As 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 borrow,
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.
I think our defence is strong when our midfield is alert to the threats from the opposition…
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.
These are relevant points, especially the first one, but there is a lot more we can discuss with regard to the Arsenal midfield.
I guess we have to start by acknowledging that Wilshere has truly been like a big signing this season. I don’t think Wenger could have acquired that kind of quality even if he’d spent 30M or so. The youngster has offered a lot to the team with his technique, tenacity, tirelessness, and temperament.
Unfortunately, what we gained from Wilshere we lost elsewhere, perhaps more.
Cesc had a few good games but was a shadow of his self in many. He still was the best player in most of those games and that only highlights how good Fabregas is and why Arsenal need him to perform all through the season. I have said this before and will repeat it again – unless the best players in the team have seasons worthy of winning awards the club will struggle to achieve the big targets.
El Capitan wasn’t the only one who disappointed. Diaby struggled with injuries all through the season and never looked near the kind of form he showed last season when he was able to string together a run of games.
These issues were compounded by the loss of form for Rosicky who’d started brightly on the back of a good pre-season. And it got worse as the likes of Denilson and Ramsey failed to perform when called upon, albeit for different reasons. Some would say Song too had an inconsistent year and Nasri didn’t really fill in Fabregas’ shoes when required.
Now you could take that as a damning indictment of a number of players but I prefer to see it as a combination of different problems.
For instance, Nasri didn’t really play in a single position on a consistent basis. This made his work that much harder. Ramsey was coming back from injury so his inconsistency and mistakes were understandable. Song was solid for most parts even though he struggled to adapt to the rotating triangle in the early stages. Diaby suffered three horrendous tackles which is hardly his fault. With Cesc it’s difficult to judge whether the impact of injuries was higher or his mental turmoil was too much for a young mind even if he wanted to do the right thing.
If we think about it, every player has a different story to tell. Each story has some bloopers, a few disappointments, moments of quality, and reasons for hope. The problem for the manager is that he has to knit it all together and keep it going all through the season. That is where the system is so important and is an area where Arsene has struggled.
Wenger always says he has to adapt the style of play to the players he has. That is the sensible approach no doubt. But a fairly valid argument is that he has to adapt the squad he has so that he can have more flexibility in the system. This is an area where Arsenal can improve.
Due to the similar nature of so many players, Arsenal don’t really have the ability to change the style as often as necessary. The midfield tends to struggle in certain games. As mentioned above, it affects the sharpness of our attack and the solidity of our defence.
People blame the defence for conceding the four goals at Newcastle but we have to ask why the team failed to hold on to the ball in that period. Did the Barcodes suddenly morph into Barcelona to win the ball back within seconds? No, the midfield went AWOL and failed to contribute in attack or defence. Ball retention is a key aspect of both.
Of course, that will make the next season that much more complicated. If we want to play two defensive midfielders and need greater height, will Wilshere have to sit out (assuming Cesc stays)? What about Ramsey? It’s not an easy decision, is it? I will cover this further while discussing tactics and formation.
No one can honestly deny the need for greater depth in midfield. In this regard, Denilson’s desire to leave can only be a positive. Hopefully, Wenger’s interest in Phil Jones was the signal of intent that the Boss is looking for the right players to shore up the defence and midfield. I am convinced the defence will look much better if the midfield offers the right support consistently.
I’d love to see a player of the quality of a younger Michael Essien added to our squad but it’s just not easy to find that kind of talent with so many clubs around that can outspend Arsenal.
In an earlier post, I’d also mentioned that Arsenal could do with the signing of an experienced player like Seedorf. I don’t believe that is possible anymore, nor is the acquisition of Pirlo, but if Wenger can find a player of that stature it will help the younger players immensely. It doesn’t have to be someone who starts many games but just a player who can come in and make a difference in the final few minutes when the team needs greater composure and stability in defence or imagination and decisiveness in attack.
This whole discussion could be rendered meaningless if Fabregas and Nasri were to leave the club this summer. That would force the manager’s hand in the market and will also prompt a change in system. We will have a good idea about it only after the transfer window closes so I’ll refrain from speculative analysis.
For now let’s just see how the summer evolves while hoping we get a lot more from some midfielders who disappointed this season.