There was a time when the Arsenal midfield what a thing of beauty. Powerfully destructive in it’s defending of the oppositions attempts to threaten, dynamic in turnovers, brutally efficient, with a Gallo-Romance twist or a South American Samba. The names trip off of the tongue; Petit, Vieira, Edu, Gilberto Silva, Parlourinho.
They drove us to two Domestic Doubles, three League Championships, the unbeaten season – and then it was gone!
To replace those previous champions, in came Cesc, Hleb, Song, Denilson, Flamini etc. The more technical, easy on the eye, less resolute, a bit flaky Barca lite period arrived on the scene and we gradually lost our grip, culminating in the 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford after which the panic buying followed.
Among those to arrive was the cultured Mikel Arteta from Everton and he held the breach for a short while although he wasn’t really enough and ultimately our midfield issues continued throughout most of the second half of the Wenger years and they remain to this day…
Last summer Sven Mislintat with his stats and his scouts brought in Lucas Torrieira and Matteo Guendouzi to try and address the problem of our midfield fragility which help to address the glaring problem of Arsenal’s endemic soft centre. The simple fact that both played such huge roles last season showed how much work was needed and how much remains to be done.
Our midfield still fails to provide the protection that our defence requires. We are still waiting for the big personality in that department, the guy who’ll take responsibility when the pressure is on, when in moments of stress he’ll say, ‘give me the ball, I can deal with this.’
Cesc could do that to a certain extent but in truth he needed more physicality alongside him but that was an issue ignored by the previous regime and it continues to be an issue today.
Torrieira initially seemed to be the answer but the English programme, with no mid season break, just wore him down and nobody else in the midfield was capable of helping him. He looked empty, out of gas and lacking in energy as the Arsenal team around him went missing in Baku.
Guendouzi splits opinion. Some like him and see him as the 19 year old youngster he is, developing into a player who may one day be the ‘give me the ball, I can deal with this’ type of player we lack. He has drive, always looks to pass forward, always looks progressive in his approach and I like him. But there are some who think he’s a bit of a dramatist, falls over too easily, gets caught in possession and would happily cash in on him if a big offer came in. Yes, Matteo can be a bit of a Marmite player – but I like Marmite.
Mo Elneny is a nice guy, everyone likes him, I like him, but he isn’t what we need. I’m not saying that he’s a bad player because he could do a good job in another team. He just isn’t Arsenal Player, or the kind of player I’d like to see in our midfield.
The promotion of Freddie Ljungberg onto the senior coaching staff could do wonders for the progression of some our youngsters, none more so than Joe Willock. The replacement of Ozil with Willock in Baku, was as clear a sign as I’ve ever seen by a football manager and the impact Willock made in his cameo was all the more impressive. Yes, you could say at that stage of the game it was easier to make the kind of impact he did but his energy, his running, his link up with Iwobi for our goal all pointed towards this season being the breakthrough for Joe and maybe a few of his Academy team mates.
Granit Xhaka had his contract extended up to 2023 last summer, sealing his position as a major player in the future and someone who Emery sees as a captain and leader of the team. His new deal protected his value too if the club decide to move him on in the near future. He is another Marmite player, his supporters claim that those who criticise Xhaka don’t really understand the nuances of football citing the fact that Wenger always picked him and Emery almost always picked him last season when he was fit. However, he does have this habit of making monumental and very costly mistakes. Maybe he’s just unlucky, but those errors inevitably result in Arsenal or Switzerland conceding a big goal. I’m not sure what his best position is, is he a defensive midfielder or is he the Jorginho of our team, the creative hub?
Concentration seems an issue at times, he has a habit of switching off, just like Mustafi, but he can be a major influence on our progression in games but I just wonder if we can continue to accept the many errors in his game if we want to have success at the top table.
Emile Smith Rowe has too much talent to be stuck out wide, he has that Ramseyesque quality of arriving in the box to finish moves off. ESR to me is the successor to Aaron. But he’s young and the game seems at times to pass him by.
When you go with youth you have to accept that the form of youngsters can fluctuate and this can be frustrating to fans who want it here and now. I understand that, but we’ve tried the here and now method and what we have at the moment are some guys on mega wages ‘here’ and they’re damned hard to move on, now!
So I’m willing to be patient, give this season a pass to see how the youngsters go, to see how they develop. I know many will disagree, but the alternative is more of what we’ve had over the last three years and to me that’s not acceptable or affordable.
The sale of Alex Iwobi was a big surprise in this past transfer window, understandable to a certain degree as the books needed to be balanced and he was an asset who could bring in a good transfer fee. He was also uncertain about playing time given the arrival of Ceballos on loan and the promotion of Willock and Nelson, but I do wonder, if Emery could have moved on one or two others on big wages, might Alex have remained.
Finally, we come to the enigma brothers, Mesut Ozil and Henrik Mkhitaryan. Two players who between them cost our club £550k per week. Not their fault I know but if they were putting in half a million pound performances on a regular basis, I doubt that their salary would even be mentioned but it is and that is the crux of the issue, are they worth it?
The agents of these two players have done a great job but those who represented Arsenal in the negotiations did not do great job. We are stuck with these two as we cannot shift them without making a huge loss.
In any other industry, mismanagement on that scale would have resulted in a plethora of P45’s, but it is what it is and as with Mustafi, we just have to suck it up.