Offensive Game Plan: The 4-3-3 Formation in Soccer

4-3-3 Diagram
Wikimedia Commons

Barcelona and Arsenal both employ the attacking 4-3-3 formation and are two of the most successful and exciting teams to watch in world soccer. The formation works best when a team is going forward and attempting to win a match, rather than simply trying to contain the opposition. But the respective managers of Barcelona and Arsenal, Ernesto Valverde and Unai Emery, do their best to ensure there are enough players defending when their teams are on the back foot.

Many clubs in world soccer use the attacking 4-3-3 formation but rarely with such devastating effect as the two Spanish and English sides. Here's a look at how it works from an attacking standpoint.

The Central Striker

The formation relies on an out-and-out striker to play in the center of the front three, capable of holding the ball up and bringing the two players on either side of him into the play. In Barcelona's case, this is Luis Suarez. Their other main function is to be on the end of chances created.

Wide Attackers

Offensive midfielders on either side of the striker are instructed to use their pace to get at fullbacks and cross the ball in for the central striker and advancing midfielders. It is important that these wide players have the skill and technique needed to beat opposing defenders.

Often you will see these types of players cut inside and run at the central defenders, regularly playing quick passing exchanges with teammates before getting into the penalty area and releasing a shot. Barcelona's Lionel Messi, for example, plays on the right of the central striker, but being left-footed, he loves to cut inside before shooting or passing.

While it is the central striker's job to score goals, these players are also expected to weigh in.

Defensive Midfielder

The three midfielders perform different defensive and offensive roles. At the center, often playing just in front of the four defenders, there is a defensive midfielder whose job it is to break up opposition attacks before releasing the ball to teammates. Neither score many goals, but their role in the team should not be understated as their teammates can attack in the knowledge that they have a dependable tackling midfielder behind them.

All-Round Midfielders

There are two players flanking the defensive midfielder whose duty it is both to defend and attack. These "box-to-box" midfielders should be getting into the opposition's penalty area regularly with the aim of finishing off the chances created by the wide attacking players. It is also their job to construct attacking moves once they have received the ball from one of the four defenders or defensive midfielder.

For these roles to be carried out well, such players need to have superb passing abilities.

Other Responsibilities

Of these six players mentioned in the 4-3-3 formation, you will see five regularly going forward, but they must also be mindful of their other responsibilities. A team cannot always be on the attack, and when you see Arsenal under pressure from the opposition, it is not uncommon to witness their formation switch to a 4-1-4-1 as the wide midfielders drop deeper to win the ball back.