Despite the remarkable consistency of our back four this season, which has yielded 20 clean sheets in all competitions, it’s the midfield strength that has seen us compensate for lack of top quality up front.
In a summer where the priority was to sign a world class forward, Arsene Wenger ended up getting two experienced midfielders, who’ve completely changed the complexion of the team from the side that finished 4th last term. Add that to the fact that we started on the front foot this season despite the early mishap against Aston Villa, we’ve managed to stay competitive and remain on course to lift some silverware again this term. The midfield has been key in driving us forward and here’s why:
Our ability to field more experienced midfielders this season, despite constant injuries in that department since the start of the season has given us the edge over past campaigns. In the last few years, we’ve had to unfairly throw youngsters into the deep end, due to genuine lack of options in midfield, and in doing so feature them regularly in the side, to make up for our lack of midfield depth.
It happened with Cesc Fabregas in 05/06 when Patrick Vieira left the previous summer, and with Theo Walcott in 08/09 when Alex Hleb moved on. This season however, we not only made sure all midfielders stayed at the club during the summer, but also added to that strong core, with the double signing of Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Ozil. This ultimately gave us the extra security the club needed to go all the way this term.
Ozil and Flamini have added another dimension to Arsenal’s midfield.
Additionally, we’ve managed to keep the likes of Gedion Zelalem and Serge Gnabry the necessary time they need to develop themselves without the added pressure of having to produce stellar performances on a weekly basis, which wasn’t the case with Cesc and Theo.
Serge Gnabry has made 14 appearances this season, but isn’t yet an integral part of the attack, which is ideal for his development. He, alongside Zelalem, needs to learn from the experienced heads around them, until they’re ready to compete toe to toe with the core of the side. They’ve also both penned new deals this season, which clearly shows that the club have long term plans for the duo.
Perhaps a distinct feature of the array of talent we possess in midfield is the different styles and qualities of the players. While Mikel Arteta offers calmness and technical security, Flamini gives us the aggression and the loquacious figure we’ve missed in the past. Aaron Ramsey’s engine, Jack Wilshere’s drive, Santi Cazorla’s craft, Ozil’s precision, Tomas Rosicky’s guile and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s burst of pace means we’ve got the numbers and the dynamism. You’ll hardly see any other midfield in Europe with such different qualities possessed by central and attacking midfielders. It’s a truly compact, but yet vehement group.
The Arsenal midfield blend this season has aided the manager in using different pairings, either due to the opposition we’ve faced or just basically as a result of the never ending injuries that have plagued the team. These different fusions have also had a significant impact on the combinations we’ve seen for the goals we’ve scored this season. At the start of the season it was all about the understanding between Ramsey and Ozil, Wilshere and Cazorla later joined in the act, and now we’re beginning to see Rosicky and Chamberlain do the same. It’s just been brilliant to watch. The immaculate build ups we’ve seen this season have also been nothing short of dazzling. Ramsey’s strike at Sunderland, Ozil’s goal against Napoli, Jack’s against Norwich, Rosicky’s at home to Sunderland and Olivier Giroud’s second in the cup win over Everton only attest to the clever combos orchestrated by our midfielders.
Giroud has benefited from multiple midfield combinations
Every goal we’ve scored out of nothing this season, have also come from this fearless midfield. Ramsey kicked it off with the strikes against Norwich and Liverpool. Cazorla also netted an absolute beauty in the win over the Reds and his precise effort in the 2-0 win over Fulham was also down to individual brilliance. But perhaps the best we’ve seen this season came from the little Mozart and couldn’t have come on a better occasion than the North London Derby. His three goals this season have also come in games where he debutised for Arsenal’s chief playmaker, Mesut Ozil.
I’m quite confident we’ll see a few more moments of individual from both and the rest of the midfield, before the curtains close in May.
Rosicky has stepped up in Ozil’s absence this season.
In addition to that, five of our midfielders have gotten braces this term, in different games as well, which is no mean feat. At a point it looked like they were taken turns to who’ll become the match winner after the end of proceedings. Ramsey has had two braces to his name, while Ozil, Wilshere, Cazorla and Chamberlain have also all registered two strikes each, three of those coming in 2-0 victories.
They’ve enjoyed themselves this year and they’re not even done yet. When the total no. of goals scored by midfielders (42) exceeds the tally scored by strikers (38) then you know how important our maestros have been throughout the campaign.
Ramsey has been Arsenal’s standout performer, with 13 goals, seven assists and an impressive 3.7 tackles per game.
Lastly, the signing of Kim Kallstrom, yet another midfielder proves Wenger didn’t compromise his depth there, as he knew his midfield was the base to challenge this season. At a time where we badly needed striking options, Arsene brought in one more midfielder to ensure we stay locked up in that zone till the end of the season. The Swede is yet to make his debut but that’s only a matter of when, not if. The decision to bring him in now seems plausible, considering the injury problems we’re still experiencing in this position.
Kallstrom’s availability could give the Gunners the edge in the next few weeks.
In a season where much of the attention has been focused on the contract of key figures at the emirates, five out of the six players who’ve put pen to paper play in midfield. This shows that the club now understand how important it is to have a dedicated group in this area of the pitch. In like manner, the fact that Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and possibly Abou Diaby are to return before the end of the season means the Gunners would have just about enough to successfully end their FA Cup adventure/trophy drought and negotiate the tricky games against the mid table and relegation threatened teams in the final month of the season.