Sunday, February 25, 2007


The 4-3-3: Some Thoughts, Part 2

The system with which Graham Arnold has become enamoured is sometimes considered a Dutch invention. Not entirely true (more on that in Part 3), but it’s worth a look at how the Dutch utilized it at the recent World Cup.

In many ways, Marco van Basten possessed the perfect front three for this particular system. Ruud van Nistelrooy is the sort of forward who can hold the ball up, bring others into play, and turn his man successfully. Another Samuel Eto’o, in other words.

Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie both possess the speed and skill to beat their fullbacks, or draw two or more defenders towards them so as to create space for the other attackers. Ideal wide men for the 4-3-3 (or 3-4-3), although van Persie ended up playing on his “wrong” side.

Although the Dutch didn’t exactly thrill the spectators in the first round, they did enough to suggest that they would be contenders. The opening stage of their exciting game against the Ivory Coast saw the front three looking particularly dangerous. Yet van Basten’s preference for untried (malleable, perhaps?) newcomers in midfield meant that the Dutch lacked some grit and nous in that area…a factor which was exploited by the Ivorians in the second half, when they completely dominated the game.

Then there was the second round against Portugal. 4-3-3 again, but…with Dirk Kuyt up front instead of van Nistelrooy.

It never looked likely to work, and it didn’t. Kuyt had a frustrating evening, often drifting out wide in search of meaningful action, and the lack of discipline from both sides made the game a dismal spectacle in any case. The Dutch went out.

Ironically, Kuyt was one of those involved in Liverpool’s winning goal at the Nou Camp on Thursday; although Rafa Benitez’s strategy for the game was unashamedly defensive, he had the sense to pair Kuyt with the quick Craig Bellamy, ensuring that Liverpool would have at least some bite on the break.

But back to Australia.

We don’t have a van Nistelrooy. We don’t even have a Robben, or a van Persie, at the moment. Harry Kewell appears unlikely to ever recapture the form of his early days at Leeds, while the European career of our great white hope on the wing, Ahmad Elrich, has stalled.

What we do have at present is several good, combative midfielders, two fine wide players (not genuine wingers) in Scott Chipperfield and Brett Emerton, both capable of going from by-line to by-line, and a useful supporting striker in Brett Holman.

The signs are fairly clear: for the moment, the 4-3-3 is not for us. As always, the choice of system must suit the personnel (especially at international level).

In Part 3, some historical background on Graham Arnold’s favourite system…and a different interpretation of it.

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It seems to me that Rob Baan could opt for a 4-3-3 with the Olyroos against Iran. If he plays
McClenahan Milligan Leijer Topor-Stanley
Ward Sarkies Burns
Bridge Djite Williams

it might work (as suggested in the Terrorgraph), although I admit I don't know much about the Iranian side.

Do you think that could work?
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