What is his masterplan?
My previous article outlined Arsenal's abundance of centre midfielders. The natural progression of that article is, "Has Arsene Wenger prepared Arsenal for life without Cesc Fabregas?" Before I begin, I want to thank the people that read my previous article, which has led me on a quest to outline the problems and issues we will come to face supporting our club. I've decided to go with a slideshow format to make for easier reading over the torrent of information I used last time, some people like pictures but it's harder to find a caption to go with it—you know who you are.
As I previously touched on, we have many centre midfielders and many more prospects in the wings. The fact that Nasri is seemingly moulded into the heart of our play means that we have nine players in our first team capable of playing in one of the three midfield slots. At least five more players in the reserves and six more out on loan. Though, not all the players are ready for the step up and arguably a few should be on the transfer list, but our current midfield has been built to last. Therein lies a massive problem.
I apologise to whoever read the first copy of this article, I have a bad habit of getting drawn in and forgetting the basic rules of grammar, so many commas.
It's hard to imagine how lucky Bendtner is, with only 2 rivals, though he still can't make it
Our current starting midfield should contain Fabrega and Song, who are both 23, and Wilshere who is 19. We currently have 20 potential central midfielders at the club at first team and reserve level. Do you see a problem?
Points for the obvious, in that it just won't work out. Reserve experience will only sate the hungry youngsters for so long until they're too old and past their potential. Full marks for anyone who has seen that Fabregas, Song and Wilshere, can all have another 10 years in our team. They probably won't with Wenger's policies, but with a massive queue at the club for three places that don't need to be filled, what are we left with?
A massive headache, a revolving door of talent who would get into most teams are being kept out because we don't need them yet. Song and Fabregas benefited from the departures of Vieira, Silva and Flamini. Gaps were found in midfield and they have made the spots their own. Our formation has evolved to a 4-3-3 just to make it easier, but that's not enough. We will watch many talented players leave to find success elsewhere, that much is guaranteed.
Before Ramsey got injured, he was first team and every bit as influential as Wilshere is now, so which prodigy will feature for us next season? Diaby and Denilson have played bit parts in recent seasons and have never earned their right for the final spot, in the way Wilshere has. They could be on their way out for much younger recruits with Lansbury, Eastmond and Coquelin unlikely to stay without a chance of first-team football.
It will have to do for now, as we will experience similar problems every season, as long as Wenger continues to buy talented youngsters and educate them in his footballing ways. As none of the midfield generals has reached 24, how old is too old for Wenger? Generally 30 was the cut off point, with only rolling contracts offered to players unless they are integral to the squad, seeing the end of the like of Pires and Ljungberg with little success outside of the club.
After every season, his contract is closer to expiry luckily he signed a massive contract
The answer is yes. He's already been out for a chunk of the season and while we have struggled without him, we've not done too badly, with Fabregas playing in some of our losses. The real question is about Fabregas's fitness, looking as if he's a light breeze away from an injury, can we afford to have a crocked captain?. We've seen Rosicky and Nasri deputise, with the former being anonymous and the latter spectacular.
We are a much better side with Fabregas in it. He not only drives the team forward but the triangles appear more often in midfield. While he's still to regain his best form, some of his passing in recent games has been sloppier than expected. This is mainly down to his ability and potential. Fabregas, being Fabregas, has a penchant for the wonder pass and more recently passing in our half. While not to be vilified, I expect him to improve as the season continues.
That said, wonder passes only occur every so often, but he does like to stretch the opponent's left back, sending balls up the right wing for Walcott to pounce on, to varying effects. Without him, we played tidier, if somewhat uninspiring, football which again has done the job but often has us grasping for straws against organised opposition—see our last Champions League fixtures.
The triangles that we are so famous for also cause a problem in our midfield when Fabregas is on it. While he is an excellent passer, he also wants a lot of the ball and keeps the triangles ticking so he can advance and link up with the forwards and winger.
Under the influence of Fabregas, Wilshere particularly seems content to pick up the ball and pass and move, keeping the play going but being much quieter. Nasri is also much quieter with him, in a similar vein to Wilshere, but he also has his form to blame because defenders have had a target on his back for fear of a repetition of his masterclass against Fulham.
Without Fabregas, Nasri drives the team forward. He dribbles a lot more and attempts to break through teams at times rather than pass and pry his way through. He's scored only one Premier League goal against Birmingham City on New Year's Day since his performance at Fulham almost a month before. The return of senior players in Fabregas and Van Persie has kept the Frenchman somewhat silent, though he has given his all for the team.
Sabrina has also mentioned a interesting factlet in that we've never lost in a match when Fabregas has scored, i'm not sure how many of our midfield maestros can boast such a record but i'll have a look
It would look a little like this
About £50 million richer? I joke, Iniesta plus cash will do fine, though not totally unrealistic. Someone's got to make way for Cesc.
Anyway, Wenger is currently content with Barca's 4-3-3 formation, though I'm not sure if our reserves play in the same formation, it would be a good idea. As I've mentioned before, there are multiple scenarios that can take play depending on who comes in and out in the summer. I've listed possible formations, though some elements may overlap they may not beyond the realm of possibility.
In retrospect, I covered most of the variations in the first formation accidentally as it all seemed to link. The first formation generally deals with Nasri out on the wing and the possible replacements and benefits from those players. The second is based on Nasri being the man to replace Fabregas, though again I've detailed quite a bit of the information in the next slide. The third, goes with the possibility of a new face in the team.
I had planned a few more formations but I couldn't see how any other formation would work. If you can think of any, I'll add it in and credit where it's deserved.
Ramsey and Coquelin have played together before, though not in a long time
With a gap in our midfield and Arsenal not adding another winger, keeping Nasri out on the left. A world class centre midfielder purchase possibly comes down to Wenger realising there's no point with so much talent at his disposal. Added to his, "You know where you can stick your £20 million valuation.". Some may read the title and assume a massive revamp, but I'm shooting for scenario where Diaby and Denilson are offloaded and the three midfielders fight it out for a starting berth, possibly with Wilshere.
Having a constantly fresh midfield where we can rotate between defensive and offensive depending on our opponent is important. Coquelin would make a excellent cover for the increasingly attacking Song, who would play an Essien role, feeding Wilshere in a more advanced position. Ramsey could figure as a straight replacement for Fabregas—good short passing and some very good through balls. Adding goals to his game there are fears surrounding his ability to regain the form he had, Eduardo a casualty of such an injury.
Frimpong could be figured into the reserve team and promoted if needed, but I'd rather see him playing regular football and he could be one of the first to benefit from our Feyenoord connection. Lansbury is a strange midfielder in that his passing is as good as any Arsenal player, but he is neither spectacular going forward or defending with more specialised competition in Coquelin and Ramsey. So is he the victim of being too well-rounded but not good enough to compete against our other talents? I think so, unfortunately.
That said, all three would be looking for first-team action. Loans are unlikely to suffice and with a supply of potential suitors in different leagues, we may as well cut our losses. Wenger will have thought of this at one point or another and we will see how he handles the situation.
Wilshere out on the wing is not impossible, to facilitate the shuffle in midfield, but I don't see him replacing Nasri. The right wing slot could be viable. While he's not an especially pacey player, he would look to cut in much like Nasri, keeping possession and the triangles flowing with a deft left foot which could add a few more goals to his tally.
With speculation of Arshavin leaving in the summer and the inconsistency of Walcott, another major factor is if Hazard is coming in. He'd need time to adjust but would be able to switch with Theo and possibly Emmanuel Thomas as a deputy to Nasri.
World class, through and through
He's done well in the middle this season and could prove to a worthy replacement. As I've outlined earlier, he has been quiet in a Fabregas-centric team. His more direct style, moving forward and looking for options after, takes more risks than Fabregas's pass and move.
However, he is one of our best dribblers and he doesn't get a lot of chances to run at people. He is a skilful dribbler with great pace and a good engine. He likes to lurk around the are pinging passes to options and looking to player team mates in. His passing range is very different from Fabregas's; while I'm sure he's got a great long pass, he likes to keep it simple and short. This forces opposition to have to adjust themselves to the change in formation and opens more gaps. His speed and dummy runs allow him to distract and a playmaker with good vision would be able to find success in the chaos.
The main issue is who would replace him on the wing? There are many possible replacements, looking at our current team. Walcott, Arshavin and possibly Hazard are all good, pacey technical midfielders who who relish the chance to cut in on the left and go for goal. Walcott and Arshavin would relish the chance to put their shooting boots on and is better than wasting crosses for a fairly short and weak team, aerially.
Arshavin is at his best playing with Nasri, as they like to run at teams and Nasri has a fantastic eye for space to be matched for Arshavin's passing. Which is at its best when teams are backtracking and allowing him to play killer balls. The triangles do not work well with Arshavin, who's much better running than static as his Leeds display showed. Let's not forget his goals against Villa and Wigan, which had him on the left and his stronger foot.
Vela could also be option as he looks for his position. He did well linking with Van Persie and would've added two goals if it weren't for his habit of falling in the area. He also has quite a selfish streak, which may be caused by his need to score goals to stay in the team. I've never seen him score a goal from more than 20 yards, yet he likes to try his luck out from farther. Though his pace and quick play could be a bonus as he is much more a team player away from goal.
The other option could be to bring Wilshere out on the left. He is quick but not fast and he likes to cut in and control possession like Nasri. I've not seen much of his crossing, but Arsenal are known for great crossing. As a natural left footer, this would allow him to cut out and cross in, or cut in move the play forward.
His goals this season, have shown a lot of technique preferring a deft touch over bullets. He only really shoots from comfortable positions and almost never when there's a better option. While it sounds negative, he is much more precise in his shooting choosing good opportunities, if not finding team mates who are.
Another wild card is Emmanuel Thomas. At 19, he has seen himself be overtaken by the diminutive Wilshere. Thomas is tall, strong and pacey, possessing a great technique and left foot. He looks to be in the build of Adebayor, but I would see him more as very rough Ibrahimovich. He is very inexperienced but possesses all the qualities we would need. Like many of the reserve squad, he is looking for first-team experience and needs it, most likely looking to leave if we cannot find a space for him.
An unknown quality who would have to be assessed solely on how well he does on loan, he would prove to be a tricky opponent, working in the shadows of the superstars around him. I wouldn't expect anyone but the right back to care about him.
A potential make weight?
A third option, which I seemed oblivious to until someone pointed it out, is the possibility of Wenger dipping into his war chest and paying for a world-class replacement.
To begin with, we have to look at what would happen if Fabregas left. His only real target destination is Barcelona, since they've been lusting after him since he was 16. I won't get into how he would figure into the Barca team because if he left I wouldn't care about him anymore—past examples are Henry and everyone else.
He wouldn't come cheap and with Barca's massive sponsorship deal would definitely help a team in a bit of financial trouble. At a ballpark, we could get anywhere between £25 to £50million, enough to pave the way for a world-class player. Barca currently have more midfielders than they need at the moment and Keita or Mascherano would likely to be offered with players like Bojan, looking for more first-team football.
We'd take a look at Bojan, say he's got all the qualities of being the next Raul, but wouldn't figure well in our crowded team—in all honesty, he has more chance of playing for Barca. I won't bother with Keita as he isn't interesting. A massive possibility is in the already established Mascherano. Protecting the back four with tenacity and tidy passing, he'd provide an experienced cover, giving Song licence to attack.
However, I'm not interested in Mascherano. He's good and would no doubt be a great talent, but he won't get any better. Someone who will is a certain Sergio Busquets, valued highly and a part of the first team. That would all change if Fabregas came. He would be relegated to the bench with a fearsome trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas all ahead of him, all much better and experienced.
So could we talk him into joining our first team? A tidy passer, he would be able to bring everything Mascherano would and more. He's only 22 and has plenty of of potential to improve in all areas. One thing he would bring in over Mascherano is 6.5 inches—at 6' 2.5" he brings a aerial presence to counter Wilshere's and accompany Song's.
Looking outside Barca, Wenger has his pick of hundreds of potential replacements, though clubs would know Arsenal would be £40 million richer and adjust their prices accordingly. There is no end to the possibilties but there in lies the mystery of Arsene Wenger. When we have looked for quality recruitments, we have often been dumbfounded by his eventual purchases.
Case in point: Eduardo. After he endured a career-changing injury, he was fox in the box, though he never consistently impressed. In Vermaelen we have a excellent defender, little-known but an instant fan favourite and rarely at fault. It works both ways.
A change of heart from the manager a few seasons ago allowed the purchase of the inconsistent Arshavin. His fingers have been burnt somewhat as he has underperformed more often than he has produced moments of magic. A big name purchase will be a lesson learnt by Wenger and unlikely, though admittedly Van der Vaart would look great in the Fabregas role.
He's surprised and infuriated fans before, what will he do next?
At the end of the day, one man and one man only knows what the master plan is, if I can come up with only two possibilities, how many more has he envisaged? The factors that will play a part will be
How much we get for Fabregas?
Will he refuse to buy and use his ever growing reserve of youth?
Will we be offered Mascherano in part exchange?
Injuries to either Nasri, Wilshere or Song before the season starts again.
The possible emergence of Diaby and Denilson as heirs to the throne.
Looking at the past, since we know Wenger is a creature of habit, how did we replace Vieira and Silva? Youth. And not just young players; he literally threw in as many midfielders as he could find and found gold in Fabregas and Song, honourable mention to the greedy Flamini warming the benches at AC. If Fabregas was to ever leave, I'd imagine he continue to do so but the question is how.