be happy and be proud. COYG’s!!


We won against West Ham. I’m curbing my enthusiasm as not to get brutally let down. CHange our recent form to WW and we’ll talk.


Yep and we finished 2nd last season because we were terrible.


Wake up, this isn’t last season. We’re in dire straits. I’ll take a win but besides 3 points I didn’t see any improvements in our game. We have City, Spuds. .. we’re struggling with a 19th placed team. We’re being beaten by bottom halfers.. We finished 2nd last season because others were terrible but we were just first losers. Wenger I love you…. whyyyy….


we were terrible. Everybody else was just more terrible.

Faisal Narrage

We were considering we knew our closest competitors would be in transition and it would be our best chance of winning the damn thing and we let Leicester finish above us.

The fear was that as soon as the others got their shit together, we would be in a worrisome situation is looking the case this season.

I think simply saying “we finished 2nd” kinda hides all the underlying issues we’ve had for a few years now (especially last year) that has come back to bite us in the arse-nal.


Wenger does tactics and almost everything he does makes sense in the way he or any manager thinks. If that is working or not doesn’t mean that he’s not using some good ideas or trying to do new and refreshing things. If our team is collectively crap, hit the wall with him, are in the end of a cycle AND are problably going to struggle for years, it doesn’t mean that everything is terrible and are all his fault. In life you have to put things in perspective.

Also the term “tactics” have to do with a awful lot of stuff in football, not just the formation the team are playing at the moment.

Alexis isn’t playing up front anymore because Wenger likes to play with a playmaker in one of the flanks, but Iwobi has been kept out of the team lately because his form dropped and also to keep him out of the pressure and the bad moment that the team is living (just look at the disgusting way people were treating him here after the games).

We went with a back 3 yesterday because as said above, he thought that a change of scenery would help the players and their confidence. It helped a little bit but naturally it was not functioning that well, since we didn’t had the time to practice that a lot, and of course it was never much in our plans in the past. If that’s going to stay (I doubt it), it needs time to gel, to players to get used to.

If you hate him or not it’s not my problem, but don’t let that cloud your judgment.

Ex-Priest Tobin

Well done ‘master tactician’. Now please leave the club. I can’t take pleasure in any victory until Wenger is gone.

Cliff Bastin

Essentially it’s effective when you don’t have an outstanding centre back pair.

Conte is able to mask sideshow bob’s insanity but making him the balls out stopper and covering him with two covering sweepers.

Cliff Bastin

I reckon our current centre backs are currently suited to :

Stoppers : Gabriel, Mustafi
Cover : BFG, Holding
Can do both : Koscielny

With a back 4 you basically need 2 Koscielny types nowadays.


I understand the joy over a much needed win but enough about how the back three gave us all this blah blah blah and it blah blah blah helped us win. If Ayala hits his free header anywhere aside from at Cech it would be a different story right now. Yes we won, but we sure didn’t look convincing and I feel a better team would have done us one.

People on here are commenting that Wenger trying something new was good enough for them and we could have lost but the new formation was enough of a positive for them. We are that starved for change that a one game formation change against a team in 19th placates you? That because we scraped out a win wwith​ it against a team in 19th means we are on to bigger and better things and the wind is back in the sails? You don’t think this is all part of the “Wenger has changed and will lead us to glory” sales pitch before he re-signs his contract? If we play that same formation and the same way againat Man City and Spurs will we get a result? I am not trying to be negative but we have to be realistic about the situation we are in.


If Ayala was spotted wrestling Giroud to the floor, we’d have had a penalty and possibly been 1-0 up inside 20 minutes. So that could be a different story. A lot happens in a game which affects the final score so saying if our goalie didn’t save Ayala’s header, it would be a different story, yes you are right. But the same can be said for everything else in the game.

If we went with the usual 4-3-3, we may have won 5-0 or we may have lost 3-0. Who knows?!?! If he didn’t change things and we lost again, he’d be getting pelters. And rightly so.

But the salient facts are; he did change the system, he did change some of the personnel, we won the game. Was it pretty? No. Was we somewhat forunate? Yes. But I’ll point back to the penalty decision not given when it comes to good fortune. Swings ‘n’ Roundabouts.

Sometimes it’s best to just accept the result of the game and be happy we manage to actually win away from home. Then discuss the managerial situation as a separate entity rather than using an opponent’s missed opportunity as further reason to ostracize the man.


I think his point is that, with three at the back or not, we still cannot defend a set piece to save our life. They crossed the ball into the box twice in the exact same manner and on both occasions, they almost resulted in a goal for Boro.


Mootilated, that was exactly what I was getting at.

Yes we got the three points away from home. But we didn’t look great defensively, even with the new system. Everytime they had a free kick they could lob into the box it was a nail biting moment.

I also understand the relief brought in by a change of formation but we can’t get overwhelmed by the “shiny new thing” euphoria. Change at our club takes so long to transpire that when it does we just jump on the wagon without thinking and we need to stop doing that collectively as a fan base.


I wouldn’t get your hopes up about any realistic outlooks from the comments section over here. As much as I love this website, finding level headed debate is very difficult. Opinions on here change from week to week depending on the latest result. Just have a look at the comments after a win and after a defeat and the Thumb Up/Down ratio 🙂


What is being discussed here is based on the story above any other is off topic


Are there more deluded and easily gullible fans anywhere in the universe?. The old man is desperate to sign the contract including going out of his way trying formations he himself doesn’t even believe in.All in the name of not wanting to be labelled a washed up tactician who at his age can’t really learn new tricks. Please for Christ’s sake Wenger leave our club and retire


I think too much is being made of the formation change, our formation often fluctuates throughout matches. To me it’s more about keeping balance and depth on the pitch at all times. Too often we get caught with way too many players up the pitch that overrun the play leading us susceptible to counter attacks and long balls. Whether we play with 3, 4 or 5 in the back to me doesn’t matter as much as players being more aware of their responsibilities to always keep defensive shape when we have the ball so that we are in position to win it back once we turn it over (like Barcelona always did so well). You can still be a strong attacking team with this mentality, but much stronger defensively. Too often we’ll send too many people running in front of the ball at the same time, then turn it over and leave a huge hole in the midfield.

a different George

Mark, I am afraid you have been watching the games instead of reading pundits. Are you seriously suggesting that the ability, desire, awareness, and concentration of the players on the pitch is more important then the name you give their starting positions?


Yes and Gabriel bombing forward thinking like a full back could quite easily cause us major problems if tried next Sunday. Last time we used the formation it was with Adams, Boulders and Keown, with Dixon and Winterburn ahead as wing backs – spot the difference?


The fact that it took ages for him to realise it is why he needs to go.
Too late.. that chelsea game is exactly when we should’ve change system

Fourth Place

A win is not enough cos we may lose the next one? Isn’t that all the more reason to make the most of this feeling?

Is it just social media? I do not remember a more miserable sub-set of fans ever (obviously not all) even when we used to occasionally finish out of the top 10.

Cmon guys, we won. Arsene tried something new. Our 2 big stars scored. Our young CB had a pretty darn good outing.


Have a look pre-70s for when things were really bad!

I remember a game where Don Howe started 2 centre backs plus an extra one in midfield. When asked why we were playing 3 centre backs, the answer came “Because the other two are injured, so we can’t play 5!”

The first season without a St Totteringham’s Day may seem harsh to newbies, it was the norm at one time. Don’t let those days return.


sorry in advance for the length (I wish i got to say that more often)

I do commend the change in tactics by Wenger but I feel he is fighting an uphill battle in respect to personnel through which he has to implement this new formation, none of them suit the roles they have been given within it which is not surprising really since the team has been built so staunchly upon the 4-2-3-1 system for years.
Its funny but this system is one I have been wandering why the U21’s don’t play as the change in roles and positional differences perfectly suit many of the specific qualities the individual players have at this level:


You have goals from every angle up top, all are prolific, skillful, pacey and dangerous. If the directness of three strikers needs the finesse of some more intricate passing then there is a plethora of attack minded, tricky number 10’s to supplement that forward line with – Willock, Nelson, Crowley, Dragomir etc etc (our youth teams are full of them).

In midfield if you weren’t treated to watching the U23 match between Arsenal and Man city recently then you would have missed the most Kanté-like performance I have seen all season (in any league) from Ainsley Maitland-Niles (the kid was everywhere) and fully deserving of the MOTM that the pissy 5 minute highlight clip of the full 90 on Arsenal Player really does not adequately show. Next to him is the 6 foot 1” rangey Jeff who is built to stride through midfield and connect the attack. He needs to fill out a bit but when he does – happy days, if he gets a bit overrun then a simple sub for Ben Sheaf is an obvious choice, the lad is Xhaka with mobility and again another 6 foot 1” presence in midfield. Don’t forget waiting in the wings in this position is Kelechi Nwakali who captained his country to a U-17 World Cup title in this position winning the Golden Ball Award along the way – I mean come on what more do you want.

On the flanks we all know Bellerin but Bramall on the other side is a 6 foot plus (no data on height but he was the same height as Jenkinson when they congratulated each other after the last match) sprinter who’s a much more physical player than Bellerin – think Marcos Alonso for Chelsea and we all know how well he is doing in that system.

At the back Holding is one of the calmest and most assured centre backs I have seen at this level and I can’t remember a time when he’s put much of a foot wrong in any game he’s played this season. Bielik to his right, well to say he is excelling in this exact position for Birmingham would be an understatement and Bola is getting rave reviews from Notts County playing as a full back – a full back with the size and strength of a centre back, sounds like a perfect fit for a wide playing centre back in a back three setup – think a Sead Kolašinac type player.

The U23’s and youth squad have the perfect qualities and personnel to play this system, I’m not so sure about the first team unfortunately.


Is Perez back fit yet?
OX and Elneny over Xhaka and Ramsey in that midfield any day.
If we are sticking with this three at the back then this is what i would like to see – i think there would at least be a few more goals.


Lula da Gilberto

Keep changing then. And maybe the coaching methods too. Keep changing to the type of coach that teaching players how to defend better.


Ture dat.

Uncle D

Wenger Out


Yesterday was just proof that Wenger still doesn’t know what our strongest 11 or formation is!


Its not really just the defense and an extra Cback but it ensures we aren’t as thin in the middle.

I think part of the issue is our idiosyncrasies in midfield.

We are still not balanced.

Granit provides the deep passing but neither Coquelin or Ramsey provide the control work Santi does.

Also Ramsey isn’t the best tackler and Granit has perhaps wisely abstained from tackling.

Thereby the extra body at the back plus the two secondary attackers just ahead at more numbers centrally.

Its expedient for the players we have at the moment but clearly work in progress and carries its own risk.

Come summer deep midfield still needs reinforcing.

Someone like a Saul Niguez at Athletio or Fabinho at Monaco may be what we need next to Granit or Coquelin.