Arsenal find they can't beat Athletic 3-4-3 system


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The Independent Online

Not many teams will play like this here. Trusting their players and their novel system, confidence with and without the ball, and utterly free of the drop-dread fear which afflicts their rivals, Wigan Athletic played stirring football. It was Arsenal's first home defeat since losing here to Manchester United in January.

And this after Arsenal had won nine of their last 10 Premier League games, launching them back up to third, while the visitors were, at least until very recently, down to their last few chips. It was surreal.

But Wigan are unconventional. The system, an ambitious and expansive 3-4-3, is unique to them in the Premier League – only Norwich, at times, have come close to it this year. It can provide extra men in either defence or midfield, forcing opponents to reconsider how they plan to score. It had confused Sir Alex Ferguson last Wednesday and, just five days later, it did the same to Arsène Wenger. Two unambiguous greats of the English game outwitted in one week!

Wigan attacked with assurance in their ability and their approach from the off. The build-up to their seventh minute opener summed up their style. James McCarthy, as natural a 21-year-old midfielder as any in the division, intercepted a blunt corner kick on seven minutes, and his reaction was not to conserve but to attack. He played it to Victor Moses, right, who broke down the left and found Jordi Gomez. His first and only touch was perfection, sweeping the ball across to Franco Di Santo, in a field of space.

Watching Wigan's confidence with a football is impressive in itself, and remarkable given their position. A minute later they broke with similar fluency to score again: McCarthy, again, to Moses, again, and this time he went to the byline and crossed. James McArthur tussled Thomas Vermaelen for the ball, neither won it, and it broke to Gomez, who scored.

Ahead, Wigan were then happy to play a different game. The 3-4-3 switched naturally back to 5-4-1, the extra defender giving them a layer of protection Arsenal had not obviously planned for. With three centre-backs, Gary Caldwell, the centre of them, was often spare and free to head the ball away without having to worry about the threat of Robin van Persie.