Déjà vu. Groundhog Day. A season supporting Arsenal football club. Nothing ever seems to change with our club, as we slowly slowly slide down the pole of mediocrity. What we thought would be an improved season after the first year of missing out on a top four place in 20 0dd years has rather turned out to be a kick in the guts, by players who just have not pulled their weight; be it their own faults, that of the manager or some combination of the two. What has been glaring though, has been the need for quality, strong reinforcements in the spine of the team; Goalkeeper, Central Defence, Central Midfield/Defensive Midfield and at Forward. I will pick and talk about each position and whom I believe we can bring on board to strengthen these vital roles, on a series basis.
Click for Part 1 – Goalkeepers.
Click for Part 2 – Central Defence.
CENTRAL MIDFIELD/ DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD- PART 3.
Anytime the club has purchased a midfielder who does not live up to the billing; Alex Song, Abou Diaby, Denilson, Lassana Diara amongst others, analysts have gone on and on about how we have not replaced Patrick Vieira and the defensive midfield role he played. What these analysts fail to understand is the Patrick never was an actual defensive midfielder for Arsenal but was more of a box-to-box midfielder, with immensely talented players such as Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto Silva actually filling the defensive midfield role that allowed Vieira glide forward like a ‘gazelle on a mission’ to express his enormous potential for a decade in North London.
That holding midfield role is actually what for years we have failed to find someone capable of filling. For the roving, box-to-box midfield role, Aaron Ramsey is a world beater in the position when he can stay fit. We have tried and tested so many players in the defensive midfield role and have been let down severally as a result. That position demands a lot as the player there performs his role well, it can provide two effect; screening the defence from relentless attacks whilst setting the ball forward for more offensive minded talents in the team. The position demands intense focus and concentration, the ability to sniff out danger and also the ability to snuff it out via interception and or blocking and in the modern game most importantly, the ability to recycle possession to the offensive end of the field.
Sergio Busquets for about a decade or so has been the poster boy for that position. Tidy in possession, capable of reading and cancelling out attacks by the opposition and immediately pushing the ball forward to his more capable offensive teammates, Sergio despite his annoying playacting has bodied the role over the years. He does not dither on the ball and almost always knows the right pass to play after intercepting it.
Another who for the last three or four years has come into his own and may have taken the mantle over from Busquets is the Brazilian owning the Real Madrid midfield featuring heavyweights such Kroos and Modric; Casemiro. A mountain of a man he can take the ball away from the opposition with his strength albeit in a sensible manner then he immediately moves the ball on to either of his aforementioned partners. He makes rare forays to join the offense and this has ensured he has ended up with quite a number of goals from that position, some of them very important to the success of his club.
English football is currently under the spell cast by Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, despite their alarming loss to Liverpool in the UCL, and although De Bruyne gets all the praise, two players who deserve as much if not more praise for their subtle but important roles in the team are fellow midfielders David Silva and Fernandinho, the latter especially. As the player who fills the role Pep admirably performed in for years as a Barcelona stalwart, immense pressure has been on him to be the engine of this expensive machine and like any proper defensive midfielder, he does his job efficiently and outside of the spotlight. Robbing players of the ball, making smart tackles, protecting what at times has been an impressive defence whilst chipping in with stunning goals are clear signs that Fernandinho has done his manager proud.
At Arsenal in that role, we have a Swiss behemoth whom our manager upon his purchase did not know what role he would fill. Isn’t that so Arsenal? After what was a shaky first season, Granit Xhaka performed well at the base of the midfield yet faltered for large chunks of the season, until he again upped his game in the last two months or so. His talent is undeniable, yet his consistency in what is a key position does him no favours as well. With the perfect build, terrific passing ability, toughness and a wicked left foot, Xhaka is what a prototypical holding/quarterback midfielder should be. Yet his hot temper, poor form and bad decision making have had him looking like a deer in headlights for so long. His replacement, Mohammed El Neny whilst capable is not one who seems like he can make the role his permanently. He seems alright with just being a deputy and nothing else.
Despite the upturn in form of Xhaka, his inconsistency makes it very key that we find one who can fill this position as soon as possible. With attacking players Mbappe and Lemar taking all the praise for Monaco’s ascent to the top of French football last season, many seemed to overlook the job done by right back turned central defensive midfield lynchpin, Fabinho.
With his lanky frame, the Brazilian is able to glide about the pitch like a champion racehorse and his high IQ allows him to strip players of the ball without tackling unnecessarily. Bakayoko’s slide towards mediocrity at Chelsea further enhances the importance Fabinho had on the Monaco team which received worthy acclaim for their wonderful performances. He is rumoured to be on less than £35,000 a week, thus, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could make a splash for the still young, 23 year old.
A proper unsung hero, Thomas Partey has willed his way into the Atletico Madrid line-up with his bullish tenacity, high passing ability and football IQ. The 24 year old Ghanaian midfield lynchpin has grown from stride to stride through his tenure in Spain, but seems to have finally made a breakthrough. As one of the young players with enormous responsibility placed on him in the national team of football mad Ghana, Partey as he’s affectionately known, relies on his athleticism and huge frame to intercept the ball smartly from the opposition before moving it on to the more offensive minded in his team. Previously known as a rash player, he averages about 1.1 fouls per game this seasoned according to WhoScored.com, and this shows a player who is growing in huge swathes. Signing such a no nonsense midfielder who thrives on defensive actions would be a massive statement.
This position could be termed the heart of the team, as it must be filled by one of a very high IQ. One who is right in the middle of two lines of play; offensive and defensive, and needs to be of high quality and character to carry a team, albeit in the shadows.