At a coaching conference in Rio de Janeiro six years ago, Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira described a 4-6-0 formation that he felt would revolutionise football tactics.
The man who will lead hosts South Africa into next summer’s World Cup said the system would involve six multi-faceted midfielders and no recognisable strikers, with players rotating defensive and attacking responsibilities between them. Parreira’s vision has thus far failed to spark a tactical revolution, although a few sides have dabbled with a similar approach.
Manchester United deployed a free-form formation during the 2007-08 season, in which they won the Premier League and the Champions League with Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Cristiano Ronaldo exchanging positions at the point of the attack while Park Ji-sung or Ryan Giggs offered support from deep.
Roma, under Luciano Spalletti, experimented by playing Francesco Totti as an advanced playmaker who would invert the attacking line by dropping deep behind the ball, while Everton were forced to field six midfielders at times last season when injuries led to Tim Cahill being played as a lone central attacker.
Arsenal took to the field at home to Stoke City on Saturday with a line-up featuring six midfielders and no strikers, but what appeared to be a very ambitious interpretation of the 4-6-0 seems slightly more prosaic when you look at the average positions of their midfield players during the match, via a screenshot from the ESPN Soccernet website:
Rather than a genuine 4-6-0, Arsenal actually lined up in a more conventional 4-1-4-1. Denílson (15) screened the back four and Andrey Arshavin (23) operated in an orthodox central striking role, with Tomáš Rosický (7), Cesc Fàbregas (4), Samir Nasri (8) and Emmanuel Eboue (27) providing support from midfield.
The match highlights reveal that Arshavin operated in much the same areas that Robin van Persie does when fit; moving away from the opposition goal to receive the ball and thereby allowing the midfield runners to attack the space behind him. Such was the Russian’s effectiveness in the role that, even when striker Carlos Vela (12) came on for injury victim Rosický at half-time, Arshavin continued to play in his central position.
It is unlikely Arsène Wenger would have deployed such a system had van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo not all been missing through injury, but it will be interesting to see if he uses it again when they are available. Parreira for one would certainly approve.