Arsenal Depot

A depository for musings on Arsenal FC

A Creative Central Midfielder – Wanted, Or Not?

Firstly, there’s great relief that Fabrice Muamba is out of the woods. Hope lives.

As I mentioned yesterday, today’s post addresses the need for a creative midfielder next season.

Eden Hazard has been a reported target for some time now. Even if this were true, the recent attentions of Mancini towards the Belgian puts paid to any hopes we may have had of securing his services. Arsenal FC do not own oil wells.

Dave Seager is far from convinced we need Hazard in the first place. Or any other young over-hyped talent. I would highly recommend you to read his forcefully written piece.

Dave points out that we already have tremendous young talent in the creative midfield position – Wilshere, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain can all play there. He reckons we need a proven performer in that position, not another young talent that has to be nurtured. Clint Dempsey, he says.

I largely agree with him. Clint Dempsey is a terrific player and would certainly add to the side.

My argument though, is whether we need a creative midfielder at all.

We’ve been playing a 4-3-2-1 formation all season. And recently, we’ve enjoyed success with his setup as we’ve started pressing the ball collectively. I just can’t see the manager changing that system in the near future, even if Podolski were to arrive.

On current form, the front three pick themselves – Robin, Theo and Alex would start most games. Gervinho, the returning Miyaichi and the in-coming Podolski (or like) would provide competition for places. Of course, this is assuming we can tie down both Captain Vantastic and Little Theo to new contracts.

In midfield, Alex Song has made the defensive midfield position his own. In my opinion, his performances this season have been just a little incosistent. But that’s because he’s really testing the boundaries of that ‘defensive’ role, as seen by the 7 assists he’s provided in the league itself.

The position though is crucial to Arsenal’s play. Like Barcelona, we play best when we dominate possession, and winning the ball back quickly is paramount to our game plan.

Song has back up in the form of the presently crocked Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong. Though I suspect Frimpong may yet be loaned out next season to get regular games and hone his skills. Henri Lansbury should return from his loan spell. He is extremely hardworking and can be called on to fill in that role too.

That brings us to the creative midfield position. Tomas Rosicky has been in spectacular form over the last few weeks. He did show signs he was coming back to his best before that, but Arsene persisted with Aaron Ramsey, giving the Welshman the opportunity to find some form.

At the moment though, Rosicky looks dangerous every time he has the ball. His trickery, movement, distribution and work ethic all make him very potent, especially as he links up with Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain in front of him.

With Jack Wilshere returning, Tomas will certainly have a fight on his hands to keep his place. I see both playing a big part in the team next season as the Czech is unlikely to last 90 minutes in any game, at this stage of his career. I believe this will encourage Ramsey, when he plays as a substitute, to assume a more direct approach and be runner into the box from midfield. Towards the end of games, when the opposition has been run ragged by our possession play, Ramsey’s eye for goal can make a difference. Of course, remember Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can play this role too, as he did against Milan.

And then there’s Abou Diaby. But that’s for another day!

 The last midfield position, which combines both defensive and attacking capabilities, is currently occupied by Mikel Arteta.

I believe he has been most instrumental in Arsenal regaining their solidity and forward momentum. While not spectacular in the Fabregas mode, his ball retention is phenomenal and his distribution is near faultless.

While Arsenal have the ball, Arteta keeps the play moving constantly. When Song goes forward, Arteta takes a deeper position and invariably wins the ball back when the attack break down.

This has also allowed Sagna to bomb forward on the right wing, playing one-twos with Walcott and whipping in accurate crosses – something we desperately missed when all the full backs were on the treatment table.

When Arsenal are without the ball, Song and Arteta are constantly harrying the opposition midfield and pushing them back, most times forcing long balls to be kicked forward. With the defense looking like a defense again, both Koscielny and Vermaelen look competent in clearing these away.

While Jack Wilshere can play in this role, I think the defensive side will weigh on his game. For Wilshere to be most effective, I would like to see him in a free attacking role behind the front three.

So my point is the same as Dave’s. We do not need an over-rated, over-hyped, over-priced, unproven young central creative midfielder. We have enough young talent in the creative mould in central midfield – even accounting for injuries.

Where I differ is that I believe we need a back up for Arteta. A ball retainer. Someone who keeps things ticking over. Someone who works hard and has good positional awareness. Someone who does the unspectacular spectacularly. We have enough stars in this team. What we’ve lacked is an Arteta.

And this was evident in the second half against Milan, when our tiredness and absence of the Spaniard, meant we kept giving the ball away in search of the fourth goal. In truth, except for the Van Persie chip, we never really looked like getting that tie-equalizing goal in the second period, never looked in control of the game.

My primary concern is that we do not have a back up for Mikel Arteta. While a lot of the younger players can fill in, I am afraid the inexperience will show up in big games. So will the indiscipline and impatience, inherent in young players enthusiastic to contribute.

So while I believe we certainly require reinforcement in the midfield area, I think it should be in the position of a ball retainer. An experienced player with a proven record in the league, unspectacularly spectacular.

I would love to know what you think. And if you agree, who should we be targeting?

Adieu, till tomorrow.

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