Arsenal FC Transfer Debate: Does Arsene Wenger Need a Defensive Midfielder?
It's no coincidence that Arsenal used to be a better team with Mathieu Flamini in it.
Usually people overlook and underestimate the role played by the defensive midfielders since they don't create much.
Back in the days of Claude Makelele—one of the best defensive midfielders of all time—the midfield enforcer was a key player.
Yet the job done by Makelele was least appreciated. However, he proved the importance of a top-class defensive midfielder when he left Real Madrid for Chelsea in 2003. Is it a coincidence that Real Madrid failed to win the La Liga three years on the bounce following the departure of Makelele?
The French midfielder stayed at Madrid for just three years winning the Champions League once and La Liga twice.
After his departure, the team collapsed, and it was only then the likes of extravagant Florentino Perez realized how important Makelele was to the success of Real Madrid.
At Chelsea too Makelele showed his grandness, but this time though he got the recognition that he deserved. Jose Mourinho was also a big fan of Makelele during his tenure as the Chelsea boss.
These days teams rarely mark the holding player of the opposition for the reason such players seldom pose a threat going forward. But when teams played Chelsea at its peak first made sure they stopped Makelele.
Strange considering Chelsea's creative spark has always been Frank Lampard. That's how crucial Makelele and his position was.
Later, the holding role came to be known as the "Makelele role" in honour of the great enforcer that Makelele was at his peak.
Makele aside, Premiership also witnessed some great holding players like Owen Hargreaves and Javier Mascherano in recent years. Those two played the "Makelele role" pretty well. Unfortunately, they no longer play in the English first division.
Currently, there's a paucity of quality defensive midfielders. Even if a team is ready to pay exorbitant sum for a top-notch holding player, it's still very difficult to find the sort of player who could justify the price tag.
So, the key is holding on to the best defensive midfielders you've got rather than selling and struggling to find a like-for-like replacement.
Wenger though had other ideas when he let Flamini run down his contract and sign for AC Milan in 2008. In his last season at Arsenal, Flamini forged a great partnership with Cesc Fabregas and the team, as a result, functioned exceedingly well as a unit.
Understandably that was the last time Arsenal realistically challenged for the Premier League title. Wenger failed to replace/decided not to replace Flamini and in hindsight that proved costly.
One must acknowledge the emergence of Alex Song who came under heavy criticism from Arsenal fans in his early days.
That said, there's a lot of room for improvement in his game, and he needs to improve further to earn a name alongside the very best midfield enforcers. That's not to say he's not a good player. Song is more than handful, and his absence is always felt when he gets injured.
Now coming to the question at hand: Do Arsenal need a holding midfielder this summer?
Most of the pundits and experts would say that they need one. Even I think they need one. But do they really need one?
George Graham, Arsenal's former manager, recently said, "Arsenal's centre backs look like midfielders." When a man like Graham who is a master of the dark arts of defending speaks about defenders and defence you need to listen.
When you look around and watch players like Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou, Graham indeed is spot on. Vermaelen could easily play as a holding midfielder and do a lot better job than Song.
Vermaelen's passing range is amazing and his shooting technique is as good as an attacking midfielder's.
Johan Djourou is the other centre back who used to play as a defensive midfielder in his early days. He even played as a midfielder while on loan at Birmingham City back in 2007. He's a decent passer as well and could easily fill in as a defensive midfielder.
Does Wenger need to sign a defensive midfielder this summer?
And these two are Arsenal's first-choice centre backs, well at least for me.
Now you know what Graham meant when he said Arsenal's centre-backs look like midfielders. If needed either of these two can play in the holding role and do a good job for Arsenal in the future.
When you add Song and the more complete midfielder Jack Wilshere to that list, Wenger need not worry about the defensive midfield slot this summer provided he's willing to play his gifted centre backs in midfield.
In fact, Djourou might make a better holding player than a centre back in the long run if given the chance to break the play of the opposition in midfield rather than worrying about the offside trap and marking. Against physically stronger teams like Chelsea, playing two dedicated holding players would make Arsenal stable in midfield.
In conclusion, I for one feel Arsenal should sign an established centre back rather than make do with the makeshift ones and could use either of Vermealen or Djourou in midfield.
Vermaelen being Arsenal's best centre back might well continue in that role, but if need be, he can always play in midfield when the regular defensive midfielder gets injured or gets suspended provided Wenger buys the right CBs this summer.
For Djourou, he's better suited to play as a holding midfielder. So, when Arsenal need to compete against sturdier midfield—Chelsea, Manchester City, etc—two holding players could be a brilliant idea with Djourou featuring alongside Song. And Djourou can always fill in at the back as well.
Therefore, more options at the back and in midfield, as well as better equipped to accommodate the injury crisis if it does arise again assuming Arsenal sign established centre backs and stop playing with "centre backs who look like midfielders."
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