Arsene Wenger Must Widen Search for Arsenal's Next Defensive Midfielder

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJuly 28, 2014

Associated Press

Arsene Wenger has already completed some superb work for Arsenal in this transfer window. However, his job won't be finished unless he widens his search to find the Gunners a defensive midfielder.

Wenger has so far boosted his attack by snaring pacy Chilean wide man Alexis Sanchez. That deal has been followed by signing full-back Mathieu Debuchy and goalkeeper David Ospina, both of whom bolster the defensive resources.

That latter consideration has also been taken care of by the arrival of ex-Southampton prospect Calum Chambers, as confirmed by

Wenger had already endorsed the versatility of his latest acquisition, per Nick Callow of The Independent:

He can play at centre-back, right-back and central midfield. I hope he will give us competition for the players in these positions. He hasn’t played many games, no, but the English players on the market in England are very expensive and at the end of the day I was ready to take a gamble because he is a player for the future.

Chambers' ability to operate in the middle of midfield shouldn't remove Arsenal's need to add some strength and drive in that position. But those plans have already taken a blow or two.

At the time news broke of Arsenal's intention to sign Chambers, BBC Sport reporter Ben Smith also linked them with a move for fellow Southampton player and natural midfield anchor Morgan Schneiderlin:

However, since Chambers was unveiled as an Arsenal new boy, developments concerning Schneiderlin's future have accelerated. Apparently, the savvy French bruiser is about to join Tottenham Hotspur and ex-Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino, according to Dominic Fifield of The Guardian:

They had hoped to dissuade suitors from bidding for Schneiderlin, a player [Ronald] Koeman had considered vital to his approach, by demanding in excess of the £27m fee that took Luke Shaw to Manchester United earlier this summer. But the France midfielder has expressed a desire to rejoin Pochettino and, with talks ongoing over a compromise fee, he will be accompanied by [Jay] Rodriguez despite the England striker still recovering from an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury that denied him a place at the World Cup.

This isn't the first time this summer that Wenger has been thwarted in his attempts to recruit a powerhouse for midfield. The club's pursuit of Germany and Real Madrid ace Sami Khedira broke down over his wage demands, according to Daily Mail writer Sami Mokbel.

Prospective target Morgan Schneiderlin seems set to join Arsenal's neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.
Prospective target Morgan Schneiderlin seems set to join Arsenal's neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.Clive Rose/Getty Images

Wenger must widen the net he is casting to secure the strength and defensive willingness many believe this Arsenal squad lacks in the middle. It's important to make a distinction here, though.

Many call for a defensive midfielder, hence the use of that moniker in the title of this article. However, no midfielder is ever going to be strictly defensive in a Wenger-led team.

For all the fond memories of Gilberto Silva shielding the back four, the Brazilian was also given license to roam forward. Wenger also encouraged similar verve from Alex Song. So Gunners fans should abandon hopes of welcoming a player who will be a glorified third centre-back.

What this team needs more than a defender-cum-midfielder is a physical presence. That's what makes the links to Khedira so appealing.

He is far from the classic, stationary deep-lying barrier. Instead, Khedira is a player who uses energy and power to both supplement his team's attacks and stifle forward breaks from the opposition.

Sami Khedira would be a dream get, but wage demands are ruining any potential deal.
Sami Khedira would be a dream get, but wage demands are ruining any potential deal.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Could Khedira be molded into a more static role? Perhaps, but that would surely take away some of his best attributes.

Wenger must decide if he wants a runner, somebody who will engage in pass-and-move combinations but also track back in a timely manner and be destructive when he does.

If that's what he opts for, then the proposed idea to play Jack Wilshere in a holding role, per Daily Mail reporter Sami Mokbel, is a good one. Wilshere is at a crossroads in his career, but he can still be an efficient hub of possession in the right areas.

Those areas have always been the halfway line or deeper. Wilshere will distribute and exchange passes all game from those positions and rarely waste the ball.

He also won't be shy about throwing himself into crunching tackles or covering ground to assist defenders. Remember, Arsenal's main issue in the heavy defeats they received last season was their being outrun.

Jack Wilshere could make the grade as a deep-lying midfielder.
Jack Wilshere could make the grade as a deep-lying midfielder.Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

However, while there's a lot of merit to playing Wilshere deep, what he'll never offer is natural strength. His diminutive stature and slight frame simply don't support a robust role.

If Wenger wants a true destroyer, somebody who will break up play and win possession for others, he must keep looking. In fact, he must go back to his roots as a manager who can unearth the overlooked gems the rest of the big boys ignore in the scramble for marquee names.

Wenger has already missed one diamond in the rough this summer. Bosnia-Herzegovina star Muhamed Besic would have been a perfect solution to Arsenal's defensive-midfield problem.

Tough, intelligent and technically assured, Besic is a natural holding player also blessed with a playmaker's instincts. If that weren't enough, he can also play centre-back, a position he has thrived in at club level for Hungarian side Ferencvaros.

During the 2014 FIFA World Cup I endorsed Besic as a potential classic Wenger signing. However, that moment has passed, with news that Everton have snared the player, per the team's official website:

The Toffees landed Besic for the bargain fee of just £4 million, according to Andy Hunter of The Guardian. Wenger can't afford to overlook many more bargains of that nature.

Arsenal's increasing willingness to show off newfound financial might is encouraging. But the club doesn't have to fix every problem with a double-digit fee.

Of course, Wenger may not have to look far for bargains. A simple glance to his native France could spot previously hidden solutions.

A player such as tenacious Lille tackling machine Rio Mavuba could appeal. Arsenal were linked with a move for the defiant veteran back in early June, per France TV Sport (h/t Inside

Prior to that link emerging, it was Mavuba's Lille teammate Idrissa Gueye who was said to be on Wenger's radar, per (h/t

If neither of those options set the pulse racing, Wenger could revive mooted interested in Dutch destroyer Nigel de Jong. In mid-June, Mirror reporter Chris Richards suggested De Jong was an Arsenal target.

Dutchman Nigel de Jong is the most obvious fit as a natural destroyer in the middle.
Dutchman Nigel de Jong is the most obvious fit as a natural destroyer in the middle.Paul Gilham/Getty Images

The Netherlands' international is certainly physical. But he is also a proven winner with Premier League experience and an underrated competence in possession.

De Jong's World Cup was ruined by a torn groin muscle, but when healthy the veteran makes too much sense for Arsenal to ignore.

Arsenal still need a powerhouse in the middle. The success of their season doesn't depend entirely on recruiting one, but it's the sole obvious omission in the current squad.

Wenger is clearly aware of the problem. BBC Sport reporter David Ornstein has stressed the Gunners haven't given up hope of adding a signing in this area:

It all depends on what type of strongman Wenger wants in the middle. If he opts for a deep-lying creator with energy and drive, then Wilshere is a good in-house alternative to dumping a treasure chest on Khedira's doorstep.

However, if the Arsenal chief wants a true destructive force, then he must delve into the recesses of this market to find one.


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