Two clean sheets, two nice wins and more goals than usual. It’s a revolution, no? How has it been done and can Arsenal make it last?
Total Arsenal looked into the positions of striker and central defender with this post:
Today I’d like to look at our central midfield, you know, the one currently anchored by those two less than huge money buys: Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny. Is it, as per usual. NOT. GOOD. ENOUGH…?
I ask because, at least looking at newsnow as I sometimes do (personal disclosure: I do a lot of skiing…), it seems that this is the outlook in the Goonersphere. Is it true that most Gooners want us to buy our way to the top?
To bastardize some of the bard (bardarize?…), “My kingdom, my kingdom (or at least Wenger’s kingdom) for a Schweinie or a Schneidie or a mid-field horse of some sort” Or, “Wenger Out–because he didn’t buy that outfield player that would’ve won us the quadruple…” 😀
Maybe he didn’t last summer, but Manager Arsene Wenger has bought his share of central mids over the years. Mesut Ozil, of course, was the record purchase in English football when he was bought from Real Madrid in 2013 for fifty million Euros (42 million pounds). This season, his third at the club, finds him thriving as our #10, tucked in behind, and even sneaking ahead of the center forward, on occasion. Eighteen assists and five goals in 31 league matches isn’t too bad.
He’s nailed down our #10 spot but he’s not the only one who has played there before. The summer before Ozil arrived, Santi Cazorla was brought in to help replace Cesc Fabregas. He cost approximately 10 million pounds and was likely undervalued in Malaga CF’s fire sale. That was on top of the emergency buy, that terrible summer of 2011, when we lost Cesc (and Samir Nasri), of Mikel Arteta from Everton, also for about 10 million pounds. Even a player like Aaron Ramsey cost 5 million pounds as an 18 year old from Cardiff FC in 2008. Before that, way back in 2006, Tomas Rosicky arrived from Borussia Dortmund and cost Arsenal about 10 million Euros.
That’s a LOT of quality midfielders for a decent amount of money especially by Wenger’s notoriously frugal standards. Add in a home grown guy like Jack Wilshere; a veteran signed on a free transfer (with “unfinished business” at Arsenal), namely Mathieu Flamini; and a couple of still young English (and Southampton Academy) players who can play as central mids: Calum Chambers and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Then there are up and comers who might work in. Alex Iwobi is the current sensation–rewarded with a recent contract upgrade–but US national team player Gideon Zelalem is doing a job on loan at Glasgow Rangers and might grow into a role. Isaac Hayden is at Hull. What about Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Krystian Bielik, Joseph Willock, Dan Crowley and others in the academy? Serge Gnabry is “with” the first team and we’re only another injury (or somebody getting healthy) away from one of these guys (or somebody I’ve missed) at least getting a bench seat during the final seven matches this season.
Even if we call it a 4-5-1 that Arsenal play, that’s a lot of midfielders wanting pitch-time.
Of course, this season, we may have needed even more due to injury, hence the ruefulness over not buying last summer. Wilshere has yet to kick a ball while Rosicky and Arteta have hardly done better. Flamini and Ramsey held the team together when Coquelin and Cazorla, the preferred rear of MF pairing, went down to injury in consecutive league matches in November. Both are currently in the physio-room themselves.
The transfer of Elneny–from way under the radar, for about 7 million pounds–was perhaps pushed forward by a transfer window and, even though it went smoothly, Wenger then eased the Egyptian in quite slowly, despite his obvious fitness and stamina. Others are probably on Wenger’s “list” right now. The media, including us bloggers, try to guess at who those might be. The mere mention of a name appears to up values and start bidding wars on the back pages.
My question is how should Arsenal build its midfield? What mix of veterans, players in their peak years and youngsters should Arsenal keep (and play) and who should move on? Are there any players you’ve scouted who would fit the bill at our club? I’m only putting up those names in the headline to try to bring new readers to the site. Welcome, please stick around, and, like I say, have at it and join the discussion. We (literally…) don’t bite…
For me, it’s clear that Wenger buys players he believes can play the game as a first priority and worries about positions and combinations of positions (tactics, formations, strategies) later. Gooners use a lot of terms–‘defensive mid,’ ‘box-to-box,’ ‘mid-wingers,’ etc.–to try and describe the line-ups they see (or want to see) but I’m convinced Wenger believes quality will prevail as long as it gets its chance on the pitch. A corollary is that the manager, I don’t believe, will spend big money on name players simply “in case” or so that other teams cannot get them. It’s actually part of the reason players say they want to come and play for him–you know, to play, not to sit. The spirit in the dressing room is very important (too important, perhaps?) and players merely ‘waiting their turn’ detracts from that spirit. Competition for places is necessary; stockpiling players who might fancy a big paycheck for less work is the purview of the clubs whose owners have a money to burn mentality; our Stan Kroenke clearly doesn’t.
That’s just my take on things and yours may differ…
For now, I’m enjoying the solidity and commitment I see in a MF five of Coquelin and Elneny–slightly deeper, playing selflessly and always offering an outlet pass or cover for one another–with Alexis, Ozil and Iwobi in the more attacking positions. It’s a group that pretty much picks itself at the moment due to injury, but would it be good enough to go into the 2016-17 season? What about Ramsey and Cazorla who both can seem undroppable? If Jack the Lad is back to fighting fitness, could it be used on the pitch and not just in the nightspots? Are any of the veterans worth a one-year extension? Rosicky, in particular, preserved another “football” year, at least by his calculations. (I haven’t even mentioned Theo Walcott nor Joel Campbell who might start in those mid-winger positions, but, in my opinion at least, are finishers more than midfield creators.)
Watching from over here (California) I see every minute of first team action but far less of the youth players and the names to whom we’ve been linked. Guys whose names start with Xs and Ks but (maybe) sound like Ss, I probably couldn’t pick out of a police line-up, for example.
We don’t play until Saturday, so, over to you, Kampers, have at it. Make over our MF…Go on then…