Arteta Holds the Key to Midfield Balance
As the new competitive season fast approaches, Arsenal are looking relatively strong – even without ze World Cup winners – and, despite Arsene Wenger reportedly looking to add in the defensive/midfield area, it is unlikely any (immediately effective) business will be done prior to the weekend.
With this in mind, it is likely that Arsenal will start the season with an alternative midfield in the absence of Mesut Özil. It was evident in the Community Shield that this is most likely to be a variation suited to incorporating both Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. By using a holding player behind them, the pair have the freedom to work side by side in the way that Arsenal fans have all dreamt they one day would.
The man sitting behind the two is almost definitely going to be Mikel Arteta, and even if a new defensive midfielder does arrive further down the line, I don’t think it will be a case of said player jumping into the starting line-up straight away. Now that Mikel Arteta has been named captain, it shows the master (Arsène) has a lot of faith in his commander. Even though this doesn’t mean the Spaniard is above healthy rotation or dropping, it probably means that any transition in the deep-lying position (regardless of formation) will be slower and, more importantly, steadier than may have been previously anticipated.
Firstly, with regards to the alternative shape in midfield, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Jack and Aaron playing together with a holding player behind them. Remember back to 2011? It was May 1st to be precise and the setting was a sun-drenched Emirates stadium where Arsenal were victorious against Manchester United (1-0). In that fixture, Arsenal were without Cesc Fabregas who was not only a key player, but also captain. A fit-again Aaron Ramsey played in El Capitano’s stead alongside Jack Wilshere and in front of Alex Song. Aside from the glaringly obvious fact that Arsenal won the match against what was a table-topping United side, Jack and Aaron played instrumental roles in helping Arsenal dominate the game (56% possession). Oh, and Aaron scored the winner.
Now, slightly more battle-hardened, the pair are being used together in the same way again. Aside from the fact that this time around Ramsey is the established starter and Wilshere is looking to re-assert himself, the two of them still seem to work just as well when guarded from behind. Against Manchester City in the Community Shield, Arsenal didn’t dominate possession throughout, but certainly had a choke hold of the game in the first half at least. Jack was probably at his best since the aforementioned 2010/11 season and Aaron was his confident and assured self. It was a great demonstration of how effective the pair can be when given the freedom to do so.
However, it would not have been so impressive without the help of the vital role played by our new Captain, Mikel Arteta. Even though he is ‘incompetent’ or ‘too slow’ according to a growing proportion of Arsenal fans, he still did an efficient job in an even deeper role than usual. I must concede that it was not the most free-flowing nor consistently threatening City side we’ve seen, but facing a team from a squad that’s depth is seen by many as superior, our lego-haired man coped well.
Whether a defensive midfielder actually does arrive or not is still anyone’s guess, although it is widely regarded as the last piece of the big ol’ Arsenal jigsaw, as it were. For argument’s sake, let’s presume this player does arrive. What then? Does the player jump straight in ahead of the more experienced and wiser Arteta? I’d guess not. I can see such an intrinsic area of the team taking time to balance itself out until a seamless transition is possible.
Just because a player is a physical upgrade and more suited to meeting the demands of the defensive side of the game, by no means does he have the, often underrated, tactical nous that Arteta possesses. When Flamini plays, a similar situation to this proposed hypothetical one occurs: despite being experienced, when in possession, the team looks less assured in the middle, the ball is recycled less and the flow of the passing game becomes fractured.
Having said this, there are players out there who are more experienced and do play the role very well indeed. But it seems as if this summer, Wenger is looking for longevity along the spine of his team. That being the case, if Arsenal do sign a defensive midfielder, my guess is that it’s a young(ish) player who can both rotate with Arteta, be thrown in when needed and also improve certain aspects of their game through the teachings of our number 8. There is no doubt in my mind that Wenger values Arteta’s intelligence and intuition far more than his apparently non-existent legs.
Finally, coming full circle, when it comes to an alternative midfield pairing as delicate and relatively untested as that of Ramsey and Wilshere, it may be wise to utilise Arteta’s know-how whilst we have the chance. I support the cries for a solid midfielder who can slot in and perform the job needed, but it simply won’t happen overnight and like anything done at Arsenal, it’s always better and always Wenger’s preference that it’s done properly and carefully.
I’m a 20 year old student and lifelong Arsenal supporter residing in North West London. From the North Bank Highbury with my old man – when I was knee high to a duck’s arse! – to Club Level at the Emirates, and now having to find my own means of following The Arsenal, I can’t keep myself away from the alluring red and white…
After recently discovering a passion for writing about The Arsenal that matches my passion for supporting them, I’ve written numerous articles for various Arsenal blogs. In ‘Welcome To The Gunners’ Town’, I now have a place where I will be writing on a regular basis. Through the highs and the lows, the cheers and the jeers, I hope to provide my own balanced opinion and commentary on all things Arsenal.
“Once an Arsenal man, always an Arsenal man”
… Amen, Bob Wilson. Amen.