Arsenal Transfers: Why Strengthening Midfield Is More Important Than Attack
For all their problems up front this season, the Gunners haven't been short of goals. Theo Walcott leads the way with 14, but he is joined by Lukas Podolski with 10 and Olivier Giroud with nine.
Santi Cazorla has chipped in with seven and Gervinho netted five times in a prolific start to his otherwise frustrating campaign. Arsenal's main issues stem from a lack of creativity and consistent possession.
Those problems begin in the midfield. Like many areas on the team, the group has been denied continuity. The injury to Abou Diaby at the end of September robbed Arsenal of their best means of quickly turning defense into attack.
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Arteta's injury breaks up a trio comprised of the veteran Spaniard, along with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla. That group has desperately been trying to dictate Arsenal's games but has so far struggled.
The problem has been two-fold. First, finding a way to ease the creative burden on Cazorla hasn't been easy. Wilshere has been thrust into that role.
He has displayed a more forward-thinking style, but has struggled to match that to his defensive responsibilities. Wilshere's position is often given that grating label, "box-to-box."
All midfielders should display this quality to some extent. The real issue in Arsenal's midfield is that players are being denied opportunities to concentrate on what they do best.
Wilshere skills on the ball and ability to run at defenses make him a natural attacking threat. However, he has yet to produce a consistent output of creative passes or shots on goal.
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Yet that can come in time, especially as the ideas are there. The worry with Wilshere is that he can see the passes, but is lacking the technique to execute them. However, this is more likely due to his lengthy spell out injured and limited overall first team exposure.
Another problem is that Wilshere fits the same mould as Cazorla. Diminutive and attack-minded, the duo are currently forced to interchange responsibilities during games. Neither looks comfortable.
Cazorla is dropping deeper and deeper during games. He is wasted in these areas, but he and Wilshere are vying to dominate the same forward positions.
Of course, Arsenal would be able to accommodate two attacking midfielders if they had more solidity at the base of their midfield. Providing that solidity is a task Arteta has struggled to carry alone.
Similar to Cazorla, the former Everton star is groaning under the weight of shouldering a vital role by himself. Unfortunately for Arteta, Arsenal don't possess another player with the patience and calmness to marshal the defensive portion of the midfield.
Francis Coquelin could help, but he needs game time he is unlikely to get. His inexperience could prove costly in a top four race with little margin for error. Diaby offers the power a defensive midfielder needs.
However, consigning him to a protection role in front of the back four, limits his considerable force going forward. There's also that treacherous fitness record to contend with.
Aaron Ramsey, as he has briefly shown more than once in recent cameo's, is a more effective creative player. He is unlikely to supplant Cazorla or Wilshere, but his Arsenal future lies in advanced midfield areas.
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There are simply too many players who fit the same mould in Arsenal's midfield. Labels like "holding player" and "box-to-box" are applied in theory, but these roles are not clearly defined on the pitch.
To finally get the balance right, Arsene Wenger must add midfielders who exemplify qualities his current group simply don't possess. Strength, positional discipline and speed of thought should be the order of the day.
Wenger needs to find a natural protector for his defense, who can provide the platform for Cazorla and particularly Wilshere, to play with more freedom. If he opts against recruiting support for Arteta in deeper areas, then Wenger should foster the attacking emphasis of his current midfield.
Reintroducing Tomas Rosicky to the mix, seems the most obvious answer to the latter. The veteran schemer has seen little action this season. However, he remains quick-witted and attack-minded.
A four-man midfield featuring Rosicky dovetailing with Cazorla and Wilshere, would improve the speed of Arsenal's passing. It would also encourage greater combination play.
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If Wenger no longer has confidence in Rosicky or wants to risk his shaky fitness record, then he must add another creative talent.
Arsenal's game under Wenger is all about quick passing and intelligent movement. The style demands fluid combinations borne out of dominating possession.
That dominance has to come from midfield. Too often this season, Arsenal have either lost the possession battle, or wasted their advantage.
Whether it's a defensive focal point to supplement Arteta, or a skilled attacker to boost creativity, Wenger must add to his midfield ranks this month.
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