You know how you make a diamond? Well, the cliff-notes version is you take carbon and put it under phenomenal levels of heat and pressure and hey presto, diamonds! Well, Arsenal have spent this season being put under pressure, and feeling the heat from fans and board alike, Unai Emery has turned the Gunners into a diamond. Sort of.
Arsenal lined up at the Emirates with a diamond midfield. They had previously used this formation in a second-half burst against Spurs to overpower and take the lead against their bitter rivals. But here it was deployed from the start; Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang started up-front with Aaron Ramsey at the tip of the diamond.
Behind Ramsey was a midfield trio with Granit Xhaka at the base of the diamond, flanked on either side by Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira. This provided Arsenal with a solid base for their attacks, one superlative passer in Xhaka flanked by more dynamic players capable of carrying the ball as well as offering genuine defensive protection.
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But of course, the attack is the key part of this diamond, because it puts Arsenal’s two most potent talents (sorry Mesut) into close proximity with each other, allowing their chemistry to make them more than the sum of their parts, but also puts them just ahead of Aaron Ramsey.
The Welshman is the kind of player whose movement off the ball is so dynamic that he can effect play even when he’s not on the ball; that’s a rare talent and one which maximises the skill-sets of Lacazette and Aubameyang. Because, you see, both Lacazette and Aubameyang are all-around talents as comfortable setting team-mates up with passes as they are taking chances themselves.
So with Arsenal’s all-around talents, capable of splitting wide, dropping deep or pushing onto the last man – Chelsea’s defenders had no idea who to mark, or how to mark. Aubameyang in particular was constantly in acres of space and it was only a bit of loose finishing and some blind luck on Chelsea’s part that prevented him from scoring. His overhead kick in particular was delightful.
It was the diamond which ensured that Lacazette was at the near-post with just two men to mind him. This allowed him to collect Héctor Bellerin’s cross and with two deliriously good touches skip away from Pedro and Marcos Alonso before thumping the ball into the roof of the net like an intercontinental ballistic missile. It was a spectacular goal, but in a system where Lacazette was the lone striker it could never have worked.
The other key members of a diamond system are the full-backs. Héctor Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac were fabulous against Chelsea. They were marauding forward into space constantly providing the width that a diamond midfield doesn’t have. This, in effect, penned the Blues back into their own half because they had to flood everyone bar Eden Hazard back to keep from being overwhelmed.
In fact the full-backs are so crucial to Arsenal that Héctor Bellerin’s serious-looking injury makes this a Pyrrhic victory – his timing and offensive instincts make him so dangerous in attack; so without the Catalan it’s hard to see the system being functional against anyone but the weakest sides. That said, should Bellerin make a swift return (or should Arsenal sign a genuine back-up in what remains of January) then one can see this diamond igniting the Gunners’ season just as it has Manchester United’s.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United have used a 4-3-3/4-4-2 diamond hybrid system to completely turn their season around and bring them back into a top four race that they had no part of just a month ago. And Arsenal looked like falling away after their lucky unbeaten run earlier in the season, but the diamond could rejuvenate them like it has The Red Devils.
After all, it’s not just an offensive system. Defensively it allowed Arsenal to apply an enormous amount of pressure to Chelsea. Arsenal’s defence didn’t suddenly turn into Atlético Madrid’s or something, what happened was they were extraordinarily well-protected. And defensive protection is exactly what Arsenal need to make their ramshackle back-line workable.
The diamond allows Lacazette and Aubameyang to set the defensive tempo, placing them in the half-space where they can, as a pair, press the entirety of the Chelsea back four. And then with Ramsey squeezing Jorginho out of the game, Chelsea’s key playmakers are nullified. The ball just doesn’t get to Eden Hazard all the way up in false nine – so he couldn’t hurt anyone. Chelsea didn’t even have a shot on target until the very end of the game, such was Arsenal’s defensive structure. And from this defensive solidity, their attack became much more potent.
Arsenal’s second goal, where centre-back Sokratis hit a trivela cross to centre-back Laurent Koscielny to shoulder the ball into the back of the net, was basically just a heat check. The Gunners confirming that the diamond had given them all the sauce, all the momentum. There was 50 minutes left in the game but quite obviously, it was over – but thanks to the diamond formation, the top four race has only just begun.