M’Vila – The man fans seem to want
I am constantly having an argument in my head as an Arsenal fan. We all have the same argument I suspect, but some of us more than others. What am I talking about? Well it is the dilemma we face when it comes to strengthening the squad and balancing that with what it might mean to those who have fought our cause in recent seasons. I probably beat myself up over it more than others, and want our existing players to be given longer to succeed. I am a loyal sort of a chap. I find it incongruous for Arsenal fans to scream disloyalty at RVP, Song and Nasri, whilst at the same time calling for new signings to replace existing squad members who have remained loyal to the club. I know, I live on a cloud.
Don’t get me wrong, we obviously needed to strengthen the squad, as we were only good enough to finish 3rd last season. Despite the outgoings, the signs are hugely promising but I would just like to have an honest closer examination of the implications of us signing a new defensive midfielder. Tiote from Newcastle, the most recent suggestion from the red tops which Wenger appears to have dismissed, but he has done so before and then signed the player. Because whether it the Ivorian international or the French midfielder M’Vila who some sources feel is back on the radar. Not sure if he has ever been of it but today I just want to look at the midfield in general. I will provide a few facts which may surprise and then leave a few open questions to engender some debate.
I am not going to cover old ground as I have written on it before but I will just restate that I believe Mikel Arteta is the perfect player to sit deepest in our 3 man midfield. I am not persuaded by the theory that the DM has to be a tough tackling animal, and I am more in the Makelele, Carrick camp. The role requires intelligence, game reading and anticipation and it is about interception and not destruction. Those days are gone. The next element is quick and accurate distribution and there was none superior in the whole league to Arteta last year.This is why Michael Carrick is praised by the likes of Alonso and Busquets. He quietly goes about his job, intercepting play and getting the side moving forwards with a swift simple pass to the correct recipient. In addition, he was booked only about 3 times in 2011/12, whilst Alex Song got himself booked in 10 games and suspended for a stamp caught by TV cameras as well. If you require further evidence that experience, anticipation and distribution are more valuable than crunch tackles and destroying tactics, look no further than the champions. Gareth Barry started 31 games for City as the deepest midfielder and Nigel de Jong only 11. This is another player many have called for us to sign. If he is not right or good enough for Man City week in week out, why the hell is he perfect for us?
Arteta the man for the deep lying CM role?
I am aware that Mikel Arteta has superb qualities going forwards and may well have been bought as a Cesc replacement, but with Wilshere’s absence he played deeper and was far more disciplined and effective than Song in that role. He played faultlessly against Sunderland and repeated that with a man of the match performance at Stoke. I am sure if Wenger offered him the opportunity to move back and make the role his own to ensure a superb swansong at the end of his career; the immaculate Spaniard would seize the opportunity. Not having to play any international football would be a huge advantage as well.
My main argument about additional midfield signing/s is around the numbers required and the implications for the existing squad. I hear many crying for a Song replacement as they have been all summer even before he left. M’Vila, Biglia, Capoue, de Jong and now Tiote. One out one in I guess that’s sensible, only it isn’t one out one in, is it? So far in central midfield it is Song out and Cazorla and Diaby in. Add to that Jack Wilshere and Frimpong in potentially October. Add to that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who confirmed in an interview on Saturday that he and Wenger seen him playing centrally this season as he told the Daily Mirror:
“Obviously as you’ve seen I’ve played a lot more in centre midfield this pre-season and I thinks it’s good. I’ve been playing there and gaining experience before the start of the season.”
Central attacking midfield heir apparent
So come October we could have Arteta, Cazorla, Diaby, Coquelin, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Rosicky (last season’s saviour lest we forget,) Wilshere, Frimpong and Ramsey. Not forgetting the obvious progress of Eisfeld and Gnabry either. So even ignoring the 2 youngsters all things being equal we should have 9 central midfield 1st team squad members competing for 3 berths.
Now many of you will tell me that there will be injures and we will need to rotate the squad with so many fixtures. Yes there will be injuries but reality is you need double the number of players for the positions not treble. In 03/04 with 2 man centre midfield we used 4 players only, in a season that included ECL and FA Cup runs. Manchester City won the Premier League using effectively, Toure, Barry, Silva, Nasri, Milner, Johnson and de Jong. They used 7 players to cover what was predominantly a 4 man midfield. We have 9 to cover 3 positions and fans want another signing?
On the subject of rotation we must also consider that Wenger has not been an advocate of this in the past. Yes he tinkers but once he finds a winning formula, he tends to run with it barring injuries or suspensions. Many suggest to me he will rotate this season but I would just ask on what grounds they suggest so. He has not rotated much in 16 years. Take the end of last season as a case in point. Gervinho loses form and is replaced by Yossi who despite being a loanee then keeps his place right to the end of the season, whilst our big money Ivorian sits on the bench. Possession is 9/10ths of the law with ‘Le Boss.’
Perhaps you are not convinced yet. Well in the past 8 Premiership seasons since Arsenal last won the league, only one triumphant squad has used more than 20 players to the extent that would allow a winners medal. So only in 2010/11 where Man United used 22 players more than 10 times. In 2004/5 and 05/06 Chelsea used 20 and 18 respectively. Between 07 and 09 with 3 successive titles Man United used only 18, 19 and 18 squad members on more than 10 occasions and Ferguson is known for rotation. Last season City used only 20. Now these are facts and are indisputable yet for some reason many Gooners believe that we can keep between 8 and 10 first team midfielders happy? Not a hope in hell!
If you do still not believe me by now, we can look at our own injury and suspension hit last campaign. Even with all our woes Arsenal only had 20 players who appeared on 10 or more occasions in the EPL. More pertinently, only 4 central midfielders played more than 20 games in the league: Arteta, Song, Ramsey and Rosicky. So I strongly suggest it is time for a reality check for some Arsenal fans. The same fans that defend Ramsey and maintain he will come good are screaming for us to buy M’Vila or Tiote. That’s fine if they will improve us but stop being naïve about the trade off. Bottom line is that if Wenger does indeed bid for Tiote or someone else and he arrives, Ramsey, along with Frimpong, Coquelin and even Rosicky will not get game time. I am not saying this is necessarily wrong but please don’t continue to believe that Wenger can or indeed will, as he never has, rotate 9 or 10 midfielders. Particularly when Wenger is on record as recently as a few weeks ago that a fully fit Abou Diaby is the best midfielder France possess and his selection in the first two matches confirms his place ahead of Rambo in the pecking order.
Ramsey looking unhappy with good reason?
A final factor and for me perhaps the most significant was confirmed in the Oxlade-Chamberlain interview and he was confirming what I has suspected would be the case. That is the influence of the new first team coaching set up, the Bould factor if you will. Ox confirmed that the emphasis in the training ground has changed under Bould and the expectation is that the team will improve defensively but not as a back 5 but as a team. It will not be about one midfielder being the ‘DM’ and having to protect the defence it will be about the whole team sharing a collective responsibility. Let’s face it we all know the role model for this at its best and that is Barcelona. Alex confirmed:
“Steve Bould has really worked hard with the defensive side of our game. Not just the back four, but with everyone. I think that brings a lot more unity with the team.
The Bould Factor is key
If we are moving to a more inclusive team responsibility do we in fact need a new defensive midfielder? If we find one are they better than Arteta, Diaby and crucially Wilshere? Cazorla in his Sky interview confirmed Arsene wants him to play the free role behind the central striker occupied by Ramsey and Rosicky last season and Oxlade-Chamberlain is being groomed for that role obviously. Rosicky can cover wide positions when he returns but does the immediate future look bleak for Rambo already? If we accept that both Cazorla and the Ox have told us where Wenger wants them to play, which is the CAM role, we must presumably accept that none of Wilshere, Diaby or Arteta will play there. Seems to me then the only question left is whether Wenger feels Coquelin and or Frimpong are ready and/or of the quality required to be the 4th player competing with those 3 for the 2 deeper lying CM positions.
All these questions will all be answered by deadline day but please be careful what you wish for, understand the implications and don’t be naive about what a new signing means. Bear the following in mind:
- Wenger has no history of active rotation.
- Cazorla and Chamberlain appear to be our two main CAMs.
- Wilshere if fit, whilst not to be rushed, will play.
- Diaby if fit has a large role to play because Wenger rates him highly.
- Arteta is the man in possession of the deep lying role and has not put a foot (or a hair) out of place in 2 games.
- Even Man United when they used 22 players winning the league in 2011 only used 6 central midfielders, and Gibson on only 12 occasions
- The most central midfielders deployed by any time to have won the EPL since 2004 is 6 and our fans feel we can keep 9/10 involved?
So in conclusion if we do sign a new experienced central midfielder I would suggest that 2/3 of our current first team squad will not play, or be sold or loaned. This would appear likely to be Coquelin, Ramsey and Frimpong. That of course assumes Diaby stays fit and Jack returns. Most fans I read or listen to think highly of both Ramsey and Coquelin so may see this as a shame, but for me that is price for a further big name addition. Is it a price many truly have the appetite to pay? I guess that come back to where we began and that constant argument inside my head – Spend, spend and win now or spend and blend an be true to our way?
Published with permission from 1 Nil Down 2 One Up1 Nil Down 2 One Up.