Tuesday may well turn out to be a landmark day for this current Arsenal side. Ainsley Maitland-Niles penning a long term contract extension and the almost certain capture of Lucas Torreira from Sampordia. A day where we committed to stylistic change in a vital area of the pitch. An attempt to enhance the area most glaringly devoid of balance and quality. The central midfield.
Many trace our issues back to the departure of Gilberto Silva in 2008, the last in a line of mobile, positionally aware, ball-winning midfielders that blended physicality and technicality. The names of that era still send a shiver down the spine: Petit, Parlour, Vieira, and Edu. Subsequent years saw the likes of Denilson, Diaby, Fabregas, Flamini, and Song. All oozing their own individual quality, but a lack of the aforementioned blend as well as a partner that provided balance. There was little yin to their yang.
Sure we stumbled on Cazorla and Coquelin for a time but it never quite seemed sustainable. We had something in Arteta and Ramsey but it was a recipe for disaster in “big games.” The second phase of Wenger’s tenure placed immeasurable value on high midfield technicality and ball retention. When things went “tits up,” usually against bigger or more tactically astute sides, we struggled due to lack of midfield nuance. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Lucas Torreira will help shift our past identity and add layers that were previously in short supply.
Torreira and AMN have both differing skill-sets from one another as well as when compared to the stereotypical Arsenal midfielder of today. AMN as the unpolished gem with an innate ability to win his duels and recover to defense areas, but lacking the technical security and confidence on the ball. Lucas Torreira, the counter-pressing combatant that is comfortable using his on the ball ability to beat a man in withdrawn midfield spaces, yet lacking any one attribute you could say is his specialty.
They represent the future of the Arsenal midfield and the cogs that can compliment the phase-changing passing of a Xhaka and the forward-thinking dynamo that is Ramsey. Torreira and AMN, given time, will represent a true counter-balance for the Arsenal midfield for these 3 overarching reasons:
1. Space Eaters
It’s simple really. Large patches of green grass need coverage when you have Xhaka and Ramsey as central to your midfield plans. Xhaka with his limited mobility and his prowess at initiating offensive play from deep; Ramsey with his innate ability to find advanced pockets. They both need teammates to cover midfield spaces for them.
AMN has shown the ability to do this with pure athleticism and overall defensive quality. Torreira seems to have an engine that works best transitionally, an ability to win the ball back upon his team losing it, and the skills to read the game defensively from deeper with interceptions.
2. Ball Winning
Why is Kante such a valuable Premier League asset? He’s a ball winner. You regain the ball with regularity, you can transition to offense and catch opponents off guard leaving them vulnerable. These two Arsenal midfielders provide that in spades.
Emery’s initial interviews and press briefings mentioned that he wants to have contingency plans for when we lose possession and clear structural supports for regaining possession quickly. AMN has these attributes and can be drilled in counter-pressing whereas Torreira has it flowing through his veins already.
3. All Action Heroes
These two have an ability to be that blur on your television screen. That fly you just can’t swat. They have the capacity to display a wide variety of skills predicated on dynamism rather than technicality that they can thrive in varying in-game scenarios.
Torreira being the 30 million dollar man is a more cultured footballer but it’s not out of the range of possibility that AMN could become a midfield mainstay with the right structural supports.
Let’s hope that gone are the days of centrally large uncovered areas. Gone are the days of only winning the perceived “Arsenal Way” that is easy on the eyes and possession-heavy. Let’s hope the appointment of Unai Emery, our continental organizational hierarchy, and varied player recruitment all act in concert to awaking the sleeping giant that is Arsenal Football Club.
All Action AMN in new kit
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31 year old based in the U.S. I am an elementary school teacher by day whose passion for teaching is only rivaled by a love for the Arsenal. I release a weekly piece each Tuesday that is oftentimes analytical but sometimes eccentric. Founder of the U.S. supporters group Syracuse Gooners (www.cusegooners.com). I enjoy interacting with any and all Arsenal-based opinions on Twitter. Have a younger brother who chose to support Spurs. Fielding suggestions for ways to disown him.