Arsenal Fan View: Arsene Wenger's back-three shuffle was a gamble worth taking

Kabir Nagpal
Arsenal players vs Middlesbrough in the game at the Riverside

For the first time since May 1997, Arsenal played a back three in the Premier League under Arsene Wenger vs Middlesbrough on Monday night. Safe to say, it ended slightly better than the last time he deployed it, when Tony Adams was sent off after 18 minutes.

A brilliant free kick for the first and an even better winner saw out the game against Boro with a new look Arsenal side. There was a lot of space to be manipulated on the pitch and it took the Gunners a whole half to realise that. What we learnt after the second half is covered below in the three main takeaways from the game:

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Rob should look to hold down his position in Arsenal’s new back three defence

After conceding three goals each against both Crystal Palace and West Brom, it was high time for a change. Rob Holding’s inclusion in the lineup was one of six changes in the team from a horrendous performance last week. Arsene Wenger was open about the formation being tinkered with for defensive reasons and the solution did seem to be one worth trying.

Having previously mentioned my liking for the young Englishman, he did full respect to his call into the first team. A solid and no nonsense performance meant he was easily the best defender for Arsenal last night.

If Wenger is going to stick to his new plan of action at the back, continuing on with his young centre-half may just be the way forward.

Alex Chamberlain operates on the right of a back three for Arsenal in the game at the Riverside
The Ox comes good, eventually

It was a good week for United and everyone associated with them. Or so it Fabio thought until he had to be substituted in the 17th minute for Friend. The game pretty much changed after that slight moment in time, given how much more Alex Oxlade Chamberlain could now do with no former United full back pushing him back.

The change in formation benefitted the English winger as well, with Giroud’s inclusion meaning he had a ready-made target man to hit up top. His crosses were purposeful and direct, something that has not been said for a lot of Arsenal players this season.


As a fullback in a back three, he was effective and solid. The absence of Gabriel’s usual antics behind him also aided in him having a good overall shift. One can only hope he stays fit and keeps his place in the XI.

READ MORE: How Chamberlain exposed Coquelin’s failings.

Back three means a liberated Sanchez, and Ozil too

To be fair, it was not exactly a copy of Chelsea’s 3-4-3 that Arsenal operated in last night. Many questioned whether playing Alexis in the same role as Hazard for the Blues would work out and yet what they did not notice was that it was instead his German teammate in the free role.

Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both flanked Olivier Giroud last night and it meant that Arsenal’s strongest creative forces had the luxury to dovetail beautifully. They have a habit of looking for each other and yesterday’s shape made it all the more simple.

The Chilean international had his hands full looking for runners in Monreal and Ozil in the 3-4-2-1 set up by Wenger. On the other side, Mesut had Chamberlain bombing on each opportunity while Xhaka and Ramsey held fort in the middle.

All in all, the second goal showed the space this new formation allows both of them to operate in and also for Ramsey to breakthrough and create winners. Here’s to more of the same in the coming weeks, please.

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