One day, when his career ends, Mathieu Flamini will talk to his grandchildren about how he screwed up Arsenal by not extending his contract in 2008. After having an excellent Premiership campaign during which Arsenal spent two thirds of the season on the top of the table, Flamini decided to leave for Milan on a Bosman rule and broke a firm partnership he had had with Cesc Fabregas. There is a little consolation in the fact Flamini screwed himself up as well since he hasn’t reached the level of performances from 2007-08. Flamini’s departure left a void in the defensive part of our midfield leaving both our defense without a proper shield and our creative department without bodyguards. The departure of Gilberto Silva didn’t help either.
A similar thing happened the next time when we thought that we might have found a replacement for Vieira – Alex Song left Arsenal for green pastures of Barcelona after reaching a level that we were waiting for him to accomplish for years. What has annoyed me and a lot of Gooners in the world even more than Song’s departure is the fact Arsene Wenger hasn’t signed a proper replacement for Cameroonian midfielder yet. The Frenchman opted to trust in Diaby instead and when he suffered another long-term injury, he tried to find a solution among current players (re)turning Mikel Arteta to defensive midfield-position. That worked in games against weaker opponents but in big matches we lack a real beast who could shield our defense. Since defeat against the Spuds in North London Derby, Wenger has used Aaron Ramsey and Arteta as two deep-lying midfielders who compensate the lack of physical power with high work-rate and passing skills. Given that neither player is a defensive-minded one, they give away fouls with mistimed tackles and none of them is capable of winning aerial duels. Our midfielders have done a good job ever since that match against the Spuds, but I believe that nobody thinks Arteta and Ramsey will play the same role next season.
Now, with alleged war-chest of 70 million pounds that Wenger will have for new players, we should be able to add quality players that would fill the void left after the departures of Vieira, Flamini, Gilberto Silva and Song respectively. There is also a possibility Wenger will opt for “using Vermaelen as defensive midfielder is like a new signing”-routine. The Belgium international has fallen behind Koscielny and Mertesacker in pecking order when it comes to starting central defenders and since Vermaelen is our captain and a player that can stuck in, jump, has technique and make a powerful shot with his left foot, Wenger might use him as defensive midfielder as well. It wouldn’t be the first time that an Arsenal player adapts himself on a new position, mostly when injuries and suspensions take their victims (Sagna played a central defender against Sunderland this season, Aaron Ramsey played right full-back, right wing, left wing, defensive midfielder and central midfielder…back in 2005-06, aforementioned Flamini gave a string of very solid performances as left full-back in Champions’ League) which goes with Wenger’s total football approach.
Here are the current options for defensive midfielder-position and a few players outside Arsenal that have been connected with us.
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His form has improved by leaps and bounds as the season approaches the end and his self-confidence seems to be rising as well. His work-rate is non-disputable as well as ability to create a goal for his team-mates. Ramsey is also capable of pulling out a decent counter-attack (usually he uses right-hand channel to do so). The biggest problem with Ramsey is the fact that he is not exactly a ball-winning-midfielder. That’s the reason I prefer him as a central midfielder where his creativity to create all sorts of trouble in front of opponents’ goal.
Our vice-captain is an intelligent player with a passing abilities of high quality but – just like Ramsey – his ball-winning-skills aren’t the best around. He is much better with the ball, though, and can pass the ball properly while being under pressure of his opponent. It is going to be of a vital importance for our ambitions next season whether defensive burden will get off his shoulders next summer.
The French midfielder has some qualities as he is capable of making decent passes but there is a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps a loan for Coquelin wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially given that Coquelin has a history of revealing how unhappy he was with the lack of playing time.
It seems that Frimpong doesn’t have an Arsenal future. His contract will expire in two months time and Arsenal didn’t offer an extension. Frimpong’s tenacity and desire to win the ball from the opponent are a pattern of what we need but his other qualities obviously haven’t persuaded Wenger to offer Ghanian midfielder a new contract. Frimpong is a likeable guy but he should have spoken more on the pitch and less on the Twitter.
Here is a defensive conundrum for Wenger. Our captain is currently the 3rd best central defender in the club and only two central defenders play in Wenger’s starting line-up. Now, given that the partnership of Koscielny and Mertesacker seems to be very solid, it leaves our captain on the bench…unless he is used as defensive midfielder. He can tackle, he can pass the ball, he can jump and he could lead the rest of the team as a real captain.
With all due respect to the options mentioned above, I think Wenger should go out there for a shopping to find a proper defensive midfielder. Wenger wouldn’t and shouldn’t neglect passing abilities of all potential signings for that position but the first quality should be physical presence and ability to out-muscle opponents. Here are some players that have been connected with Arsenal as well.
It would be a dream come true. Fellaini has shown his qualities over and over again with most recent quality performance being the one against us. He is tall, strong both in the air and on the ground and he can shoot. He would be a perfect addition as he is capable to play as a striker or as an attacking midfielder as well. However, high price tag and wage demands might turn out to be deal-breakers.
Apparently, Arsenal sent a late bid for Capoue in January but failed to sign the French midfielder. He is a highly-rated 24-year-old that can play as a defender as well. His contract apparently runs out in summer 2014 so he is going to be for sale in the next transfer window.
The Celtic midfielder stole the show from Messi and Barcelona when Celtic won 2:1 over Catalan giants this season. The Kenyan midfielder has been strongly connected with FAnchester United but I wouldn’t mind if we get him. He’ll be only 22 in June, he is strong and his tackling is excellent. However, facts that he turned down Celtic contract extension offer due to wage demands as well as his price tag make the story of Wanyama to Arsenal highly unlikely.
Conclusion: We need some muscles and we need them yesterday! We have a lot of attacking potential but in order to that potential to flourish, we need someone to cover their back. Personally, I’d spend a vast of transfer budget on Fellaini and that would be enough for title challenge next season.