Arsenal Transfers: Arsene Wenger Will Regret Not Signing a Midfielder

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2014

BOREHAMWOOD, ENGLAND - JULY 19:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on during the pre season friendly match between Borehamwood and Arsenal at Meadow Park on July 19, 2014 in Borehamwood, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Arsene Wenger has indicated he will not sign a natural midfield player this summer. It's a decision the Arsenal boss will regret.

The Frenchman has engineered some excellent transfer work during this window. He found a marquee wide forward in Alexis Sanchez, and added a steady right-back in the form of Mathieu Debuchy. Wenger also made room for key squad players such as reserve goalkeeper David Ospina and young utility defender Calum Chambers.

However, speaking after the Gunners 1-0 defeat to AS Monaco in the Emirates Cup, Wenger appeared to rule out a new addition for midfield. Specifically, he rejected the idea of recruiting a new defensive midfielder, per Alex Sharp of The Sport Review:

We have Flamini who can play there. Last season we played with Arteta and Ramsey there in many games in that position.

No because we only play with one holding midfielder. Arteta was there today (against Monaco) with Wilshere and Ramsey pushing on. He needs games, we have seen that again today.

The second part of that quote is a reference to the idea of deploying Jack Wilshere in a holding role, per Daily Mail reporter Sami Mokbel. It's surprising Wenger has moved so quickly to abandon that idea.

Wilshere currently lacks both the scoring instinct and assured creative touch to operate further forward.

Jack Wilshere doesn't add balance or physicality to Arsenal's midfield.
Jack Wilshere doesn't add balance or physicality to Arsenal's midfield.Michael Regan/Getty Images

However, Arsenal's true issue in midfield doesn't lie in the forward areas. It doesn't even exist in defensive positions.

The problem more concerns the type of midfield players Arsenal possess. Or rather, the type they don't have enough of.

What Wenger has is an abundance of small and slight playmakers. Technical proficiency isn't issue, nor is a willingness to dominate possession.

What's missing is some physicality. That doesn't simply mean Wenger's needs a destroyer ready to leave a mark on any opposition player who has the temerity to touch the ball.

Instead, it's about adding athleticism. Namely, the Gunners need more strength, speed and drive in the middle.

Too many times Arsenal's game slows to a crawl as a quartet of like-minded schemers exchange short-range passes instead of seizing the initiative and showing some forward-thinking verve.

This has made many of Wenger's recent teams too easy to play against, particularly in the biggest games. Of course, those who believe they can do a better job than Wenger will tell you it's all about tactics, that sacred cure-all.

These would-be managers will point you to heat maps and reel off statistics that tell you every result can be reversed by the right game plan. But whether the number crunchers like it or not, personnel counts.

Good tactics can only go so far. They must be matched to the right personnel.

Wenger doesn't have the personnel in midfield to cope in the biggest games.
Wenger doesn't have the personnel in midfield to cope in the biggest games.Clive Mason/Getty Images

Arsenal lost 6-3 away to Manchester City, 5-1 on the road against Liverpool and 6-0 at Chelsea last season. Don't kid yourself for a second by assuming a change in tactics would have dramatically altered any of those results.

That's not at all likely considering the opposition's tactics were to target weaknesses in personnel. The most ruthlessly exposed weaknesses were Arsenal's lack of pace and power in the middle and limited cover at the back.

That last folly is laid bare for all to see every time a passage of pedestrian possession breaks down in front of packed midfield and defensive lines. Exposure becomes danger when those out of possession aren't quick enough to get back or strong enough to challenge breaking runners when they do.

Arsenal's sluggish timidity going forward and slow-paced fragility tracking back are problems belonging solely to the midfield. That's why Wenger should be scouring the market for the kind of robust, but skilled runners his teams always used to feature.

The most depressing sight during the defeat to Monaco was the contrast between the two sets of midfielders. The familiar dynamic of ponderous passing, lingering on the ball and lack of strength saw the Gunners repeatedly lose the ball in the middle.

That allowed Monaco to break well on several occasions. A better side would certainly have added to Radamel Falcao's first-half header.

One of the reasons Monaco broke so well was because of the two things Arsenal don't have in midfield: balance and drive.

The latter quality was provided by Geoffrey Kondogbia, a young, French powerhouse Wenger should have signed last summer. He won the ball and ran at the Gunners' defence on more than one occasion.

Geoffrey Kondogbia bossed the game in the middle for Monaco.
Geoffrey Kondogbia bossed the game in the middle for Monaco.Michael Regan/Getty Images

Kondogbia's energy, industry and stylish left-footed passing allowed Monaco to quickly transition defence to attack to remain a constant threat.

One reason Kondogbia had the freedom to break was the presence of Tiemoue Bakayoko behind him as a natural barrier between midfield and defence. Monaco's central midfield combination is balance, true balance.

It's the kind Arsenal had with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, or Vieira and Gilberto Silva, or even Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini in 2007.

But no such balance exists in today's midfield. Wenger has his runner in the form of Aaron Ramsey. it's no coincidence that Arsenal look a better side when their lone true midfielder is on the pitch.

Power and balance were once the key attributes in Arsenal's midfield.
Power and balance were once the key attributes in Arsenal's midfield.Phil Cole/Getty Images

Wenger also has a natural advanced playmaker in Mesut Ozil. But the Germany international can only succeed if the rest of the midfield gets him the ball quickly and offers support at the same pace.

The speed of play, or lack of it, is something Wenger bemoaned after the Monaco game, per another quote from Sharp's article:

We had problems today feeding our strikers because in the build up we were not very good, our combination game was very poor so it was very difficult for our strikers. Look if you have good midfielders, they will find the strikers.

But after Ramsey and Ozil, Arsenal's midfield is populated with players who are too similar or are simply not quite as good versions of the principle duo.

Wenger needs a powerhouse who will cover ground quicker than Arteta and be a more disciplined and precise tackler than Flamini and Wilshere. Perhaps he also needs another runner, one who will be direct with his movement and bold with his passing.

Wenger's denials about a new midfielder clashed with current reports of an imminent deal for Sporting Lisbon's battering ram in the middle, William Carvalho. Portuguese newspaper O Jogo (h/t Metro) reported a £24 million cash sum will soon land Carvalho.

A move for Portuguese midfield strongman William Carvalho remains a doubt.
A move for Portuguese midfield strongman William Carvalho remains a doubt.Elsa/Getty Images

However, it seems the flow of information isn't quite as clear, at least according to a report from Sport Witness:

In their Monday article O Jogo cover their previous report and then say that in England it's 'taken for granted' that Arsenal will return with a bigger offer than €30m. That was the first reference to the press here, the second is when O Jogo say according to 'imprensa inglesa' Carvalho is a high priority target for Arsene Wenger.

O Jogo's own slant, unless this is also from other sources, is that Arsenal will return soon with a new proposal. However, the whole piece appears to have been inspired by reports in the media here and also Arsene Wenger's comments about making new signings.

It would be a shame to pass on a player of Carvalho's physical attributes and obvious potential if there is any chance of signing him. Perhaps Wenger might actually follow up alleged interest in Real Madrid's Sami Khedira, per Express reporter Colin Mafham.

Khedira mixes high energy levels, with brawn and quick-thinking creative verve. But even a bid for a midfielder of his calibre seems dubious:

Wenger will regret sticking with a midfield rotation that lacks a proper complement of skills. He won his titles at Arsenal with midfield players who combined skill with dominant athleticism.

It would be a terrible mistake to give up the search for more of the same. 


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