Strength or intervention - Which does the Arsenal midfield need more?

Fellaini And Everton (w)

Speculation continues to grow by the day about who the potential arrivals will be at Arsenal.

At present, only Yaya Sanogo, the young Auxerre striker seems certain to complete his move to the Emirates whilst other targets remain the subject of the almost salacious rumour mill.

By the way, this acquisition speaks volumes. When fit and at 6ft 3”, Yaya represents the supplementary striker that Wenger is looking for to increase the scoring options upfront.

Sanogo is strong; deceptively quick; about the same size as Giroud and distinctly two-legged. This does not have the hallmarks of a typical Arsene Wenger long-term acquisition as Arsenal has young, striking options in the ranks and there is no compelling need to acquire another in this mould.

It looks like fitness permitting, Sanogo will get game time given his physical attributes. This seems be the clearest indication about what his plans, upfront are. Arsene, however, sees the problems elsewhere other than in the goal-scoring department.

The smart money about the most pronounced additions seems to be on midfield reinforcement, the nature of which is not now entirely clear. On the playing staff in the middle of the park is a mixture of fairly accomplished players.

Now clearly opting for a 3-man midfield, it is any 3 from Wilshere, Arteta, Carzola, Ramsey, Coquelin, Rosicky and the oft-indisposed Diaby. Add to this number, possible elevation from the Academy of Eisfield, Gnabry and maybe Yennaris and this completes the entire midfield personnel at the club, now.

Injury last term meant that the unfortunate Diaby and Rosicky were unavailable for long periods and Wilshere was quite badly affected in the last third of the season. A balanced assessment of these resources leaves both first team and squad relatively bare.

This is why the rational view appears to suggest that there will be at least 2, may be 3 arrivals in the midfield. If so, how should this be approached?

Arsenal supporters have cried out for years for a defensive midfielder of an “enforcer” type. This clamour has been based on a perceived fragility that the spine of the team has had since – and this is argued with some force – the departure of Patrick Vieira.

Desirable as this may seem, this clamour, in the eyes of Wenger, is undone by two factors. The first is that the likes of Viera have all but disappeared from the production line. It is not an indictment of the EPL today that with the possible and formidable exception of Yaya Toure – who plays a little further up afield than Vieira did – there is no close comparison.

And this situation is not peculiar to Arsenal. Manchester United have never effectively replaced Roy Keane, one of the few other players in similar mould over the last 10 seasons. In fact, they have, over the period, used two players to do what Keane did!

Chelsea have never properly replaced Claude Makelele whose game was shorter because he did his work behind the halfway line. So the dearth of that kind of ability has forced Wenger into a rethink, using a ball playing midfielder to provide a foil not in front of the back four but at the base of the midfield. Big difference.

That way, he contributes to defensive duties not as a defender per se but as an additional “body” and then acts as the link between the defence and the other creative influences in the team.

This is what Mikel Arteta now does and one must say that he has done this, considering his “conversion” with distinction. Many have been suggested to fill this berth given the need to support Arteta and plan for the longer term. These range from defensive midfielders proper like Wanyama, Capoue, M’Villa, Kondogba, Gonalons to box-to-box midfielders Lars Bender, Pogba and Maroune Fellaini, amongst the several others.

The other option is that the “creative department” needs to be bolstered. This also finds support in the fact that only, really, two players have been largely responsible for this part of the game ticking over nicely – Cazorla and Wilshere.

Injury, loss of form or even positional adjustment means that the team is left considerably short. The two “wide players” often rely on the involvement of these two to get into the game.

When this does not work, the lone striker is often left isolated and has to drop deeper down to find the ball and get involved. The game often breaks down and the team struggles for lack of invention and impetus.

Wenger has probably identified this as an area of necessary strengthening hence the attention to a certain type of player. Some of those mentioned are players capable not only of filling the role but also able to play further up the park. Jovetic, Grenier and Fellaini already mentioned. Then there is the mercurial Cesc Fabregas, probably the best of all those with the ability to create in midfield, play support striker or the now famous “false No 9”!

This will be an interesting conundrum to watch resolve. Does he opt for Strength? Or Invention? Why not both?

What is clear is that, barring a major change of or feebleness of heart by the Arsenal leadership, the composition of that midfield is likely to change.

Whether Wenger plumbs for grit and bite at the base of the midfield and/or additional creativity as a means of outscoring the opposition, the team and its approach to that part of the game next season should look distinctly and desirably different.

image: © wonker

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