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!