Like an old-school dad trying on his first pair of jeans, Arsene Wenger has relented for the first time since his spectacled, waist-height jacket days to implement a 3-4-3 system that is seemingly in vogue this season.
It was in May 1997, when Olive were top of the charts with ‘You’re Not Alone’ and Derby County fans were bidding farewell to the Baseball Ground, that Wenger was last tempted by a three-pronged defensive back-line.
In a match where Tony Adams saw red after just 13 minutes, Dennis Bergkamp’s sublime chip remains the stand-out moment of a day where Arsenal secured a third-placed finish.
Tinkering at the back in Wenger’s early days is something that still haunts Gunners legend Martin Keown. Remaining unconvinced, he believes that sporadically introducing a three at the back system is too much even for more experienced defenders than 21-year-old Rob Holding.
Signed alongside German international Shkodran Mustafi last summer for £2.5 million, many would have expected a peripheral first season for the Manchester-born youngster. However, Holding now looks set to keep World Cup winner Per Mertesacker out of the team after starting against Manchester City in the semi-final and shining when he completely outwitted Sergio Aguero on 66 minutes.
The only Arsenal player in Aidy Boothroyd’s latest England U21s squad, Holding will likely be thrust into comparison with fellow youngsters John Stones and Kurt Zouma as the Premier League’s most promising centre-backs. Costing £45 million less than Stones, Holding certainly represents outstanding value.
Wenger himself infamously mocked the lunacy of Premier League price tags as Holding was dominant in a 0-0 draw at Leicester back in August. He said: “Unfortunately no one speaks about… Rob Holding. You should be happy, he is English and 20-years-old. I am sorry he didn’t cost £55 million, so he can’t be good.”
.@RobHolding95 That Holding dribble past Sergio Aguero.
“I’m sorry he didn’t cost £55million” pic.twitter.com/OrA9PANHYx
— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) April 24, 2017
Holding could come into direct competition with Zouma’s Chelsea in a battle of tactical nouse at Wembley. Antonio Conte has engineered a seemingly water-tight system at Stamford Bridge, with PFA Player of the Year N’Golo Kante mopping up at a rate that surely surpasses both Aaron Ramsey or Granit Xhaka’s abilities.
Given the underdog moniker in this year’s illustrious Wembley outing has seen Arsenal given odds of 11/4 to win the FA Cup final in football betting with the likes of bet365, as Wenger has a seventh FA Cup winner’s medal in his sights.
To some surprise, where this system has really benefited Arsenal in their recent upturn in form has been on the wings, with Oxlade-Chamberlain given a new lease of life down the right and Nacho Monreal grabbing his third Gunners goal. This could be a position of joy against Conte’s Chelsea, who looked susceptible to balls from wide in their end-to-end 4-2 win over Southampton.
Some worry that Arsenal need two up-front in the long-term. Wenger himself is set to keep us guessing as to his FA Cup final formation, claiming the 3-4-3 is a short-term measure due to a lack of confidence displayed by his team, something that seemingly evaporated from Holding in the semis.