X

Can Arsenal Afford Not to Sign a Defensive Midfielder?

James McNicholas@@jamesmcnicholasFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2015

Getty Images

As things stand, it seems Arsenal are set to enter the new season without any further major additions. The transfer window is under a month from closing, and Arsene Wenger seems content with the state of his squad.

To an extent, that attitude is entirely understandable.

The Gunners have more depth at their disposal than they have had for several seasons. Almost every position provides Wenger with a potential selection headache. Even their striking options, often lamented, are comprised of three senior internationals in the shape of Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.

If there is one area of the pitch where Arsenal do look a little thin, it’s in holding midfield. For a long time, it was assumed that Wenger would address that position in the summer, but his plans were altered by the surprise emergence of Francis Coquelin.

The Frenchman appeared to set to end his Arsenal career on a diminuendo after departing for a loan spell at Championship Charlton, but an injury crisis and some inspired performances revived his fortunes.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 26:  Francis Coquelin of Arsenal on the bench before the Emirates Cup match between Arsenal and VfL Wolfsburg at Emirates Stadium on July 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images).
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Coquelin provided exactly what Arsenal have lacked since a young Mathieu Flamini left the club in the summer of 2008: a midfielder with the strength and stamina to operate as an effective enforcer behind their plethora of playmakers.

His presence transformed the team, providing protection for the back four and liberating the likes of Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil to focus on their creative craft.

It’s now impossible to imagine an Arsenal XI without Coquelin anchoring the midfield.

And that’s the worry. If the Frenchman were to succumb to injury or suspension, there is no obvious alternative that can replicate his rugged but disciplined game.

The modern Flamini is a fraction of the player he was in 2007/08, and his trademark energy seems to fade with each passing season.

The other option is Mikel Arteta. The club captain missed the majority of last season with a serious ankle problem, and it was something of a surprise when Wenger chose to extend his deal this summer. Arteta is one of the dressing room's most respected characters, and the suspicion was that he had been retained as much for his influence off the field as on it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Captain Mikel Arteta of Arsenal lifts the trophy after their 1-0 win in the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Although a player with massive reserves of game intelligence, Arteta is not capable of emulating Coquelin’s physical style.

In fact, it was Coquelin taking the Spaniard’s place in the side that coincided directly with Arsenal’s upturn in form in 2014/15. The concern is that if the Frenchman were to become unavailable, the familiar frailty will return.

Wenger’s problem is that he must identify a player who is content to play second fiddle to Coquelin while also having the requisite quality to make up for his absence. That’s a difficult balance to achieve. He will be concerned about unsettling the equilibrium of a happy squad but equally worried about a possible vulnerable area.

It all comes down to Coquelin’s fitness.

Last season, he was robust enough to avoid injury for the majority of the campaign. However, misfortune could strike at any time, and Arsenal are wealthy enough now that taking that chance seems absurd. Given the riches at their disposal, there is no excuse for leaving a position without the necessary cover.

Last season, the Gunners suffered a poor opening to the season, having failed to add enough defensive players in the summer transfer window. They amended the situation halfway through the campaign by adding Gabriel Paulista and promoting Coquelin, but they never quite recovered from their slow start.

This time, they should take no such chances. If Wenger can identify the right player, the Gunners should definitely splash the cash to recruit a reserve for Coquelin.

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and is following the club from a London base throughout 2015/16. Follow him on Twitter here.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.