While Abou Diaby is scheduled to return from yet another injury layoff within a week or two, Arsenal's midfield has plenty of options as to who can fill that role in the Frenchman's absence. The real stickler is finding the combination of players to gel and perform every defined role as proficiently as possible.
Since his arrival this summer, Santi Cazorla has proved himself to be not only Arsenal's No. 1 midfielder, but one of the very best central players the Premier League can boast. He is certainly without peers at his club when it comes to creating scoring opportunities and dissecting opposing defences; his vision, timing and temperament are truly of the highest class.
Proof comes in the form of this tweet from FootballFacts101:
#EPL Santi Cazorla has created 21 scoring chances for team-mates from open play - the most in Europe's top five leagues this season.— FootballFacts101 (@FootballFact101) October 20, 2012
Cazorla, then, has become without a doubt one of the first names Arsene Wenger would pencil in on his team sheet in the rather ambiguous role of the point of the midfield triangle. The Spaniard has made the role his own; the team's attacks flow through him, and his teammates trust his capacity to make the defence-splitting pass or precise cross.
The other player who has certified and cemented his role as Arsenal's best option as a box-to-box midfielder is Cazorla's compatriot, Mikel Arteta. While not always as physically adroit as Diaby has proven himself to be, Arteta brings plenty of steel and guile to his defensive duties, as well as the eye for creativity and flair.
Who should fill in for Diaby in the holding midfield role against Schalke 04?
His performances have certainly made the absence of Alex Song barely noticeable in some quarters.
The issue now for Wenger is who fills the more defined role of holding midfielder. While both Aaron Ramsey and Francis Coquelin, two of the more junior members of Arsenal's midfield corps, have been fielded in the role before with varying degrees of success, Ramsey's abilities would be of more use harnessed elsewhere.
The Welshman has had some of his best games playing in the "Cazorla role," linking with Arteta and Song behind him and managing to work the ball both to Robin van Persie and the wide players during last season.
With the advent of Cazorla, however, Wenger has preferred the Spaniard, and it is easy to see why. While Ramsey has the potential to one day mature into an excellent player for the Gunners, Cazorla is unparalleled in that role at the club at the moment and likely for some time to come.
As Bleacher Report Featured Columnist I.J. Yarison recently stated, Ramsey's talents are put to better use when he is at liberty to perform in a solely creative capacity or on the flanks. He is less effective when used in the same capacity as Arteta or Diaby, as he possesses less bite in the tackle than Arteta and less physical strength than Diaby.
This is where Coquelin factors in.
The young Frenchman has shown himself to be more adept in the holding midfield role than his colleague, fellow deputy Emmanuel Frimpong, as well as the more inventive Ramsey. He has quietly and stoically impressed with stout performances in front of Arsenal's back four over the last season or so.
While Coquelin, like Ramsey, does not immediately fit the bill as a classic box-to-box midfielder in Arteta's vein, he is fortunate that, unlike Ramsey, he matches the shape of the void left by Diaby as a traditional holding midfielder.
Few could dispute the creativity and culture about the Welshman's football—the issue for the former Wales captain is that those talents pale in comparison to those of Cazorla.
With Jack Wilshere still not quite match-fit, it should fall to Coquelin to fulfil the role vacated by Diaby, certainly in midweek when the club host Schalke 04 in Champions League action, and perhaps going forward as well.
Wednesday night's game at the Emirates Stadium might well be crucial to proving Coquelin's worth to Wenger.
Coquelin has long had admirers among the Arsenal faithful. He is much better suited to the vacant role in Arsenal's midfield than Aaron Ramsey.
The rest is up to him.