The mystery of Arsenal’s defensive midfielders… or lack of…

The mystery of Arsenal’s defensive midfielders…or lack of! by ThirdManJW

Talk to any Arsenal fan, and what is arguably the most intriguing topic…after Wenger, and Ozil of course: Why has the defensive midfielder position (DM) been vacant for a whopping 12 years?However my conversations start with fellow fans, we’ll almost always touch upon that subject at some point.

Giberto Silva left us in 2008, with the DM role then seemingly retired under Wenger. Because Wenger never performed squad assessments, he never addressed our weaknesses, which in time became chronic. The DM role was the most important position to get right within Wenger’s system when he changed to three in central midfield, with his gung-ho tactics, and we suffered without a DM. One could argue that Wenger never really used a natural DM role in his tactics, more box-to-box roles for his central midfielders, but in the early days he certainly used players that were physically designed for that position at the very least. As we all know, so many of Wenger’s later signings were smaller, and weaker, as he focused more on technical ability.

Straight after Wenger left, we all thought we had finally addressed this problem with Torriera. Unfortunately he didn’t have the height, and physical presence we desperately needed. Kante has proved those attributes aren’t necessarily needed, but it is at Arsenal, what with our weak spine. Emery bizarrely used Torreira further forward, but to be fair, he did apparently want Thomas Partey, which is exactly what we need.

Under Arteta, we still are not really deploying the traditional DM role, although he hasn’t had a transfer window yet, but the team as a whole are working together defensively the best I have seen in over a decade, meaning the DM position isn’t as big a problem as usual.

Will Arsenal finally use the natural DM role next season? Partey is being linked to us again, and the new regime, even pre-Arteta, have been focusing on our weakest areas, which has been great!
Have I put too much emphasis on the DM role/position, or like me, do you feel the lack of a DM has been so costly in the past, and has to be the priority for next season?



  1. You have every justification to highlight the need for a dedicated DM which as you say has been lacking for over a decade.If we had a Partey, Sakaria or Ndidti ,Arteta could revert to a 4-3-3 system with the emphasis on a midfield based on physical power and energy as adopted by Liverpool and Man City. Such a system could not of course include a player like Xhaka who simply does not have the attributes required of a DM nor a box to box midfielder.If we are seriously interested in the likes of Partey,Xhaka and for that matter Torreria ,will have to be sold which is easier said than done.

    1. I don’t know Grandad clubs want XHAKA an Torrreia and the sooner they go the better for Arsenal football club

  2. Xhaka would have been a Pirlo type of player with more physicality only if he concentrated more and paid more attention to little details on the pitch.

    I can not wait for the day we will see Xhaka and Ozil leave our club, that will be the beginning of our trophy winning strict.

  3. I’d say it is the other way round, he had optimum defensive midfielders playing a box to box when we masterfully controlled possession. They weren’t b2b capable of defending, they were defenders capable of ball carrying and giving easy forward passes along with defence splitting passes on occasion. Vieira was the best defensive midfielder that these shores have ever seen. I like how Gerrard said he had to dip his hat to him, said he was the best he’d ever faced and that he looked him over to try and learn from him, I like honest people. That was a different time too, a proper contact sport. He was the ultimate player – I think he excelled without the ball more often, right before he won it, but fans remember the winning part whereas I remember the pre-winning.

    1. And the partnership with the comparatively unsung Gilberto Silva made Viera even more effective in being able to take the ball forward with safety and confidence.

  4. Putting aside, for theoretical discussions sake, the fact that next season is unlikely to be a normal one, if it happens at all, TMJW, has made the full and correct case for the lack of any proper DM since ilberto being largely Wengers fault entirely. At least until he left Arsenal for sure. Wenger had an antipathy towards defence as a vital component of our team and that season of 2008, when Gilberto departed was the last time we made a serious title charge. Since then the defence went from average, to mediocre, to poor and finally to a bad joke. It was not only the complete disregard for the vital DM position, as TMJW SO RIGHTLY SAYS, but also Wengers total unwilingness or inability or both to bring in even a single CB of quality with thee sole exceptionof Koscielny, who was nevertheless well below the top standard of Adams, Bould and Campbell.
    Twelve years of inadequate defence(ten by Wenger) and DM’s and not a single proper challenge for the title, and remember where we were previously! Coincidence or rank poor managemnt then? I know which I think!

  5. I now realize that the removal of thumbs up or down actually kills the spirit. Leaving highbury was inevitable but one could argue the timing. The changes on this site 🤔 admin is stats in you favor.

  6. Why not use Chambers as a DM? Despite the hype there’s no way Thomas Partey is going to leave a club like Athletico Madrid for a now mid-table club. Silent Stan is not going to spend the money to get a decent DM.

  7. Like others I am amazed that Wenger, by all accounts an intelligent man and master tactician , did not feel neccessary to bring in a DM after Gilberto left, a decision which definately affected our chances of winning major trophies. A shame because while we owe Wenger a huge debt that one decision turned a lot of supporters against him.

    1. Whilst mostly agreeing Marty, you could equally argue that the fact that he did NOT bring in an adequate DM in all those years after Gilberto is evidence that he was NOT a master technician, I’d say! He was equally lax in not recognising and getting top CB’s after the Invincibles broke up, Kos apart. I never rated Merts or Gallas much at all.

      1. Great article ThirdManJW, concerning Arsenal’s most unaddressed weakness, accentuated by the failure to bring in defenders of the quality of the past under Bertie Mee, Don Howe, George Graham and the early Arsene Wenger, as noted by jon fox.

  8. Iwould go for aball wining and playing skill set player rather than going for the traditional DM. Modern defending is all about organization. Even Kante is an all action player. the great Barcelona team never really used traditional DM. That says something about that role of aDM player. Arteta migth not necessary go for a DM player. As we move forward, the need for physically imposing players will deminish. Tactics, agility, intelligence and resilience shall become more of the traits managers would be looking for.

    1. Amo, Totally disagree about your comment on the need for a physically imposing DM and that its need will diminish. You claim “as we move forward” , whatever that is supposed to mean!
      The Prem has ben going almost a third of a century and all past and present evidence shows that physically powerful and strong DM’a do far better than scrawny and/or short ones. There ARE and HAVE BEEN a few exceptions. KANTE being a prime example, but the NORM, THE RULE, THE USUAL, which far outweigh the few exceptions, prove you wrong and me correct.
      Your final sentence is correct in its stated aims but NOT in its assumption that powerful players have less of it than skinny or smaller players. Where is your evidence for this? I see none at all!

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