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Musing on the midfield – does Arsenal need a playmaker?

By Phil Gregory

Looking at the midfield for next season, two words loom large: Jack Wilshere. The youngster was a huge player during his breakthrough season which culminated in a sublime display in that fantastic 2-1 victory over Barcelona but missed the entirety of last season after picking up what was initially thought to be a minor ankle knock during the Emirates Cup.

I scouted through Arsenal.com to find the latest on Jack but it all seems quite hush-hush, considering he is one of our top players. The three most recent stories are all from the end of last season, one with Wenger saying Arsenal won’t be setting any specific targets for Wilshere (which may explain the lack of communication as to his progress) while the other two related to a minor knee injury and subsequent surgery which weren’t expected to significantly affect his return date “in the summer”.

That last bit of course is key: he’s expected back fit at some point this summer, which could mean there won’t be any announcement as to his return to fitness until he turns out versus Boreham Wood for a half or some similar low-level friendly. Currently, I think no news means nothing at the moment. The last thing Arsenal want is to release a statement saying Wilshere is doing well for him then to have a setback, likewise there is nothing to be gained from telling the world he has had a setback given his stop-start recovery so far.

Given that then, it seems reasonable to expect him to be fit for the start of the season, but I also expect a season of niggly little injuries of the type that affected Eduardo and Ramsey in their comebacks from long-term injuries. Naturally a leg break is different to what happened to Jack, but after such a long time off his muscles won’t quite be used to the strain of competitive football right away, so some minor pulls and strains are to be expected.

If we consider the midfield three to consist of a “Defensive” midfielder (usually Song), a deep-lying midfielder (the “Wilshere role”) and a more advaned midfielder playmaking, we can fairly easily consider our options for  these positions going forwards. Naturally those definitions are pretty loose, given Song racked up something like nine assists last year, but they are only designed to allow us to consider the different players which are options for each others’ roles: you wouldn’t count Frimpong as an option for the playmaker role, but he is cover for the defensive midfielder when fit, for example.

Starting with Song then, the aforementioned Frimpong is one option for cover but is expected to miss a fair portion of the season. He sustained his injury in late December so assuming a nine month absence he will be involved in late September/October time, fingers crossed. More directly, Coquelin will be in the mixer for covering Song and is more than good enough for the job. Once Frimpong is back I think we’ll be absolutely fine in this particular part of the midfield.

Moving slightly further forwards, Arteta will probably be a mainstay in the deeper midfield role for a second successive season after impressing there last year. Here, Wilshere’s return to fitness is key: we saw how quickly our results tailed off once the Spaniard got injured last season and Wilshere would bring both depth and quality. As long as Arteta stays fit, we will be able to get be with a stop-start season from Wilshere on the comeback trail. If Wilshere struggles to get on the pitch this year, we will be light here with the likes of Diaby (himself an injury worry) and Ramsey not as effective as Arteta or Jack in that deeper role.

For me, concern around Jack’s fitness could be a logical reason for our apparent interest in M’Vila. I don’t see why we’d be signing a player for the defensive midfield role given the availability of Song, Coquelin and soon, Frimpong but in the deeper lying role we are reliant on Wilshere’s return to health. This to me seems the most logical reason for us to be interested in the Frenchman.

Moving further forward, options for the playmaker position are numerous but the quality is not quite at the same level as the other two positions. If he can stay fit, Diaby could well perform well in the role but Diaby staying fit is by no means a dead cert. On the other hand Rosicky seems to have put his injury troubles behind him but if we want to challenge for the title I’m not convinced he has quite the level of quality we need in that position. I think he’s a cracking player and a great option to have in the squad, but I’m not sure he’s up to the burden of being a first choice playmaker. Aaron Ramsey has all the potential to succeed in that role, but went off the boil somewhat last season, likely due to it being his first full year of playing consistent games. I expect the Welshman to grow into the role this year and win back over the doubters, but again expecting him to playmake from the off maybe a bridge too far if we are targetting the league.

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One option there would be to move Arteta forward into that position – he clearly has the ability on the ball to perform there – and fill the gap with the potential signing of M’Vila supported by a returning to fitness Wilshere.  That would allow a bit of rotation in the squad, with the likes of Ramsey or Rosicky able to come in and playmake if we need Arteta further back for whatever reason (probably injuries!).

From that, I’m a little more convinced about the need to sign M’Vila, or someone entirely different in the playmaking role. It’d certainly be useful in our quest for silverware this year, but I also have a lot of faith in the players we already have in the squad.

Does Lansbury have a role somewhere? For me, the competition in all positions just looks too much for him to feasibly squeeze in somewhere and impress. I’m not convinced he’s at Arsenal first eleven level yet, a Premier League loan spell much like Cleverley at United could be the making of him though.

A wildcard option would be the Ox coming in and bossing the midfield a la Milan at home. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing that again once or twice!

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29 comments to Musing on the midfield – does Arsenal need a playmaker?

  • Raghuveer

    The reason we are going for M’vila is – Song has developed well into the creative Mid role. Ofcourse he’s a good DMF, but due to his dual role, the defensive side suffered!!

    Most logical things seems to be, Push Song forward when Diaby, Wilsh are not available, and play M’Vila as the DMF!

    When all are available, shuffle between Song and M’vila!

    so yes. I do believe we need a DMF to give Song a free role. A role in which he can triumph. The obvious talent was there for all to see last season!

  • WalterBroeckx

    Given our injuries the question is : can we have too many midfielders? If we have no injuries we have enough I think. But we will suffer so we need cover.
    I like what you suggest Raghuveer.

    The biggest problem might come when we have no injuries. Because then we will have to see if they will be content with not even a place on the bench but even have to sit in the stands for a few weeks or so? Some could become impatient (like Diarra) and then could create problems. So it is a thin line between enough and not enough.

  • Galway Gooner

    We badly need a DM and Song is not it, he doesnt have the discipline to sit in front of the back 4 all the time so that’s why we are looking at M’Villa. If we sign him and pay £15 odd million for him you can be sure he is going to play. Assuming we stick with 4-3-3 formation then that leaves 2 positions left with 3-4 players looking to fill them. Art, Jack, Song and ThomasR. I dont include Diaby in this list as he is never fit, if he is fit he obviously comes into the mix.
    While we have a few good deep lying midfielders in this bunch we do lack a creative playmaker. ThomasR is a possible but I honestly dont think he is good enough. Not sure it’s Jack’s natural postion and I dont know if Art has played this role in the past.
    Maybe if the future this is where the Ox or Ramsey will come into it but I dont think that either of them are ready for it and despite his impressive assist tally from last season I am not convinced by Song’s ability to play this position at all.
    I am hoping that Wenger has something up his sleeve (maybe drop RVP back???) but do think that we are really short in this area.

  • GoonerB

    I don’t think I would consider M’Villa a creative midfielder. He tends to sit very deep most of the time. Similarly you seem to have confined Wilshere to a deeper role. He may play this role for a while like Fabregas once did but I fully expect Wilshere to develop into a more attacking midfielder with a completely free role in midfield. The other option is that a number 10 normally links with the deeper midfielders so could often be classed as having a lot of creative responsibility like Bergkamp used to so we could play RVP here.

  • Alzation

    The way the squad re-building has taken shape over the last couple of seasons seem to indicate a change in formation, going back to somewhere near our pre-Fabregas team. M’Vila and Song for Vieira and Petit/Gilberto with pace down the wings.

    AW tried this at the start of last season, but injuries scuppered this and he reverted to a more solid left flank eventually with Yossi in place of Gervinho

  • Brickfields Gunners

    We had earlier in this site considered the possibility of Thomas Vemelen playing in the DM role.
    While he is best at CB ,if God forbid our midfielders get injured en masse( like our defence last season ) , he could step into midfield and bring solidity to the team.
    The other CBs can stay put and not venture too forward .Last season TV5 was caught out of position many times went he attacking and was unable to get back when the move broke down.

  • ☺oOº°˚˚˚˚°ºOo.faro

    Why wasting time,we get young attacking mid who can do d job better than ramsey,we got thomas estifield,let wenger give dis guy a chance nd U̶̲̥̅̊ will see is worth,bt gt m’vila nd debuchy,honda

  • Aussie Jack

    In another four weeks or so we will be able to comment on the make up of the first team and the bench but much has to happen before then. At the risk of sounding negative I think we can dismiss van Persie from our predictions at this stage.

  • Lanz

    Nice one. I think the in-thing nowadays is for the creative midfielders to have as well defensive capabilities. That has been the main advantage of Xavi and Iniesta for Barca. It makes two people play as if they were three (if not three-and-a-half). In Arteta, Wilshire, Diaby and Song we have just that. With M’vila,Coquelin and Frimpong the DMF will be sorted. Contrary to what some of us think, I feel Song can be disciplined enough to stay at the back but he just assumed the need to go forward and Arteta, with the wisdom of experience, just allowed him and rather settled back. Some of us will remember that for a few matches after PV left, Gilberto and Cesc did not settle a similar scenario but as soon as Gilberto stayed with his clean up job, everything was fine.

    Now, I was wondering, would it not be nice to move Santos further up and let him replace Benayoun (like it happened to Eboue when we got Sagna) while we get another LB that can give Gibbs real competition?

  • Magneto

    Arsenal does not need to purchase another playmaker.

    What is the purpose of a playmaker? In my view it’s to create opportunities for goals to be scored, either for team mates and/or the playmaker himself.

    Last season the team had no problem in creating plenty of opportunities to score goals – and that was primarily without Diaby, Wilshere, Fabregas and Nasri, the latter two having left the club.

    So I don’t think creating opportunities to score goals is the problem that we have in the final third. But converting a high enough ratio of those opportunities into actual goals is a problem, one which I believe Arsene is trying to address with the purchases of proven goalscorers.

    Incidentally, we really don’t know whether Coquelin, for example, has playmaking abilities or not, because we simply haven’t seen the full range of what he can do yet.

    Let’s not limit and stereotype players (Coquelin & Frimpong), particularly whilst they are still developing and learning the game as professionals.

    Wilshere is also still developing and learning the game as a professional, and is far from the finished product. He too would benefit from not being stereotyped and seen as the saviour of Arsenal & English football.

  • shehzad

    I think Wenger picks the formation that complements his best xi (as any manager should).

    1) Need for a DMF: One of our strengths going into this season should be our fullbacks. With Sagna and Santos/Gibbs both excellent at bombing forward, and the wide forwards having a tendency to come in(podolski, walcott, gerv) we need two defensive minded MFs, Arteta and Song can not expect to start evrey game(and they were the engine last season) hence M’Villa would be a good backup to either.

    2) Not so urgent need for an AMF: since the departure of Cesc and Nasri, that role was filled by Tomas, but if you go back to his performances, they are more “energetic” than “subtle”, you dont see the slide-rule pass, the deft over the top lob etc. that we were used to. Wilshere + Tomas + Diaby are really good at that role. Chambo can play there, so can RVP.

    3) Giroud: I think this is really the missing piece in the puzzle, from what little I have seen of him. He just adds another dimension to the team wether we play down the middle and use him as a link-up to the AMF or the WFs or fizzing in crosses via the full-backs. He would do what Chamak was supposed to do.

    I am already very confident of next year, even if there are no more singings!

  • Deepred

    Hang on, surely our interest in another DM is not because of Song’s positioning (given he’s obeying instructions) but because he can’t keep starting every game. His form was patchy because he was over-used last season, so we need another option.

    And I don’t buy that we have enough creativity up front. For me we lack the guy who makes the killer pass in the final third, so if we’re spending serious money on anyone, yes, it should be a world class playmaker to compete with Rosicky.

    As Gooner B says, Wilshere may well play further forward than you think, but it’s too much to ask him to be the fulcrum of this team so soon and with recurrent niggling injuries likely.

  • ARSENAL 13

    I dont think Song can play that role day in day out. Song is a good DM. For me its Ramsey. Yes he faded towards the end, but he looked sharp at the end.

    Waiting to watch Ramsey-Wilshere play together.

  • richard morgan

    We need a holding midfielder or a defensive one whichever you want to call it, because song is not naturally that type of player I dion’t think he is the creative type that we do require either but he has been good and is improving. We might see einsfeld gnarbry and the ox in the am role over the season but for me I would like arsene to go and get pirlo just for one season will he last ninety minutes a match no but the guy can open defenses and class buys time on the ball and the benefit those other three and players like coquelin would get from training with such a player is immense as well as playing alongside in matches. We need another three players as I see it four if we get another keeper too. those three a defensive midfielder a defender that can play anywhere along back line and an attacking midfielder/forward then we might seriously challenge. The last time we were 19 or more points behind the winners of premier league we were only four behind the eventual winners I think a lot of last season was down to the fact we had no idea who was staying and leaving until league got under way and therefore game time together for team was limited. secondly are defensive injuries meant for large chunks we were swapping and changing players in those positions when we had a run of games with a settled back four our defensive displays were more solid. Yes there is uncertainty about rvp but Wenger has already covered all posibilities there so no repeat of last year there and by bringing lopez in too covers the option if walcott goes to though yennaris could play there well enough.

  • Gerry Lennon

    Having made the mistake of thinking the M’vila move was a done deal once France ended their participation in the Euros. Alas I announce my backing for M’vila and now there is still a bit of negotiating to be done. I still hope it goes through, because I think he is THE player we need now. With doubts about form and fitness about so many I believe he is the perfect choice, providing he remains committed to Arsenal on and off the field.
    As I see it, with M’vila as first choice midfielder, you can perm any two from six to fill the other positions, and they will all benefit from him being there. Not to mention the back four!
    As far as an attacking midfielder being signed, I will be a little surprised if one has not been already cultivated and ready to harvest come the first week of July? Do we need one? Well nobody has come in since our other targets chose money over prestige(Mata and Hazard), so somebody thinks we need one?
    Regards Coquelin. I think he will get plenty of game time this coming season, whether as sub or injury replacement, that will do his development no harm at all.
    I also hope we turn all those games where we had lots of early chances, but no goals to show for it, into first half healthy leads so subs can come on and not feel under such great pressure this time around. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  • Hashim

    I think Arsenal need an attacking mid, and there are plenty available in the market. Arsenal should sign two of Nuri Sahin, Kaka, Gourcuff, Pastore, Draxler or Mertens. I would go for Nuri Sahin and Javier Pastore. With Arsenal selling some of their prized reserves like Barazite and Ozyakup, they should a couple of attacking midfielders and promote Eisfeld from the reserves as well. Space can be made by selling Arshavin, Denilson and even Diaby. Also, Arteta is 29. We need to invest in quality for the future.

  • bob

    imo, Jack Wilshere is still unknown and your “two words” (Jack Wilshere) are along the lines and aura of the current hes-the-savior-in-waiting for Team Hodgson. His midfield playmates of two years ago are gone, the context for his efforts a memory, so that’s all new. Yes, of course his potential is very high and his workrate is tops. But his scoring capabilities and creative assist capabilities are not a known quantity. Plus as noted the return from one year’s layoff to a real situation, not a video game or fantasy league. And, it’s a return from an injury, not a holiday. Are you really so fast to put the creativity of Rosicky to pasture?: that is, comparing Rosicky last year to Wilshere two seasons ago is a joke if it’s creativity that’s wanting – and it is. Is Wilshere a new world-class signing? That’s wishful thinking. I wish it were; but, right now, it’s an unknown, however much you wish it.

  • bob

    magneto, deepred,
    Agree with you completely on Wilshere not being THE ANSWER right now. That’s dreaming out loud and not helpful in the non-fantasy league.

    arsenal 13,
    Right now, I’d also like to see Wilshere-Ramsey play together; but I’d save my money, right now, to pay the rent.

  • bob

    ☺oOº°˚˚˚˚°ºOo.faro
    Your name’s lovely, but any who reply do need to copy and paste to reply. I’d like to know why you rate Eisfeld that highly? Is it more than a wish?

  • bob

    Phil,
    What do you make of this: “For all the promise, there were a few things that he didn’t do in 2011-12. He didn’t score more than a couple of goals, and, despite the subtlety in his passing he managed only three assists in the league, even though he started nearly every match.” It hardly says it all, of course not. But it has content and is part of an analysis. Here’s an attempt at an actual analysis, a measured analysis, of this Wilshere moment that has us around the moon instead of on the pitch:
    http://aculturedleftfoot.wordpress.com/

  • diablo

    Heard Denilson is coming back. Also heard Wenger had stop’d in the pursuit of mvilla! Is it just coincidence?

  • Bob – it’s tricky to assess a deeper midfielder in terms of those raw stats. Apparently Modric is world class and Madrid are sniffing around him, but go look at his goal/assist stats for the last couple of years, pretty average by the usual yardsticks.

    The issue is the deeper midfield play. You need to consider interceptions, tackles, and time spent on the ball. Moving the ball on quickly to the playmaker is just as important as the assist provided by the playmaker themselves – take too long and the defence gets back into position, options are closed off and there are no assists to be had.

  • Busch

    Magneto,

    I will get railed on for this, but I think your post pointed to many of the problems we have: We rely too much on players that are still developing and we don’t know what their position really is.

    As a supposed top club in not only England, but Europe, half our midfield shouldn’t be players that are still developing. That leads to our problems of, once they are developed, being in their prime and poached by bigger clubs.. or them not developing properly and us having wasted a squad spot and important minutes with a less than qualified player.

    There is room for a young player getting time and experience, but with the amount of games played and injuries, counting on Frimpong, Coquelin, Chamberlain, Diaby (perennially never available) a recovering Wilshere, and Jenkinson (remember Sagna is recovering from his own leg break)… it’s my opinion we suffer from counting on these players doing too much when they have yet to prove themselves.

    If we were a midtable club, it would be a great roster, but that isn’t what we purport to be.

  • rusty

    I know I’m a little late to the party on this post, but I think Arsenal should look at giving the most attacking member of the midfield three more freedom to roam wide, if needed, to “tilt the triangle” a little bit. Players like Ozil (for both Madrid and Germany) and Iker Munian have a lot of the qualities one normally associates with wide attackers, but play across the width of the pitch as needed. It wouldn’t surprise me if all of the buy-up of attackers, which seems to have left us with too many up front, finds its outlet this way.

    Of course, to compensate for having four very attacking players, the other two midfielders would have to defend more like a “double pivot” than a holder behind a CM — but with Song’s adventurous play, I can see this being feasible. Arteta becomes our Schweinsteiger or Xabi Alonso…

  • Tee Song

    Do we need a creative midfielder now? Arsene has already opined that he sees Jack Wilshere’s ultimate position as the “Bergkamp role”, just behind a central striker.

    http://www.arsenal.com/news/news-archive/wenger-wilshere-can-fill-bergkamp-role-

    Further, he’s made comments that Jack’s deployment deeper in the midfield two seasons ago was for his footballing “education”. At youth level, Jack both scored and assisted at a high level but has not been able to replicate that at the senior level. But I recall that Cesc was a prolific scorer at youth level and took several seasons to find his shooting boots for the senior team and I don’t have any doubts that Wilshere, with his exceptional close control, vision, and passing range, will follow a similar path.

    The question of course is whether a 20 year old Wilshere, coming off a year long injury layoff, is ready to assume the creative midfielder role this season. My suspicion is that he probably isn’t ready to do that at a consistently high level THIS season but that Arsene is willing to give him that role and compete with Ramsey and Rosicky for the starting berth. Given that in two or three seasons, Jack may indeed develop into a “world class” attacking midfielder and that the Ox’s long term future might be in that same position, I doubt that we’re in the market for a young attacking midfielder.

  • Ugandan Goon

    @prat,
    prat. you haven’t heard denilson is coming back, and you haven’t heard wenger was after M’vila either.

  • Ugandan Goon

    i shall get me coat…

  • Jacobite Gunner

    (b4 reading the article)

    yes, yes, yes- reasoning is that Rocicky will probably not be able to do what he did at the tail end of last season and we have no able deputy to challenge him at present.

    I would prefer Ramsey given more time on the bench and training ground to develop more confidence, the same goes for wilshere (whom should be eased in as he’s returning from a season long injury- I would be horrified if he came in for the criticism that ramsey had last season)

    Diaby, well, ?

    A little strength in depth and a strong bench for this area would not be a bad thing although, b4 we make another signing, I strongly advocate that we move on the players deemed surplus to requirements whom take up the wages which would be a guess of anywhere between 10-16 million.

  • STG

    What our team needs is not just an attacking midfielder but a midfielder and striker who can put the ball in the net more. Last season in the PL Arsenal had 357 shots on target scoring 74 goals so it is not creating the chances but scoring them. On the other-side of the midfield we do need a player who can cover our attacking minded defenders and other midfielders. Again last season in the PL Arsenal conceded 194 shots on target letting in 49 goals.

    Can Wenger get in somebody to help stop Arsenal conceding some many shots on target and has he got in the players to put the ball in the back of the net?