2009-10 Season Review: Problems & Weaknesses In Midfield

Sometime after the Blackburn loss Arsene was talking about our midfield,

I believe the midfield was not a problem this year because we created so many chances from midfield and we dominated nearly all the games in midfield. I don’t think we had a big problem in there. I believe we had a problem of efficiency defensively.

I’m not sure I can agree with that because I feel we haven’t dominated as many games and in the manner that one would expect from an Arsenal side that sees itself as a championship contender. For instance, we’ve not achieved 60% possession in any of the four games against the top two. So how do we claim we’ve dominated those games? One could argue that in those games we kept the ball whenever the opposition allowed us to because they could control the play without having the ball. Similar arguments can be made for some other games where we had a lot of possession but failed to get a result.

Our midfield is integral to the way we play and the performance of the three men in the middle often decides the sharpness in our attack and the solidity of our defence.

It’s a complicated issue because we’re not a team that can put 10 men behind the ball and see out a game. The home game against Citeh is a perfect example. They have some fantastic attacking talent and had scored 3 at Old Trafford and 4 at Stamford Bridge. Yet, at the Emirates, they could only manage 3 shots on goal and none that troubled the keeper. Their tactics were not positive but they were exactly the same when they visited the top two. In contrast even our attack was rather toothless in that game.

I think our defence is strong when our midfield is alert to the threats from the opposition and the Full Backs stay deeper so that the wider channels are better covered. The problem with this approach is that our attack loses its bite and our passing becomes slower and highly predictable. The challenge for Arsene is to find a balance such that we can continue to attack and still maintain a solid defence. We struggle to get a result when we fail to achieve this balance.

I realize it’s easier said than done but any team that has pretensions of winning big trophies needs to achieve this balance on a regular basis. Cesc and Song are world class but in my opinion we’re really missing a top quality, consistent, responsible, and tireless third man to play alongside these two.

Denilson and Diaby are decent players and can be quite competent against the smaller teams but they really aren’t consistent and don’t take enough responsibility in the game. Ramsey is a fantastic talent but he is a little way away from achieving consistency and physical stamina for playing at the highest level on a regular basis. And I’ve never been able to understand why we don’t use Nasri as the third man even when Cesc is available.

One of the major problems with having an inconsistent midfield, especially one where players shirk responsibility, is that we end up with games like the one at Wigan. The two supposedly defensive midfielders completely switched off in that game and didn’t contribute to the defence at all in the final twenty minutes. Something similar happened against West Ham and in some other games as well.

There have been quite a few games this season when the midfield has gone AWOL and we’ve seen the defenders hoofing the ball up-field only for it to return in a matter of seconds. Ultimately, the defenders or the keeper look like jokers but in reality the midfielders are the worst offenders.

I don’t think buying one more DM or a pass master in midfield will solve everything although it could certainly help as we won’t have to use youngsters like Eastmond before they are ready. What we most certainly need is better focus and ownership from each and every player for the duration of the game and on a consistent basis.

Can Arsene drill this into the players or is this something you are born with? That’s another difficult question and one that could really tell us whether we have any realistic hopes of improvements or are we in need of some serious repairs. In this sense I can understand the point of view of those who want a clearance sale and some fresh purchases. Having said that, I also feel no one other than the manager can really gauge this. Le Boss has been a winner himself and he’s been with enough top level footballers to know one when he sees one. Some fans on the other hand just have opinions based on other peoples’ opinions!

We need some serious improvement in this area in pre-season otherwise even a new Keeper and CB won’t take us far. I sincerely hope that Arsene is just defending his players and doesn’t truly believe that our midfield is alright!

21 Responses to 2009-10 Season Review: Problems & Weaknesses In Midfield

  1. craszygunner says:

    We need another Song in midfield qed we have no cover for Song and none of the guys brought in to play that role has been good enough ….we can wait for about 5 years in the hope that Denilson might learn how to make a strong tackle or take the bull by the horns and get another player.

    That unfortunately I believe is why we lost out this season dropping points to Wigan West Ham and Birmingham. These were easy matches where we were cruising to victory as yourself how many times this season did Chelsea drop points from winning positions in the last 20 mins of a game this season…..there is ur answer!

    There is nothing wrong with holding on to a lead Chelsea does it Man U does it unfortunately we do not had a grafter who will can bring on to help us hold on to a lead…I know AW has won things …but this is tactical naivety at its highest!!

    • desigunner says:

      Number of points dropped from a winning position this season

      Arsenal 15 – Chelsea 16!

      Just goes to show how clueless some fans are who just assume they know the problem, worse they assume they know the solution and then make complete idiots of themselves by criticizing the one man who actually does know what’s going on.

      I don’t like to be harsh while replying to comments but you’ve no clue what you’re talking about and trivializing football just makes you look dumb.

      • gooner 4 life says:

        damn lol cant stop laughing for real been waiting 4 da day some1 gonna tell dis fools think they know it all but aint got a clue bout nout dats why they play fifa10 and arsene manages arsenal fc well said man thank you

  2. Ajinkya says:

    I agree with craszygunner on the point that we need one more Song. Then they can be rotated and a lot of injury trouble can be dealt with. I go to the extent of saying that we need one more Fabregas kind of player, the brain of the midfield. Last season Lucho left Porto. If we could have got him, I think it would have been a lot better. Otherwise I believe we have a good midfield on paper. The problem is that they switch off.

  3. dan says:

    Ok, Desi, don’t get you’re knickers in a twist, Chels does have a better defense than we do, and the proof is the ultimate statistic, titles, that said what’s the saying about statistics ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’.

    I agree with the argument for needed improvement certainly, and one of the aspects of our lack of defensive mindedness that hasn’t generally been recognized is the general character of the midfield – it’s so focused on attack it really doesn’t help out enough on the defensive end. For example, Clichy gets a lot of stick for some poor moments but actually how much help does he get from the left of midfield, not enough in my view, there have been many times when he’s rescued us with his pace but I think he just gets isolated out there too often because the midfield just doesn’t track back enough. Excellent defensive teams move in packs of twos and threes closing down, constant pressure, helping each other. That i believe is one big difference between us and a team like barca, they have the same focus and discipline on offense as on defense, we don’t.

    There are going to be games when scoring is just not possible or when we do need a draw as opposed to a loss by focusing more on the defensive aspects, that quality has yet to emerge from this group.

    • desigunner says:

      I don’t think anyone denies the fact that we need to improve defensively. It’s the how that’s the complicated part because it involves the keeper, defenders, midfield, wingers, formation, tactics, attitude and a host of other factors.

      My point has always been that we have to appreciate the complexities involved and show respect for someone who’s trying to handle them. And that’s the reason I get a annoyed by a know-it-all attitude that’s based on assumptions which are consistently proven to be false by actual facts.

      I think we do ok most of the times that’s the reason we have 23 wins and do better than 17 other teams. It’s the small steps up that can be a big deal because it’s not that simple anymore.

  4. norhthernGoon says:

    Good points but, defence is the first thing needed for sure. It may have taken AW 2 OBVIOUS seasons where we were not good enough in defence to realise this but it really needs a mid 20’s experienced defender and youngster (to learn his trade) and dare i say it another year from ‘SOL’, his end of season peformances were the only positive from last 4/5 games.
    Next midfield, lookin increasingly like no cesc next season so need another genius with the money we’ll get, Wilshire not ready yet (bolton for another season would benefit him no end), Rambo just a bit short but another season under his belt and they’ll be no stopping him. Unfortunately the only centre mids who want the ball as much as cesc are already at barca and i dont think any of them will want to come the other way, Inter’s schneider would be good or player in the same mould..
    Finally RVP is never going to last a full season so i think it’s time to give Theo a chance. As a winger he’s improved but he’s no Ashley Young/Lennonn/SWP or Milner. He is a finisher, When he has time he gets in to trouble.
    The invinsible’s dare i remember used to break with pace power and decisiveness, Pires/Ljundberg/Henry with Silva stopping that’s all you needed. Man Utd season before last Rooney/Ronaldo/Tevez, fletcher spoiling. We need midfielders who run passed the forwards and dont need the ball at their feet facing the defenders. Head down get passed them with speed and then let cesc(or replacement) put the ball in your path.

    Just a note to the boys for next season, if you dont shoot you wont score!!

  5. craszygunner says:

    Many thanks desigunner

    If only you could read I said how many points Chelsea lost in the ” last 20 minutes from winning positions” go and check the stats and do the maths because U obviously can not read or perhaps have difficulty with comprehension!!…

    • Bob says:

      If you’re going to criticize that you also have to consider how many points we’ve gained from late goals this season.

      I agree that it’s a matter of attitude, organization and concentration rather than personnel. Diaby had a solid first two thirds or the season and then fell away badly towards the end. Whether that’s down to fatigue (physical or mental) or injuries or something else I don’t know, but he did still get picked for the World Cup by Domonech so he can’t be that bad. And with Denilson you have to remember he’s just turned 22. That’s still relatively young for a midfielder. If you’re looking for comparisons then it’s worth bearing in mind what stage of their development likes of Fletcher, Milner, De Jong etc were at at that age. I’d also agree that I’d like to see Nasri in the middle more often where he can use his vision and clever footwork rather than out wide where he too often seems ineffectual and bereft of ideas.

      If the money stretches to allow the signing of another midfielder then I think the obviously outstanding choice is Yaya. As a bonus it would be amazing if we could bring back Kolo to play with him. It’s a long shot but with all the money City are throwing around who knows who’ll be in their squad come August and he could find himself pushed down the pecking order and surplus to requirements ala Richard Dunne. In the case, I think a sneaky offer would be worth a punt. A slightly left-field option would be Kwadwo Asamoah, who plays for Udinese. 21, 6ft, built like the proverbial shithouse and was Ghana’s best player at the ACN in January. Might be worth getting him in before he’s hyped as the next Essien after the World Cup. Obviously, the problem with all these is they would increase our already substantial African contingent, who will all disappear for the busiest part of the season every 2 years. To avoid that I would probably plump for Toulalon, although I think he’s a bit overpriced.

      Finally, if Fabregas goes – I don’t think he will this summer, but if he does, then I’d love Gourcuff, personally. The closest thing I’ve seen to Zidane, plus he already has a great understanding with Chamakh. And only 23.

    • desigunner says:

      I read that bit and realize that it’s an irrelevant detail. Do you mean to say it’s ok if Chelsea cannot hold on to a lead for 50 minutes because they can hold on to a lead for 20 minutes?

      Points lost from winning positions shows whether a team can hold on to a lead or not. United lost 3 if I’m not mistaken. Arsenal and Chelsea have both struggled. Minutes don’t mean anything.

      There were other errors/poor assumptions in that comment and if I pick on your exact words I can make it look really dumb, but I’m not getting into it because it doesn’t deserve the time or effort.

      And Bob is right, we also should consider how many we’ve won in the last few minutes if you want to get into trivial details. Work it out and let me know.

  6. Samir ogaja says:

    Chelski dropd mo points than us in da last 20min so wat?they won da league mister.we not no it all fans bt realists.wenger’s tactics ths season av bn a joke esp wen in mattered most.da defensv is vry weak,midfield weak wit no cesc n song,am nt evn gona tk abt our goalkpr ol clowns.so unles wengr buys 3cbs gvn galas goes,bkup 4 song n cesc,use nasri as da 3rd man,2 strikers,sel edu we’l nt win anythn in da near future.n anth thing wt ol honesty arsenal is jst 2 bg a club 4 sm players who dnt deserv 2 wear that shirt.lets kp da faith tho’.

  7. mike in africa says:

    desigunner you make me laugh 😀

    you spent more than 80% of your reply @craszygunner hammering how clueless he is by attacking only ONE of the many points he made.

    and you made a fool of yourself doing it… classic.

    • desigunner says:

      Most of that was just opinion and only one point could be verified by fact, which I did. I can give enough counter opinions for each random opinion but it’s a waste of time on people who cannot see the plain facts and understand them.

      Saying we need replacement for Song, Denilson is no good, etc are not “points”. They are random statements and it just happens to be the opinion of many but that doesn’t make it right. One has to back the opinions with some relevant facts, and above all with some perspective. Too much for you to comprehend?

  8. Northbanker says:

    A well written article as usual Desi.

    Reading across the Arsenal blogs posters are saying buy these players, sell those players but would that solve last seasons problems? I don’t believe that risking silly money on Berbatov, Sheva or Veron type players would help much, perhaps even make things worse.
    Our horrific injury problems last season certainly didn’t help either but we cannot blame that entirely on where we failed. Hopefully this new GPS system will help on that front.
    I think when we analyze last season too many players were forced to play out of position in key areas of the field due to the injuries. This also had a knock-on effect and upset the balance of the whole team.

    Now I’m not saying the team doesn’t need strengthening, that’s quite obvious. I’m sure Wenger knows too which areas of the team need either strengthening or adequate back-up. Maybe then we will see more continuity in times of injury crisis and fewer players forced to play out of position in key areas. A lot of posters also feel our team training methods need looking into – especially in defence but I won’t go into that.
    A class keeper is a must and Charmakh seems to be a 99% done deal. As for the rest, well, that’s for the manager to decide. For the first time in many years Wenger can compete on a more level financiel playing field in the transfer market. So next season we will see Wenger judged on whether he still has it in him to repeat what he did when he first came to the club.

    • desigunner says:

      Yes, one of the main themes that I’ve been drumming about has been that buying players surely helps but it is not a guaranteed solution and certainly not the only one.

      The GPS system will help but not this year as Gazidis said it will get better once we have more data and is likely to yield benefits from the middle of next season. This year we really need to look at the medical staff and rotations to be on the safe side.

      Completely agree with the point of playing out of position and the balance. It’s directly related to the injuries we’ve had, especially multiple players in the same area.

      Even I’ve talked about our training especially on the defensive front. Not sure if you’ve seen the analysis of the Birmingham and Blackburn goals. To me it shows that we make a large number of small mistakes in defence and often get away with it but at times we have to pay the price. I think unless we sort these out, any keeper will be under tremendous pressure and will eventually look bad.

  9. Lloyd says:

    i strongly feel arsenal will do better if they add yaya toure in our midfield. he has the height, physical strength and tenacity often lacking in our arsenal side, and he is good on the ball too. and most importantly with our never ending injury crisis, his versatility is of immense importance.

  10. supasam8 says:

    nasri would be wonderful as the third man, totally agree

    maybe wenger will go for this approach next season as our strike-force will be to bolstered to play nasri on the wing

    wenger really does fancy his play (and for good reason) so i’d be pretty shocked to see him consistently left out of the game. especially over diaby or denilson

  11. Ajinkya says:

    Desi, now we hear something more from Nasri who says five to six guys himself included do not talk to Gallas.
    I personally feel Gallas is good, he should stay as back up, as he cannot play continously because of his age. DO you think these cold wars have any effect on our game?

    • desigunner says:

      I don’t think it would have had a big effect unless another defender or keeper had a problem with Gallas. In any case I’m sure about Gallas and Nasri having the ability to perform professionally. Toure obviously had a problem and had to leave. Can’t comment on the others without knowing the nature of their problems.

      I don’t think we can afford to give Gallas the kind of a contract he wants and then keep him on the bench. I don’t think he will take it well anyway. In my opinion we should let him go and find a better player, which will be a tough ask but Wenger must pull it off.

  12. […] I did with the defence, I looked at my review of the midfield from last season. It isn’t as relevant now as the one about defenders was but there were a few points I could […]

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