There is a faint hope this January that Arsene Wenger will reach into his pockets and stump up the cash for a shiny new defensive midfielder, but with that unlikely to happen before Sunday we will have to make do against Premier League champions Manchester City.
With injuries to Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, Wenger doesn’t have a plethora of options to choose from in central midfield as we head into this tricky clash. Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini are both set to return against Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but do either of them really deserve a start?
The experienced Frenchman has looked anything but that so far this season (experienced, not French), and he has repeatedly left the defence looking open and exposed. He often spends too much time barking orders at his teammates and making sure they are in position, while neglecting his duties and leaving gaping holes for the opposition to run into.
His poor positioning has been highlighted by his lack of pace, often leaving him helpless to prevent an attack; despite watching it unfold in front of him.
Flamini’s compatriot Francis Coquelin has looked far more promising in the few games he has played this season, and I believe he has staked a claim to be chosen ahead of the 30-year-old.
Coquelin’s Arsenal career has looked over for quite some time now, and when he was loaned out to Charlton Athletic for the remainder of the season you would be forgiven for thinking that was to be the last we would see of him at the Emirates.
The 23-year-old has looked revitalised since being recalled from loan however, and has added some much needed energy and tenacity in midfield. He may not be the long term solution to our problems, but at the moment I believe he is the best we have.
Jack Wilshere was a vital part of our setup in the reverse fixture that saw us manage a 2-2 draw, and his absence is certainly a blow. Aaron Ramsey may not be back to full fitness just yet, but I believe he should be the one to partner Coquelin in midfield.
The Welshman will have to be diligent in his defensive duties, and be careful about when he chooses to bomb forward. The likes of Samir Nasri and David Silva will be looking to fill the gaps between our midfield and defence, and Ramsey and Coquelin need to make sure they aren’t given the space to play.
Wenger needs to find the right balance between attack and defence in the centre of the park tomorrow, which will be no easy task. A pairing of Flamini and Coquelin is likely to stifle our creativity, as well as seeing the possession swing in the home side’s favour.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky have been deployed in midfield at times this season, but they lack the defensive discipline to keep their positions and shut down the City attack.
A pivot of Coquelin and Ramsey is the only solution I can see, with the 24-year-old having the perfect balance of defensive awareness and attacking flair. He may be a little off the pace after only just returning from injury, but could always be replaced by Flamini or Rosicky according to the team’s needs.