Offensive Game Plan: The 4-3-3 Formation

A look at the attacking 4-3-3 formation and how it is implemented

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Barcelona and Arsenal both employ the attacking 4-3-3 formation and are two of the most attractive 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. However, the respective managers of Barcelona and Arsenal, Josep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, do their best to ensure there are enough players defending when their teams are on the back foot. The attacking 4-3-3 formation is used by many clubs in world soccer, but rarely with such devastating effect as the two Spanish and English sides. Here we 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 often David Villa, while Robin van Persie undertakes the role for Arsenal. 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 full-backs 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. In Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin - we have two prime exponents of this art. 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. 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 centre, 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. Sergio Busquets or Javier Mascherano perform this role for Barcelona, and it is Alex Song's responsibility in the Arsenal team. 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, like Barcelona's Xavi Hernandez and Arsenal's Jack Wilshere.

Other Responsibilities

Of the six players we have looked at in this 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.