Will the lack of a solid defensive midfielder cost Arsenal? by SE
There has been a staunch debate over this, for a very long time. Arsenal, post the Patrick Vieira days, haven’t really had the luxury of a physically strong midfielder, sitting in front of the back four and doing a good job defensively. In fact, in the modern day game, as much as any team requires a ‘midfield creator’ who can provide assists and be the engineer to break down the defensive walls; it’s equally important that you possess a ‘midfield destroyer’ who, at times, proves to be the 3rd Center-Back, ahead of the two men at the heart of the defence.
And, for the way Arsenal play – free flowing, expansive, and possession based, it’s safe to have that midfield destroyer who can smother the opponents’ counterattacks or, attacks, in general.
Now, let us not be delusional of the fact that Arsenal play possession based football, which, some days, does work against you. If your opponent sets up to counterattack, and sets up a solid back four, you are always vulnerable to get caught on the break, and Arsenal isn’t the only side that experiences this repeatedly.
Bayern Munich, in the 2nd leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final, were torn apart by a Real Madrid side that solely relied on counterattacking, to reign supreme. Yes, contrary to other games – in which Guardiola used his talismanic skipper, Lahm, as the midfield pivot in his favored 4-1-4-1 system – he played Kroos as the deep lying midfielder and, with Alaba and Lahm bombing forward from their Left and Right-Back positions, respectively, Bayern didn’t have bodies in their own half, to thwart Real Madrid’s counter-attacks. Lahm, when he plays as the midfield pivot, is pivotal to the Bavarians maintaining a good defensive shape but, even he, with his lack of pace, cost Bayern in the first leg at the Bernabeu.
Translating that to Arsenal, who use Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini as their two defensive midfielders, with Abou Diaby ever so oblivious, they too face this problem. Arteta and Flamini aren’t the most mobile of defensive midfielders and, apparently, when their opponents possess a pacey winger or forward, it becomes rather easy to get past either of them on the break.
Will the lack of a defensive midfielder cost Arsenal?
Not having one is a gamble that Wenger, going by his reluctance in the just-past transfer window, is quite happy to take. More importantly, Wenger doesn’t change the way his side plays, in order to conceal the lack of a defensive midfielder. Yes, Arsenal can well do without a midfield destroyer, but, again, it depends on Wenger’s tactical flexibility.
In the Everton game last month, Arsenal experienced this problem, again, like last season…..
Second Everton goal: Arsenal are probing in Everton’s half; they have 7 players in the Toffees’ half, with Debuchy and Monreal, too, aiding their attack. That, subsequently, leaves Arsenal with Mertesacker, Chambers and Flamini as the defensive trio and, even they were stationed at a very high position (almost in Everton’s half) on the pitch; Ozil plays a through ball into the Everton box, cleared by Jagielka, with Lukaku at the end of the clearance. The Belgian picks up the ball, marginally fouls Mertesacker but the play carries on, young Chambers goes into tackling the buccaneering Belgian, gets brushed aside, leaving Flamini to keep up with the pace of Lukaku. Decide for yourself whether or not Flamini, in this case, deserves criticism. Or, is it his fault that Everton hit Arsenal on the break, and he could do nothing about it?
In football, there is nothing dogmatic about one tactic or another. It just depends on the manager, and how he wants his side to play, contending with the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Wenger is responsible for Arsenal’s defensive problems in scenarios such as the one narrated above. If the Frenchman is tactically flexible and is willing to change the way his side plays, at least in the big games, the lack of a ‘midfield destroyer’ would not cost Arsenal.