Why Arsenal Must Add Some Power in Midfield This Summer

James DudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

** FILE ** Arsenal's Patrick Vieira embraces his team coach Arsene Wenger at the end of the FA Cup Final against Manchester United at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, Saturday May 21, 2005. Vieira will face his former Arsenal teammates in the quarter final of the Champions League following the draw on Friday March 10, 2006. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Arsene Wenger's summer priority must be to add some genuine power to Arsenal's midfield. It's more important than signing a prolific striker or adding greater pace in attack.

The absence of actual strength in the middle is the real reason Wenger has seen another title bid collapse. It is responsible for a serious imbalance in his team.

That imbalance is based on the proliferation of slight and diminutive midfielders. Certainly there is nothing wrong with trusting a pocket-sized playmaker like Santi Cazorla to craft chances.

It works brilliantly for Manchester City's own mini marvel David Silva. But Silva's guile is augmented by Yaya Toure's powerful drive and Fernandinho's pragmatic solidity and intelligent positioning.

This Arsenal squad simply doesn't have that balance. What it has is a group of midfielders who offer one or two of the necessary qualities, but nobody complete enough to be truly dominant in the middle.

For instance, Aaron Ramsey has the energy, drive and instincts to break forward and provide the proverbial "cutting edge" in attack. In fact, there are few midfield players in the English Premier League better than Ramsey in these areas.

But sometimes it's hard to escape the feeling Ramsey's best work is limited to what he does in those advanced positions. He can be physical defensively, but never in a truly imposing way.

He can also manufacture and recycle possession in the middle, but that is not really where any Arsenal fan should want to see Ramsey. They should want to see him on the edges of the box, where he inflicts serious damage.

Ramsey needs better support at the heart of Arsenal's midfield.
Ramsey needs better support at the heart of Arsenal's midfield.Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Ramsey may not be the complete midfielder, but he is easily the closest Arsenal have to that ideal. Unfortunately, he is not supported by similar players.

Everyone around him is pigeon-holed into one of two camps: holding role or attacking playmaker. Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini belong in the former bracket.

Yet while Arteta has the positional sense, he doesn't have the physical power to play spoiler the way Southampton's Victor Wanyama did in a recent 2-0 win over Everton.

Flamini, by contrast, offers some genuine tenacity in the middle. But the veteran French battler is also afflicted with a worrying wanderlust.

He is often guilty of drifting forward and leaving defensive areas lacking in appropriate cover.

Further afield, Cazorla and Mesut Ozil are best in positions where they can offer quick support to a striker. Both can track back, although neither does it with any consistency, nor are they much of a factor when they do.

On the fringes of the team, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are still trying to discover their best positions.

The result is a midfield too easy for opponents to divide and conquer. They can simply bypass cavalier schemers like Ozil and Cazorla before swarming around plodding duo Arteta and Flamini on the counter.

Arsenal haven't been strong enough in the middle this season, especially in the biggest games.
Arsenal haven't been strong enough in the middle this season, especially in the biggest games.Jon Super

That has happened more than once this season, particularly in the biggest games. A brief look at any highlights of Arsenal's 5-1 drubbing by Liverpool, or 6-0 mauling by Chelsea, offers conclusive proof.

But opponents have also found familiar ways to stifle Arsenal's midfield defensively. Those prepared to adopt a numbers-heavy, packed defensive structure soon prevent Arsenal from getting behind the lines.

Because providers like Cazorla, Ozil, Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky are so similar, much of Arsenal's play stays in front of a defence. This was especially obvious and problematic when Ramsey was injured for three months between late-December and late-March.

Having nobody else who could replicate his powerful breaks from the middle left Cazorla and company with little to aim for.

No power in midfield has cost Wenger defensively and offensively this campaign. He has two ways to solve the problem before next season.

The first involves the now customary call for a deep-lying, defensive midfielder (cue rolling of eyes). It may be a well-worn argument, but it is still one that has merit.

Many in the current Arsenal midfield would benefit from the presence of a player prepared to act as a natural anchor. A player willing to stay in front of the back four and let Wenger's platoon of probing schemers go and play.

That is the dynamic Wenger clearly strived for earlier this season, when he rotated Arteta and Flamini behind a forward-thinking quartet of Ozil, Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere.

In that sense, Wenger is obviously aware of the need for a player shielding the Gunners defence, he just doesn't have the right personnel for it.

That would explain a mooted £17 million bid for Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Lars Bender, reported by Metro writer Jamie Sanderson. It also make sense of reported interest in ageing Manchester City ace Gareth Barry, per Sunday People reporter Alan Nixon.

But seeking out a willing destroyer isn't the only option open to Wenger. He could instead acquire another powerful runner to dovetail with Ramsey's efforts.

Somebody like Real Madrid squad player Casemiro would be a good fit in such a role. Mirror scribe John Cross has suggested the Gunners want to pursue a summer deal for the young Brazilian.

Having a player who can make his own runs from deep would reduce this team's unhealthy dependency on Ramsey. It can also create a powerful enough base to act as the platform for a sustained title challenge next term.

True power in the middle has been the key to Manchester City's sustained title charge.
True power in the middle has been the key to Manchester City's sustained title charge.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Wenger only needs to look at City's trio of Javi Garcia, Toure and Fernandinho, or Chelsea's John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Matic and Ramires, for proof that power still wins in the EPL.

But truthfully, Wenger doesn't really need a reminder. He won his three league titles with Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Edu and Gilberto Silva thundering through the middle.

This summer the Gunners chief must get back to basics in midfield. That can mean signing a sacrificial foil to supplement the defence or a dynamic athlete who can be a force at both ends of the pitch.

Either way, Wenger must not emerge from this summer's transfer window without having added a strongman or two in the middle.