Arsenal listen up? The importance of a defensive midfielder

Javier Mascherano

Defensive midfielders are often known for their defending obviously. But they are also needed when you are chasing the game.

With Arsenal linked with signing numerous defensive midfielders, Ian Bolland looks at the benefits such a player brings to the team.

There have been many times that I have heard a suggestion for a team chasing a football match that their manager should make a change that is more attacking, to try and win the game.

Maybe it would be to take a defender off to put a more attack minded player into the action, or perhaps a defensive midfielder. The defensive midfielder argument, however, in my opinion is a tad flawed. Here is why.

Imagine a scenario when your team is a goal down with twenty minutes to go, and you think a change in personnel may make the difference, but in order to score you need to have the ball – who does the responsibility a lot of the time fall to? The defensive midfielder - such as Javier Mascherano in his specialist role.

The way that the game has gone, nearly every prolific side has a midfielder that sits deep – if not one then two. The responsibility of controlling possession usually falls to them, they usually dictate the tempo of the game, so in a lot of senses their responsibility is to try and get the team attacking, and their responsibility to keep the pressure on the opposition.

However, if your manager were to take off said midfielder, it gives licence for the opposition to counter-attack effectively from a clearance or a player dropping between the lines and making it harder for your side to command possession effectively in dangerous areas of the park.

Some say you have to take that kind of gamble. Of course every game has its variables but this is where the manager needs careful thought, could they somehow make the game a little more expansive with a change of personnel rather than taking off a player whose presence more or less keeps you in the game?

In difficult circumstances it takes a degree of intelligence with a manager’s selections, systems and changes, but sacrificing an important cog in a machine often comes across as a panic decision.

The panic could work and your side gets level, or might even take the lead. But what happens then, you've taken off your specialist defensive midfielder who calms the game down and allows you to consolidate. The only things that tend to follow are nervy moments. 

image: © jamesmoore

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