Yossi Benayoun didn’t do well in the Swansea City game not because he isn’t a good player, but because he was played in an ill-suited role. In this match, Benayoun was covering for the injured Mikel Arteta.
What is Arteta’s role in the current midfield?
Arteta is the spine of the team. He is to the team what a chasis is to a motor vehicle. Let me explain by way of digression.
Readers who follow me will recall that I identified the absence of Alex Song in the Aston Villa match as the cause of Arsenal’s disjointed performance in that match. I said Song is the glue that holds the midfield together.
In saying, therefore, that Arteta is the spine of the midfield, I do not mean to change my tune. I mean to highlight the fact that partnerships in particular roles in a team are very important. When Song was removed from the tripartite partnership that includes Aaron Ramsey and Arteta, the remaining duo labored to execute their roles.
Now that Mikel Arteta has been temporarily removed, the same effect is on hand. This is because it affects the drilled function of the midfield. The three know how to modulate when they are together; when one of them is missing, a brief problem surfaces.
The problem in the Villa game when Song was absent resulted from Emmanuel Frimpong's inability to cover Song’s role effectively. Contrast that with Frimpong’s partnership with Francis Coquelin in the midfield in the Carling Cup match against Manchester City.
In the case of Ramsey, both Rosicky and Benayoun are adequate covers for him because both are creative midfielders, so that as long as they are slotted into that role, they not only bring their own individual dimension to the game, they also are able to perform the set role with a level of proficiency.
What this means is that neither Rosicky nor Benayoun is an adequate cover for the Arteta role, a box to box role.
The box to box role is just that, which is why I compared it to the human spine or to an automobile’s chasis. It means that the player who performs this role should be able to read the game at a wider range than the creative midfielder whose positioning is mostly on the apex of the midfield.
Benayoun’s failure in the Swansea game was because he lacked the natural instinct for positioning that a box to box midfielder should have. A box to box is both an enforcer and an influencer, while the creative midfielder performs the role implied by his name.
In the Manchester United match, Rosicky was the cover for Arteta. He performed the role miserably. This is why Manchester United had a field day in the first half.
Now, understand that I’m not saying that Rosicky isn’t a good player, no. What I’m saying is that he was ill-suited to the box to box role in this match.
He had little clue as to how to position himself in the match, he was either too deep, which is why Arsenal left acres of space in the midfield in the first half, or he was too high in the pitch, resulting in the same effect.
What, then, could Wenger have done to solve this problem? Little to nothing.
You should have grasped the problem by now. The problem Wenger had in the Swansea game and the United game wasn’t just a full-back problem, which has been biting since October, it was also the lack of an adequate replacement for Arteta.
Arteta just got injured so the transfer quick-fix argument does not apply. Plus, Arsenal have two covering players for this position—Jack Wilshere and Abou Diaby—they just happen to be injured.
Remember that Wilshere looked to be available for the season in the summer and it wasn’t known until too late that he’d be out for the whole season, so it was impossible for Wenger to sign Wilshere’s replacement.
No, that’s not accurate. Wenger did sign Wilshere’s replacement: Mikel Arteta, but now the replacement is injured and was only expected to miss one game.
Should the manager be expected to buy a replacement for every injured player?
Injuries have made the situation impossible for Arsene Wenger. That’s a fact. This has affected the team’s playing routine, resulting in disjointed performances. You can’t drill well when you can’t have players in fixed roles. Recall that the issue of fixed role is what caused Arsenal’s loss at City.
When fans cry, “sack the manager” in the face of every loss, they display their ignorance to the nuances of management. Sacking managers seldom solves problems.
Of course, there’s usually an appearance of solution, brought about by the new manager's brief period of freedom to buy players.
Why not give the same freedom to the existing coach? Better progress can be made by retaining the manager at hand and giving him the same freedom that new coaches usually are given.
I urge Arsenal fans—including the nonsensical Piers Morgan—to realize that Arsenal and Wenger have been unlucky with injuries this season. That’s what is derailing the season.
There’s no way—I can say this confidently—Arsenal would have lost to Manchester United or Swansea for that matter, had Andre Santos or Kieran Gibbs, Sagna or Jenkinson and Mikel Arteta (or Wilshere) been available for the two matches.
United only took advantage of Arsenal’s problems to win the match, not that they played particularly well.
So, then, if I understand the foregoing, why am I saying that Wenger could wreck Arsenal?
Find the reason in the following.