Yann M’Vila Is The Right Answer, But What Is The Question?
As is customary in the summer, the hills are alive with the sound of transfer gossip – Arsenal’s interest in Yann M’Vila in particular is echoing incessantly around news sites and football blogs.
The main justification for buying the £17m-rated midfielder seems to be our poor defensive record this season. Alex Song’s metamorphism into a creative playmaker is cited as the reason for a strong physical presence to shield the back line, someone disciplined enough to stay back and mop up when our own attacks break down. M’Vila also has a good long ball in his armoury which would add a different dimension to Arsenal’s attacking play.
Before I go further, let me make it clear I am not disputing the quality of Yann M’Vila. By all accounts, he is a very talented player and if he were to arrive, I am sure he would be successful at Arsenal. As the title suggests, Yann M’Vila is the right answer. What this article aims to do is look at whether he would answer the questions posed of Arsenal in the present.
There is no argument that our defending needs sorting out. Individual errors played some part in Arsenal’s concession of 49 goals, so having new personnel would help. But most of the chances we allowed to the opposition were down to a lack of defensive cohesion as a team. Full backs being caught up the pitch, midfielders not spotting danger early, runs of opposing players not tracked and lack of communication are all allegations levelled against the Gunners, which indicate a problem with the whole rather than just one or two parts.
These issues are unlikely to magically disappear with M’Vila’s arrival. Even if the Avengers line up in front of Wojciech Szczesny, Arsenal troubles will continue unless work is done on the training ground to address our weaknesses as a team.
If it happened, the positives from M’Vila’s move to the Emirates would be:
1. He’ll add defensive solidity and real steel to the midfield (see this chart for defensive stats comparison)
2. He’s only 21 and can develop into a world-class player
3. He’s French and will fit in seamlessly
4. He would be a marquee signing and appease a large section of fans
At the same time, let’s look at some of the other consequences of his arrival:e
1. Alex Song or Mikel Arteta will benched for extended periods
2. Possible departure of Alex Song
3. Limited game time for Coquelin and Frimpong
The deep-lying ball-recycling role perfected by Mikel Arteta was extremely vital to our success, highlighted by the fact Arsenal managed just one victory without the Spaniard the entire season. Alex Song has the fourth highest assists (11) and tops the league in most accurate through-balls per game (0.7).
With M’Vila’s arrival, Alex Song’s place in the team would be most under threat. There is a more complete footballer underneath that outer coat of defensive paint and a lot of the underlying primer of creativity has been revealed this season. At this stage of his career, the Cameroonian will want to play regularly – it would be a shame to let him go at a time when his complete talents are just beginning to blossom.
We also have to remember that unlike at City, Chelsea or even United, Arsenal do not pay the high wages to keep top-class players happy on the bench. While every player wants to be involved, the fact that you’re getting paid £150k for doing bugger-all is surely cause for comfort. Which is precisely why Arsenal’s bench is so often criticized as lacking depth.
Also, there’s the small matter of the returning Jack Wilshere and his starting position in the team. Will he continue to play in the deep-lying role or move up behind the striker as an attacking midfielder? This will create a further dilemma for Arsene Wenger.
Still, I feel the Gunners need to reinforce the midfield to cover for the inevitable injuries and suspensions. But I reckon we would be better off looking for the kind of player that does not produce the negative consequences that M’Vila’s move would. Someone with experience, good work rate and a professional ethic. Someone who can accept time on the bench and would not be harmful to the development of younger players. Someone who is not that high-priced and would not demand the wages M’Vila might be looking for.
Of course, there aren’t many midfielders out there with those qualities that are also available. Players who come close like Michael Carrick, Xabi Alonso and Jeremy Toulalan are unlikely targets because they do not meet one or more criteria.
There is one player though that checks all the boxes. He was linked to Manchester United back in October and has had another strong season with his club. He turns 28 this June and made his second appearance for the national team just a couple of days ago, although he did miss out on inclusion in the Euro squad. The player of course is Villareal and Spain’s Bruno Soriano.
Let’s look at Bruno’s statistics first. The table on the right compares the player’s league numbers with those of Mikel Arteta and Yann M’Vila. While judging the numbers, please bear in mind that Villareal have been relegated this season.
As we can see, Bruno has stronger defensive credentials than M’Vila in many areas. While the high number of aerial duels won by Bruno can be attributed to La Liga forwards being shorter and less physical than their counterparts in Ligue 1, the Spanish league is probably the more technical of the two so Soriano’s 5.6 interceptions per game are quite impressive.
While his average passes per game is slightly lower than Yann’s, Bruno has a better pass completion percentage. And although he doesn’t match up to the Frenchman’s 7.7 long balls per game, Soriano does outdo his compatriot Arteta in that respect.
The fact that he’s scored three goals and conceded the least turnovers of the three players suggests a well-rounded player. Which is why there was interest in him last year and that interest is likely to intensify now that Villareal have been relegated.
Having not seen much of the player except for a Villareal game at Manchester City earlier in the season, I contacted one of the most prominent supporters club of the Yellow Submarine, VillarealUSA to get their views on Bruno’s qualities. Below are some of the observations made by them.
* Bruno will do the dirty work and is happy for his midfield colleagues to receive the accolades
* He is a late bloomer and came through the Villarreal youth system (cantera)
* His offensive instincts picked up in 2011-12 when he scored his first three La Liga goals
On the possibility of a transfer to Arsenal and the Premier League, Allen Dodson of VillarealUSA felt that it would be a challenge to convince Bruno to move to England at this stage of his career and he may also find the physicality of the English game hard to deal with.
In addition, the player is Villareal through and through – he’s gone on record to say he has no qualms about playing in the second division. Bruno has effectively left his future in the hands of Villareal chairman Fernando Roig to accept any offers they may think fit. While Valencia have expressed interest, the poor relations between the two clubs mean Villareal have outright rejected a transfer to the La Liga club.
On other hand, the financial realities of relegation may force Villareal to contemplate parting with one of their most prized assets. Transfermarkt lists Bruno’s value around €10m or £8.8m which would be within Arsenal’s range. The player’s wage demands would not pose any problems either. According to Siempre_Riquelme of VillarealUSA, Bruno is a consummate professional and is unlikely to have any complaints if he started the season as second-choice. Could Mikel Arteta’s presence help persuade Bruno to consider the move?
While Bruno would definitely not be a glamour signing, Arsenal have been criticized in recent seasons for not having professionals like him in the squad. The vital contributions of Mikel Arteta and Yossi Benayoun this season cannot be overlooked. Unlike Yann M’Vila, Bruno’s arrival would not pose a threat to Alex Song or stifle the development of the youngsters.
Of course, Arsenal’s last signing from Spain, a certain seasoned professional named Sebastian Squillaci has struggled to find the form he displayed at Sevilla. Also, if Bruno’s transfer does happen, it would be another player from a relegated team that would join Arsenal, Lukas Podolski already having sealed his move from Koln. Not the statement of intent most fans are looking for but does that in itself make the other arguments invalid?
So to come back to the title – Yann M’Vila is probably the right answer if Arsenal are looking to blood a rising star – but that acquisition may cause other potential talents to reconsider their Gunners’ future. On the other hand, Bruno Soriano is probably better suited to our short-term requirements and would not conflict with long-term objectives. Is it an avenue worth pursuing for Arsene Wenger?
Please post your considered thoughts via the comments section.