Death of the DM Beast: Who will Emery Play in Deep Midfield?


Emery’s team with the ball is very much like Wenger’s. He likes to play with a back four but with the full backs pushed up the field to provide attacking width, as he favours inverted wingers. He also prefers to dominate possession. Glimpses from his interviews and the patterns of the last three teams that he has coached show that he is clearly more defence-conscious than Wenger. For example, he demands greater positional discipline from the player sitting in front of the central defence.

But what kind of player does he want in that holding role? Ideally he should want a well rounded footballer who is as good a destroyer as he is a ball player as he is a deep-lying playmaker. Unfortunately, such a supremely well rounded player does not exist and Emery has to choose a player whose skills fall largely within one of the categories, even though the boundaries of distinction are blurred.

In Emery’s interview published by Get French Football News, he gave a clear indication of his preference when asked a question to that effect. He said ……….“But when a team has the ball 70% of the time, that is more important than knowing if you’ll struggle when tracking back. You are the one dominating the matches. That’s why your defensive midfielder’s output during moments when you don’t have the ball is less important. Because those periods don’t last as long. If I were to put a destroyer at defensive midfielder, there’s a significant trade off between what I can do during build-up play, rather than what I can do in defensive situations. Of course, Thiago Motta needs to (do) better without the ball. But if you analyze Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets, the same could be said for them. They struggle during those periods, but they contribute so much more while on the ball. I don’t think this position was a weakness for PSG ……..”

He clearly prefers to trade off some defensive attributes for offensive gains. Therefore as far as the holding role is concerned Emery’s views fit with Wengerism. The debate is on the extent, and it is here that Emery’s insistence on greater positional discipline tilts slightly more defensively.

What this means is that our yearnings for a beast of a defensive midfielder is likely out of the window. Either Xhaka retains his position at the base of the midfield albeit with more positional discipline, or we should expect the recruitment of a more athletic Arteta type for that role. For example, Rodri Hernendez of Valencia would have been perfect but Atletico Madrid have already taken him.

Emery’s similarity to Wenger in his attacking philosophy should not be a cause for alarm. To start with, Wenger achieved a lot as a coach. Secondly, Emery is a complete departure to Wenger in his defensive philosophy. He likes front footed defending, winning the ball back quickly, which, we all know, wasn’t so much part of our game under Wenger.

Bearing his preference in mind, who do you suggest Emery should put at the base of our midfield?  Or would you insist on a destroyer of a defensive midfielder? We can’t wait to make first hand contact with Emery’s DNA.


35 thoughts on “Death of the DM Beast: Who will Emery Play in Deep Midfield?

  • More or less all agreed, Pony Eye.

    Xhaka was born to sit deep and control the game and I have no doubt that he will be played there again next season. For me, the Big Question is who will play next to him. It cannot be Rambo: just too attack-driven. I like Elneny next to Xhaka and you know I reckon Kolasinac could work really well as a more defence-minded B2B. Alternatively, it will be Mkhi who play like a Santi midfielder next to the Swiss Cheese. It would be good to have a tenacious, hard-tackling DM in our squad as an option for us against teams that push us back in our own half (Pool, Citeh) and to add some bite in away games. I really like Rabiot, who I thought was the best PSG player against Real last season and he could easily play next to Xhaka. All options to explore and look forward too.

    Ramsey should be played in the hole or sold imo, as long as he is replaced.

  • PS I don’t see Rabiot as a hard-tackling DM type but an allrounder who does have a great engine and uses his physicality really well (great positional sense as well).

  • I think we’ll alternate between playing 433 and 4231.

    If it’s 4231 and Ozil is No 10, I think Xhaka and Ramsey COULD work, even though it hasn’t exactly in the past. AMN and Elneny are also good options. And this Adli kid we’re supposed to be signing seems like a good cultured passer.

    If it’s 433, I think Xhaka stays at the base, and you have two more box-to-box, or ball carrying midfielders ahead of him. Xhaka-Ramsey-Elneny would be the starting 3. With AMN the option. Also Miki/Iwobi can play the ball carrier role.

    We don’t have a direct replacement for Ramsey. For all his faults he brings goals and helps overload the box. I don’t think we should curb this. But maybe Emery’s instructions will help him find a better balance between his attacking and defensive load.

    TA, I disagree that Ramsey should play at No10. He’s good there, but not as good as Ozil (who is not as good on the wings defensively at least) Ramsey’s not exceptionally quick, not exceptionally technically gifted. His biggest threat is his engine and intelligence to find space with those late runs. Playing him at 10 takes that away.

    I’d also like one of N’zonzi or Torreira (type) of player to be bought.

  • Well TA–
    In my list of answers to your ’10 Questions’ recently– I’d listed N’Zonzi and Rabiot for my DM choices. Rabiot, probably the more attack-minded .

    So it is with little reservation that I’ll loose this link on this post:
    The Guardian is usually one of my ‘go-to / trustworthy’ sources. But here they’ve gone full-Daily Mail with a slate of gossip that is barely a connect-the-dots exercise! Though, since the first graph is topical in connecting Emery to N’Zonzi…

    …I feel less-guilty foisting it upon the brethren.


  • Shardo

    I see us play a bit deeper under Emery and Rambo quite close to Xhaka/Elneny/Nzonzi/whoeverit’llbe, linking up the (deeper laying) midfielders with the attackers. Ozil starts on the right but will often play in the hole area (as he has a free role), linking up with Rambo regularly. Aaron still does his running up and down, so less of a static nr.10 (ala Jack). I reckon that would suit him v well. I don’t like him as a B2B next to Xhaka and I don’t think it is a matter of replacing Xhaka with a beast of a DM type.

  • Doucoure! – He’s been immense this season and I think he would fit perfectly along side Ramsey as the left of the midfield two. Young with room to improve into a world class player under Emery.

  • I don’t think there’s much difference between our views then TA. Whether we start in a 433 or a 4231 is only a matter of nuance. Ramsey will be positioned further ahead of the other two midfielders in any case, and Ozil will start, nominally, on the wing. That 433 is my preferred formation anyway. But we can call it 4231 with Ramsey in the hole, to keep you happy 🙂

  • The combinations on that will be interesting. Do we morph into a 442 in attack, or a 4222 with Ozil and Ramsey behind Laca and Auba. Emery also said he preferred a 4141 defensive structure so we’d have to fall back to that in transition. (In which case it might be Ramsey drifting back right while Ozil occupies the middle)

    Agreeing is no fun TA. The blog would not last in such a happy situation. 🙂

  • I think we will be stronger in transition, both in terms of springing an attack and dealing with a turnover. Sitting a bit deeper and playing compact makes this happen, with the right players of course. I hate to say it but I reckon the Spuddies do this quite well currently.

    So it’ll look like 4-2-1—-3 or indeed 4-2—2-2 with (one of) the wingbacks adding numbers along the spine depending on whether we are defending or attacking. I see Xhaka sitting deep and in front of two CBs when we are attacking constructively in the opposition’s half. The other deeper laying midfielder can then join the attack as an option (to add numbers, thrust and creative passing). We saw Elneny do some great stuff in that role/position this season. I am also assuming that Laca and Auba will be played together and that Mkhi could be played in either Ramsey’s or Ozil’s position regularly, or even in partnership with the deeper laying midfielder (most likely to be Xhaka).

  • TA, sorry, I’ve been in a mess lately. A jerk sold me a car that is beyond repair and now I have to find the cheapest way out of the trouble.

    Which, according to our today’s gossip is what Emery is about to do by signing Fellaini on a free transfer. 🙂

    Kolasinac has never played as a DM for our team. His primary position is a LWB as his defensive game needs improvement but his attacking game can be a serious asset for the team (as seen last season in the first half of the season). The Bosnian players like football but generally hate to play it without the ball. That’s why we defensive problems despite having Pjanic and Dzeko.

    You asked me about WC. I’m pretty underwhelmed with it, TBF. It’s becoming more and more about politics than about the real football tournament. France, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and Sane-less (inSane?) Germany are among the favourites. Last chance for Messi to win WC, I’m afraid, maybe Higuain will actually help him in the big final this time by missing it with a mysterious disease or something.

    Bosnia didn’t qualify but Prosinecki, one of the greatest Yugoslavian players of all times, might make things right in the future.

    Besic of Everton looked like a top prospect for DM position but injuries have slowed him down a lot.

  • Rabiot comes to mind immediately, Emery knows all about him and maybe how he could adapt his game to the more physical British scene.
    Fellaini is interesting, he’s big, he’s horrible, he’s a dirty git, he’s also effective, scores goals, he’s also on a free and that’s an attractive proposition as we seem to be bereft of funds.
    Ainsley Maitland-Niles spent last season sharpening his defensive discipline and learning that side of the game. He wouldn’t need to settle in.

  • Sorry to hear about the car, Admir. Don’t you have big cliffs in B-H to drive it off accidently?! 🙂

    Cheers for the update on Kola and your national team. Hope Prosinecki will make it all good for you next time round.

    I heard today that the Balkan countries have a high percentage of children staying with their parents into their early thirties; is that something you recognise?

  • I struggle with the idea of Fella ini at Arsenal, Kevsky. But I can see it happening… cheap and anything but cheerful. 🙂

  • I love Admir’s broken car analogy of Fellaini. And I thought the inSane thing very clever.

    See TA. You should listen to such a clever person and give up your Insane idea of playing Kola at DM. 🙂

  • I think we’ll only sign Rabiot if we’re selling Ramsey. He’ll be too expensive otherwise. Xhaka, Ramsey and Rabiot will be a good midfield though. I also worry about Rabiot’s mentality. He was reported to suffer a loss of form and Emery told him to stay further back which he wasn’t happy about apparently. And his reaction to not being selected for France shows him as a bit of a moaner. Not sure we need players like that. But of course, Emery will know all about him.

    I reckon Elneny with Xhaka and Ramsey is fine, with AMN and possibly Adli as options (We also have other young players) Plus one more. Either Nzonzi as the experienced head, or Torreira as the young, Santi-lite who could also spell for Xhaka and Ramsey both. I really like Doucoure too. Not sure how good he is defensively, but he’s got the right tools to be very effective for us

    I guess we’ve accepted that Wilshere is gone?

  • “JW, has anybody ever suggested to you that you may suffer a bit from conformation bias at all?! :-)”

    Though– I’m certain it was expressed somewhat more crudely in those moments.
    So thanks for that TA. 😉


  • “Agreeing is no fun TA. The blog would not last in such a happy situation.”

    No worries Shard.
    My stool resides permanently in the corner.


  • It’s quite interesting how much “looking inwards” the comments are. Just a sprinkle of new names. It shows we recognize we have quality in that area just to find the combinations that would get the best out of them. Xhaka seems to be sitting pretty at the base of the midfield unless usurped from outside.

    Rambo is the enigma. The best and the worst at the same time. Dispensable and indispensable. Maybe the team should be built around him to utilize his best and cover his worst, assuming that’s possible.

    One common thread is no one seems able to find a role for Jack. Am sad but I can only shrug my shoulders.

  • TA, l love the way you introduced Gilberto. Wish we could find another.

  • According to his father, Sokratis is currently in London and should sign tomorrow.
    Or later today, depending on your time zone.

    It seems that Fellaini has failed to excite anyone on here, which doesn5 really shock me as he is very much a Marmite player. It would seem very Billy Beane to sign him, but I guess it’s all about making our warchest go as far as possible. Btw, I’m not advocating that we sign him, but if we do then it kinda shows where we are and maybe Unai could get out of the big dirty bastard what Mourinho couldn’t? It wasn’t that long ago when everyone was bemoaning the loan signing of Yossi Benayoun but he turned out quite a good player for us, didn’t a goal of his get us into the CL…?

  • Kelechi Nwakali was born on 5 June 1988 in the city of Owerri (Imo State), a city in the southeast part of Nigeria – which roughly counts 166 thousand citizens. At least two of them are known worldwide; I am talking about Nwankwo and Christopher Kanu. The 19-year old has big shoes to fill if he wants to surpass their national and international achievements in the world of football.

    ‘Kele’ isn’t the only professional footballer in the family of Nwakali. His older brother, Chidiebere (20), was snatched away by Manchester City back in 2014 and the defensive midfielder currently plays on loan at Norwegian side Sogndal.

    While brother Chidiebere was scouted by Manchester City, Kelechi attracted the interest from another gigantic Premier League club: Arsenal. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, because Kelechi led Nigeria U17 to the World Cup title of 2015 in Chile as captain. Kelechi scored three goals and three assists, which FIFA led to the decision of crowning Nwakali as the tournament’s best player. With his three goals, he also won the ‘Bronze Boot’.

    The Gunners were discussing a deal where both Kelechi Nwakali as Samuel Chukwueze would make the move from Diamond Academy to theirs. Unfortunately, the deal fell through for latter, meaning Arsenal had to ament the deal – which they did. The Premier League bought the attacking midfielder for roughly €3.500.000 (Kelechi is also partly owned by Academy of Saint Joseph – Owerri) and he signed a five-year deal in the summer of 2016. The Nigerian couldn’t get the right work permits, so he was loaned out to MVV Maastricht – a team in the second tier of the Netherlands.

    From there on – things when quick for Nwakali. He went on playing 29 games, scoring twice. His goal tally isn’t wondrous, but playing 29 of the 38 games in your first European season is an achievement on his own. Unsurprisingly, MVV wanted to extend the loan deal, but weren’t the only candidates. Several clubs in the Eredivisie wanted the Nigerian on loan for the ongoing campaign. Kelechi choose for VVV-Venlo, the newcomers in the highest division.

    Personally, Nwakali is a fantastic person too. The 19-year donated €200.000 in September 2017 to the various orphanage homes in the state of Imo – where he was born and bred. Not only did Kelechi made a monetary contribution, he also bought football boots for 36 kids, and paid for exercise books to all primary and secondary schools in Owerri West – his home town.

    (Sept 2017)

  • Hmm,

    I will go a step further and say: we never *had* such a beast. Vieira, the closest, always had Sol around to be even angrier about it. 🙂

    That said, I will reiterate my usual heresy for the 1 millonth or so time, cuz TA hasnt blocked me. Simply:

    1. modern defense is *not* taking the ball — thus one can attack, truly, at least in part, without it

    2. modern defense *is* about making them give you the ball at lowest risk – and at some point in the mid to usually final third, one must take risk to score

    POSITIONING, which some have mentioned, is IMO what makes 1 and 2 work. There are different forms. I think last year, without BFG, without Arteta, without Santi, without Koz (a lot), we really struggled to have anyone who could general the field and how we did that. What happened was we had players diving in stupidly and in wrong places, and we had everyone playing their own version of positioning, which also works really super poorly.

    Offense can be a solo or few playing starring roles, but defense is a team game. It’s why teams win championships, no matter the great individuals involved.

    Thus, yes, I have been berated a touch in past for not singing Billy Idol (“More, more, more..”) when it comes to players this year, but will note that it’s still way better than Neil Diamond (gasp…). ..

    so, yes, we do have the players and the right combinations are all IMO moot until we have some discipline and positioning like we had a few years back. We lost too many generals and I think no one on the field new who was in charge or what, and Alexis knew it wasnt his fault and … the goals leaked in and made Cech and others look stupid.

    my 38.3p == jgc

  • Admir, well …. that **sucks** … unlike TA, I would go for the accidental engine fire .. :/

    JW – ah, Fords country! I did my first real job for 6 years mostly in Pontiac for GM.

    cheers — jgc

  • The DM beast is no longer an “in” thing. The “in” thing nowadays is a player that can be a team player. And agreed with Prof’s analogy of the modern defender. However, with someone (Fell-aini) being linked to us that does not suit our play, it seemed like we needed him to do the dirty work.

    But will he be scarsely-used like in his current team? My answer is Yes. And he will at most be our Plan B striker.

  • No heresy Prof, it’s bulls eye. Much of modern defending is passive:- closing down opponents, blocking passing lanes, interceptions, waiting for errors (turnovers), blocking shots, shepherding opponents to poor possitions, and in some circumstances keeping possession of the ball.

    Tackles, with all the modern rules, are almost an endangered species. In a tackle one of three things can happen.
    1) the tackle is won
    2) the tackle is lost thereby compromising the defensive shape,
    3) infringement with or without a card to the tackler.

    Last ditch is about where tackling remains a clear option.

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