Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
So is 4-4-2 the answer? We’ve played that system for four games, winning three and losing one, and all of a sudden we find ourselves three points off the top of the table.
We were excitingly dangerous going forwards when we played 4-2-3-1 but rather open at the back, while the 4-4-2 offers us much more stability when we don’t have the ball, but we’re perhaps a little less threatening in attack.
The statistics back this impression up. We scored nine goals and conceded ten in the six games we started with a 4-2-3-1, keeping one rather easy clean sheet against a Nuneaton Town side which barely threatened our goal.
Playing 4-4-2 has made a difference at both ends. In four games we’ve scored four and conceded two, so we’re managed an average of half a goal a game less, but the difference at the other end is massive. After letting in an average of nearly two goals a game in our first six matches, we’ve conceded a goal every other match subsequently.
Two clean sheets in four matches is a real step forwards, and don’t forget that those games were a lot tougher on paper than the ones which preceded them. Three of them were away from home against sides which look like genuine promotion contenders, our two shut outs coming at a couple of sides who went into the match unbeaten and flying high in the table.
Our newfound defensive stability may not be the sort of thing which grabs the headlines, but it’s a development which needed to happen if we were to make an attempt to get up this season. The full backs had looked exposed in the 4-2-3-1, but now the midfield quartet means support is much closer at hand.
Arsene Wenger says he likes a 4-4-2 because it’s the system which offers the most even, comprehensive cover across the pitch, and our transformation to that shape has been a clear illustration of that fact.
I can’t deny that I already miss the exciting, cavalier threat we packed going forwards at the start of the season. We’re not quite so dashing at the moment, but we’re threatening enough to score past the likes of league leaders Barnet and Forest Green, and Connor Jennings is likely to chip in with more goals now he’s playing more centrally alongside the potent Louis Moult.
Furthermore, Kevin Wilkin’s assertion that the side is still a work in progress is being borne out by our gradual improvement and evolution. As we settle further into the 4-4-2 we’re likely to improve and perhaps rediscover that attacking verve we showed in the early, carefree days of the season. Certainly, the re-introduction of Elliott Durrell to the side has added an increased threat to our forward play.
Our new formation will undergo a thorough test in the derby on Monday of course, but if it can withstand its fourth away match out of five then we’ll have further evidence that Wilkin has established the foundations for success.