With the retention of Elneny and Xhaka, a potential re-signing of Ramsey, and the incoming of Torreira, and not to forget Maitland-Niles re-signing, our midfield will have a new face to it.
Of course, Wilshere has left, so we may not have as much creative edge.
Nonetheless, how can we build on this?
How can or will our midfield shape up?
The winning years
Footballing eras always change.
But there are some parallels to be drawn from past teams.
From 1996-2005,or the Wenger winning years, our midfield comprised Vieira, Petit, Gilberto, Edu, Cesc, and occasionally Parlour.
Cesc was a creative presence, but the others largely were not. They all could pass well, but brought strength, high-energy, and strong tackling. They were in many ways the complete midfield.
This is a major part as to why we were successful then. Our overall team balance was strong.
Vieira was not a playmaker, but he could get forward and score occasionally, despite dominating in midfield.
Petit was the same, as was Gilberto.
However, as things stand now, it seems we’re reverting to a similar model now.
The essence here was that we had a balance between creativity, strength, tackling, power, positional awareness, and attacking support.
For the past several years, we’ve lacked this balance.
This is an oft-said point, but then it’s true nonetheless. Coquelin, whilst now playing in Spain of course, was the only mid who had some grit. But even then, he wasn’t deployed in that role by Wenger. He often used to play higher up the pitch, which whilst commendable by Wenger in terms of developing him, but he was a limited player. This isn’t meant to be insulting or harsh. But all players have specific skill sets, and only the very best (,i.e. Ronaldo/Messi) can be footballing “everymen”.
The issue therefore is as much deployment and tactics, as it is personnel.
In the winning years, we had players who scored a lot, and contributed to others scoring. Yes, Henry was a beast and a one off, as was Bergkamp. However, Pires, Ljunberg, Overmars, Parlour, etc. were all contributory to goalscoring, and didn’t need creative mids to score goals.
We have players now who can create by themselves, such as PEA and Lacazette. We also have Ozil, Mkhitaryan, and Welbz even, who can create chances for other players.
We should be OK in terms of scoring/creativity. I believe PEA is prime for the Golden Boot, and Salah and Kane need to watch out. Our critical issues are the midfield balance, and the defence, and I believe we’re definitely addressing the former point.
Cazorla is a player whom I respected immensely. In terms of raw technique, he is up there with the very best we’ve had, such as Bergkamp. But whilst he offered the team a lot, I don’t think we need a player of his type again. We should note that our weak patterns in that area were often when he was in the team. I’m not saying that he caused them; that’s unfair and foolish. But then the overall tactical set-up and deployment was all wrong.
Reverting to a midfield format of strength and power, along with players who can join attacks, score, and allow other creative players to shine, is the way to go.
There is a diagram below showing 17/18 team and a prospective mid next season:
We can see that in 17/18, only Elneny was the least progressive player. But Elneny is more of a link player, providing connectivity between the defence and attack. He’s not a player who will physically and technically control the midfield, like a prime Vieira.
Xhaka is a deep-lying playmaker. And Wilshere was more of a classic playmaker, with Ramsey being a mid who likes to join attacks and score goals.
It’s little wonder then that our mid was often exposed, and the balance was all wrong.
In the new format, Torreira, Xhaka, Ramsey, Maitland-Niles, and Elneny, can all alternate and provide better cover and mix, thus stopping us getting overrun and outmuscled.
This is akin to the “winning years” midfield,which is detailed below:
Whilst Henry, Bergkamp, Overmars, Wright, etc. were all key in our success then, the fact that our midfield literally bossed other teams was arguably the prime factor. Other players were literally scared of our mids, and this told, big time.
So there are some timeless pieces of football tactics, seemingly.
People often talk about having a strong spine. But also important is a balance of various attributes, which all good teams possess in any area. We’re seemingly looking to correct this. Can it mean top four next season? Who knows? But then if I were Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, or United,, it would seem there is a returning challenger if we can get things right.