Football Tactics: The WM

Over the course of the next few months, I will look at numerous footballing formations utilised by various teams. In my latest blog, I’ll briefly look at the WM formation.

The WM formation was a reaction to The FA’s decision to restructure the offside law after teams had became so adept at utilising it to their advantage. What followed the offside law change was immediate success for teams’ attacking players and the average number of goals per game shot up the season after.

Subsequently it led Herbert Chapman to develop the ‘third back’ formation or more commonly the WM. Immediately after the offside law change, forwards had more room, games became increasingly stretched and shorter, more fluid passing movements quickly gave way to longer, more direct passing attempts.

Herbert Chapman, following an erratic run of form with his Arsenal side following the change, decided it was time to change. A third back was added to the defensive pair (note most teams played a 2-3-5 at the time) which countered an often free centre forward following the offside law change. This left the midfield unit down to two, which required one of the five forwards to create more of a 3-3-4 formation.

Some more tweaking from Chapman, led his formation to resemble more of a 3-2-2-3 as shown here:


In 1931 Arsenal won their first silverware and the formation was now in more of a clearly defined shape. The job of marking the wingers was now down to the full backs rather than the inside forwards as previously done. The centre half in the centre of the pitch, was now a centre back whose job was to deal with the opposing centre forward and the two inside forwards dropped deeper. 2-3-5 had now fully evolved into the 3-2-2-3 and the majority of Britain was taking note.

The formation was designed to utilise the most out of each individual’s positioning in a counter attacking sense, often enabling the team with the ball to have a spare man at the key moment in attack. The Arsenal side became adept at funnelling into their own goalmouth before launching a swift counter with long, direct passing to the wing players exploiting the space left behind an advanced team.

The formation was described as ‘machine-like’ and had truly come of age resulting in numerous successes for Arsenal in the 1930s. Chapman died in 1934, many teams attempted to copy his style but failed for various reasons.

The formation wasn’t without criticism however, referred to by some as overly defensive and the beginning of mediocrity in England. Chapman always maintained that defence was the “rock bottom of football”.

Finally, the WM was famously used by England – in a 6-3 humiliation at the hands of Hungary at Wembley. It is generally regarded that the fluid, fast, exciting formation the Hungarians used massively exposed the rigid nature and complacency of the English side. This consequently saw the English game attempt to move away from the formation, and subsequent analysis looked to the continent to provide answers and solutions in moving the English game forward.

Further Reading:

Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics by Jonathan Wilson

Football and Chess by Adam Wells

Football/Soccer: History and Tactics by Jaime Orejan, Robyn L. Jones (Foreword)

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About markfc713

Enthusiastic, aspiring football coach.
This entry was posted in Football Tactics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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