Why Signing a Holding Midfielder Should be a Top Priority this Summer
Anytime I think about the Invincibles, I reminisce on how strong Arsenal was in every playing position – Mad Jens Lehmann was a commanding presence in the box, the defensive pairing of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure was a match made in the stars, the attacking wing play of Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg was a frightening prospect for the opposition and of course, the goals from Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp did the damage. However, I deliberate forgot to add the influence from the heart of the midfield with Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva pulling all the strings.
As the years went by, the key components of the Invincibles squad were shipped away and the era of the Fantastic Four in midfield began. In the 2007/08 season, Arsenal came really close to winning the Premier League and many would be quick to point out that it was the season Emmanuel Adebayor scored 30 goals and had a boatload of misses, but the collective performances of Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Aliaksandr Hleb and Tomas Rosicky was vital to the team’s surge for a title that season.
After Flamini departed on a Bosman to AC Milan, a void was created in holding midfield and albeit temporarily, Alexandre Song, seemed to be the man to tick all the boxes and served as the solution to Arsenal’s holding midfield problems. He had the imposing physical presence and his overall play was quite impressive, as he was an expert in breaking up play and handing the ball over to the folks that knew what to do with it.
Surprisingly, Alex Song had a different tactical style of play (maybe he was instructed by Wenger) with the arrival of Mikel Arteta in the 2011/12 season transfer deadline day. With the Spaniard having the football intelligence to cover admirably in midfield, Song started making forays forward, and there were two sides to his newly-found attacking verve – on the good side, he started raking up the assists and his overall play in the final third improved. On the bad side, he was always caught out of position and counter attacking teams punished Arsenal as they exploited the space vacated by Song.
With Song departing for the warm sunny bench in Catalonia, Arsene Wenger had the option of replacing him with a holding midfielder of equal or better quality and the media vultures reported that a deal for Rennes’ Yann M’Vila was 99.99999999999999999% done. There was no M’Vila at the start of the 2012/13 campaign and Wenger chose to play Arteta predominantly as his holding midfielder.
In fairness to the Spaniard, he has given the club the best of his abilities in the past two seasons as a holding midfielder and many Arsenal fans can attest to the fact that a new holding midfielder was needed. With no quality replacement (no disrespect to Francis Coquelin and co.), Arteta played far too many games (43) and at the start of the 2013/14 campaign, he suffered a thigh injury that sidelined him for some weeks, but Wenger opted to re-sign Flamini on a free transfer.
Having Flamini around was good for squad depth and all, but his carefree attitude earned him some suspensions as the season progressed. He added steel to the midfield but his lack of agility was exploited at times, and as I stated earlier, he had far too many bookings for my liking.
When I remember those horrific drubbings in the hands of Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, I vividly remember how the midfield was open and the opposition got into Arsenal’s defensive positions way too easily. The lessons ought to have been learned but apparently, the games proved that they weren’t. Arsenal needs a holding midfielder that would instill fear in the eyes of the opposition when they see him. We may never have another Vieira (please don’t give me that Abou Diaby can be his replacement bullcrap) but there are some holding midfielders out there that would improve the team.
The most recent midfielders to be linked with the Gunners are Morgan Schneiderlein, Lars Bender and Sami Khedira. Without blinking twice, Bender would be my most obvious choice. His age (25) is perfect and his performances were bright sparks in a relatively dark Leverkusen campaign. Bender made 3.7 tackles per game in the Bundesliga last season with 1.8 interceptions but there has to be some improvement in his passing range as he managed a meager 77.7% while Arteta averaged 92.1%.
With Arteta turning 32 and having just one year left on his deal to run, one might be feeling that he’s living on borrowed time.
There’s money in the bank.
Arsenal has to make signing a holding midfielder a priority.
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