Wednesday 24 October 2012
The emergence of the No10 has been a fillip to the Barclays Premier League, according to Lee Dixon, who has told premierleague.com that the 4-2-3-1 formation has improved the modern game.
"The No10 is a position I love because it splits the opposition and when you get someone in the hole it’s very difficult as a back four to defend against"
It was Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, who observed recently that one of the key changes to have occurred in football in the English top-flight has been the evolution of tactics from a staple diet of the 4-4-2 formation to various iterations of the 4-5-1.
Former England and Arsenal defender Lee Dixon believes football has changed for the better since his playing days, with the popular 4-2-3-1 system – which was used by nine clubs in the Barclays Premier League this weekend, having made a positive impact.
"I think tactics go in cycles," Dixon told premierleague.com. "Four-four-two will be popular again one day, I'm sure. But at the moment most managers tend to set out their teams with two holding players, three ahead of them and one up front.
"That gives the midfield more of a dimension. Rather than being strung right across the middle of the pitch, you've got almost two lines which gives you more width, so it is a formation that offers a bit of everything.
"You obviously lose somebody up front but if your two wide players are quite forward-thinking, like Gervinho and Lukas Podolski at Arsenal for instance, then you get an additional attacker helping out the lone striker. I never played in a team that played 4-2-3-1 but I quite like the system."
A consequence of the 4-2-3-1 has been the general demise of the traditional centre-forward but as far as Dixon is concerned the current tactical trend has only served to improve the quality of play and increase the number of goals that are scored.
After the eighth round of Barclays Premier League matches, in fact, 235 goals have been scored compared with 225 at the corresponding stage last season – an average of 2.97 a game, as opposed to 2.85.
"Defending is more of a thinking man's game than it was when I was playing"
"Now you're seeing the emergence of the No10 more," he continued. "It's a position I love to watch because it splits the opposition team and when you get someone in the hole it's very difficult as a back four to defend against.
"While you lose something in one sense you gain something somewhere else – you can't have it both ways. If you play two up front you lose that position in the hole. You can only have 11 players on the pitch."
The XI for which Dixon played at Highbury was one of the most defensively renowned teams in the history of the English game with only Jose Mourinho's 2004/05 Chelsea side, which conceded just 15 Barclays Premier League goals all season, besting the record of 18 goals conceded by Dixon's title-winning Gunners side set in the 1990/91 campaign.
But back in Dixon's day they did not have to contend with the type of mobile attacking midfielder that is the scourge of today's rearguard, while firmer rules on tackling in the modern era has made defending a more refined art to master.
"When I played, generally against a 4-4-2, you'd normally have a winger to mark and the two centre-backs would mark the two centre-forwards.
"It kind of took care of itself and the emphasis was on your match-up with whoever you were playing against. Now, you'll see back-fours with one to mark, and the full-backs then have to push on.
"It's perhaps more of a thinking man's game than it was when I was playing because you're not always marking someone. For a defender that's the danger time, because you're not sure whether to go and mark somebody or stay in your position.
"That's where communication is key and, ironically, with the amount of foreign players that are in the game the communication is probably at its lowest.
"I certainly see instances where players have not spoken to each other because they don't know what position they're in. They have different problems now than they did when I was playing."
Dixon was speaking at an exclusive signing session for Arsenal supporters at The Arsenal Brent Cross, the Gunners' first flagship store in a major retail location. For more information, visit www.arsenaldirect.com.