Arsenal’s search for our very own “water carrier” by Ben Dungate
Everyone seems to acknowledge that the position Arsenal most need back-up for is that deep-lying midfield slot. The player who sits and protects the back 4, and starts play off with simple but important passes to release those ahead of them.
The Premier League has seen many different players perform this job for their teams to varying degrees. Emmanuel Petit did it for us alongside Patrick Vieira. Nicky Butt did it for Man Utd and Paul Ince before him. These days it seems to be referred to as a No. 6, but I remember the good old days when a 6 was a centre back and a holding midfielder occupied the No. 4.
Claude Makelele defined this position, and then over the last decade Sergio Busquets has taken it to another level, and now we have Rodri doing it for Man City. N’Golo Kante has evolved the role into a high-energy-be-everywhere kind of thing but he is a very special talent. Thomas Partey isn’t really either of these for me and it’s a dying art.
The problem is these days everybody wants everything from everyone instead of just allowing players to specialize. Alex Ferguson tried to turn Andy Cole into a complete striker instead of just letting him bang in 30+ goals a season. Pep probably won’t be doing this with Haaland due to the sheer number goals he is scoring but he has done it with all of his other players.
Arsenal need someone to sit and look after Saliba and Gabriel. Partey ain’t it and nor is Xhaka or Lokonga and I’m not sure where we will find one. Moises Caicedo of Brighton has impressed me a lot recently and will hopefully be on Arteta’s radar come January because it is something that needs addressing.
Thomas Partey is vital to Arsenal but is persistently plagued by injury and we have few options behind him. Annoyingly, Guendouzi could have been the answer here, but his ass-hat attitude has rightly seen him shipped off to Marseille. A fantastic player but a garbage person and Arteta did the right thing getting rid of him. And we won’t dwell on Ainsley Maitland-Niles. So much talent, so little application.
We do have options though should cover not be found and Partey once again has to sit out due to injury. Mikel has demonstrated he is happy to switch to a back 5, usually when we are defending a lead, but Chelsea showed last season how progressive this formation can be when properly applied with the correct players.
It would negate the need for a true defensive midfielder and allow the likes of Odegaard and Lokonga to sit in there instead. We have the players to make this work should we need to or have the appetite for it. Until then the search for our very own Claude Makelele or N’Golo Kante continues.
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