Is the WM Formation What Made Arsenal a Big Club?

In loving memory of Herbert Chapman

Football in the 19th century was all about scoring more goals than your opponent. The football philosophy was ‘’Kick and Rush’’. It was all about kicking the ball and running, nothing more, nothing less.
Once the offside rule was introduced to football, the game started becoming more a ‘’passing game’’ than a ‘‘dribbling game’’. Football teams started then thinking more in a tactical way than a ‘’Kick and Rush’’ way. This is how the first ever tactic in football was created: the 2-2-6.

The 2.2.6 formation
The 2-2-6 formation

Although it was better than a ‘’Kick and Rush’’ strategy, the 2-2-6 formation was still very controversial and had a lot of weaknesses, especially its lack of balance.
It was until 1925 that the world’s first properly elaborated tactic was introduced to the world of football: The W-M Formation. It was introduced by Arsenal’s coach at the time: Herbet Chapman and it was quite revolutionary.

How does the W-M formation work?

The WM is a 3-2-2-3 formation that consisted of a having 3 defenders that stay close to their goalkeeper during the defense and spread out to prevent long ball when the team is attacking.

The WM formation
The W-M

The midfielders should do a box-to-box job by tracking back and forward in order to occupy the center of the park.
The wingers’ job is to stay wide and send good crosses to the box while the 2 forwards are assisted by a playmaker to complete the formation.
When defending, the 2 central midfielders and wingers have to track back, forming a 7 men defense with the 3 center backs.

The WM in defense
The MW in defense

When attacking, the central midfielders move forward leaving a back line of 3 center backs and therefore make the opposition face 7 attacking players in the process. This would make the opposition’s strikers drop back to defend which will end up giving time and space for the center back (that are spread out) to anticipate any attempt of counterattack.

The WM in offense
The MW in offense

Does it have any weaknesses?

The WM formation had its major blow during the 6-3 defeat of England versus Hungary in 1953. The Hungarian players lined up in a WW formation that was more fluid and allowed Puskas’ team to bypass their markers easily.

The WW formation
The WW formation

As innovative as it was, the WM formation still was a very hard tactic to use especially for the players since it required high levels of fitness as the formation demands tracking back quickly as soon as the team loses the ball.


The WM may not have had an impact on football like Cruyff’s 3-4-3, or Barcelona’s positional play, or even Motta’s 2-7-2 formation but it surely made Arsenal the club that it is today: one of the most prestigious in Europe.

Arsenal trophies before and the moment Herbert Chapman passed away
Arsenal trophies before and the moment Herbert Chapman passed away

Herbert Chapman sadly passed away in 1934 leaving behind a huge legacy in Arsenal and also in the art/science of tactics. May his soul rest in peace.

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One thought on “Is the WM Formation What Made Arsenal a Big Club?

  1. Pingback: #16 – The Aranycsapat – The rise and fall of Hungarian football. – Student Of The Game

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