Tonight we are facing arguably the best defensive midfielder in Europe – and 7-times Dive of the Year award winner – Sergio Busquets. I hate to write this but he’s the prototype of the player we’re missing at the moment: extremely comfortable with both feet, well disciplined and aware of his positioning, tidy on the ball when under pressure and imposing with his 6’2” height.
Yet, he’s not the disruptive defensive midfielders many are crying for.
He’s not particularly excellent at tackling or impressively dynamic, he doesn’t cover much space and he’s rarely involved in physical battles for the ball; in all these aspects of the game, there are many players already superior to the Catalan and we’ve seen some of them at the Emirates Stadium such as Aaron Ramsey (before the Welsh Jesus thing…), Alex Song and Mathieu Flamini – and Francis Coquelin, of course.
There aren’t many players in Europe as dynamic as the Frenchman and with his ability to hook the ball from an opponent, the few poor performances of late shouldn’t really change the opinions about Francis Coquelin abilities: he’s good, very good at what he does.
He’s been extremely good since breaking into the starting XI and one of our most consistent players, the injury surely disrupted his momentum and he’s struggling to get back to his best.
What Francis Coquelin lacks is discipline.
The bad news is that those who were asked to fill his role before him followed the same downward path: excellent at the beginning, lauded as THE man capable of keeping the team together before becoming victims of Arsène Wenger’s fluid system and drifting away from the positions they were supposed to occupy.
I believe that had something to do with the fact that none of these players really was defensive-minded but surely our tactical approach didn’t help cementing any positional awareness in our inexperienced Gunners.
The action that led to Per Mertesacker’s red card against Chelsea is perhaps the best example of this recurring issue: with only fifteen minutes and the score still goalless, both Francis Coquelin and Aaron Ramsey were caught on the edge of Chelsea’s penalty box and we were punished by a rather simple counter attack, started by Willian and finished by Costa.
Why were both our midfielders so high on the pitch, given those circumstances? I don’t know.
What we need is not an enthusiastic, dynamic and battling defensive midfielder.
We don’t need a pit-bull biting everyone’s calves.We have plenty of these players.
We need a man capable of anticipating the danger and sniff it away with one sprint, one positional adjustment, one smart step sideways or backwards.
I don’t see anyone in our current squad capable of taking this responsibilities and constantly being at the right place at the right time, which is one of the factors preventing us from being consistent and credible in our hunt for trophies.
It’s a very frustrating job because its importance is rarely noticed and lauded but if you look at Gilberto Silva career and reputation, it’s definitely worth the pain.
I dream of a midfield pair composed of a technically gifted players like Santi Cazorla, whose vision, inventiveness, accuracy and accelerations can start deadly counters and a more composed, calm midfielder who would constantly ensure balance to the team.
With an experienced player capable of reading the game and claiming the ball from centre-backs to start moves, we’d immediately become a far bigger threat for rivals – both in England and Europe.
Can Arsène Wenger spot that man?