The season’s impressions: the non-existent defensive midfielder

By Walter Broeckx

I think it was in the days of Song that I wrote an article about that illustrious position: the defensive midfielder. I then wrote that well Arsenal don’t really play with a defensive midfielder. Certainly not Song. Song was more a box to box midfielder. He might have been destined to become a defensive midfielder if he would have been more focussed on just doing that part of the job and if he had played for another team than Arsenal.

I do think that when Gilberto left we also abandoned the defensive midfield position. Gilberto was in his silent way the last of the maestros in that position. Flamini reminded us a bit of him because of him working hard and making all kinds of challenges. And he came close to being a good one in his last season in his first spell at Arsenal. But then he went and I think that day Wenger decided to forget about such players.

Why would he sacrifice a player and put him on the field with only defensive duties? Surely it would be more helpful to have that player also support the attack most of the time.

And thus came the new defensive midfielder at Arsenal. First Song did this and he became better and better at it. Not just hanging in front of the defence but also getting higher up the pitch. But then Song left as he thought he had to start having a very big head and did things his own ways without listening to the coaching staff, coming late for training on a regular basis, not doing his training as could be expected. Well that was at least what came out after his sudden departure to Barcelona. I think Song will have many regrets about it.

But in his last season when Song played more as a box to box player the arrival of Arteta happened. Arteta who is a more disciplined person than Song and gradually on the playing field the roles got reversed. Arteta who played higher up the field at Everton but seeing Song running forward held himself back a bit more. And I don’t know if Wenger instructed this but as a result it was Arteta who held himself back more than Song holding back to allow Arteta to dictate the play up front.

And after the departure of Song and despite the outcry of those in the know it was Arteta who stepped in as an Arsenal defensive midfielder. Not ‘a’ defensive midfielder. No, an Arsenal-type defensive midfielder.

So we don’t have the ‘I will kick you to pieces’ defensive midfielder that some teams have or had. No, we have a defensive midfielder that will use his experience and intelligence to win the ball back. And a Arteta  is a rather neat player; he also has the advantage that he can start the attack with a good pass.

If we need someone to kick around a bit we still have Flamini who can do this job when needed. But Flamini is more defensive and is not as good in distributing the ball as Arteta. But he has more energy, or better said he shows more energy. Arteta will not go around the field like a madman as Flamini can at times but Artata always tries to use his head. Using your head is one of the things that Wenger wants his players to do.

Arteta is just as Gilberto was in his days; a bit of an invisible player but oh so important. A player that has the bad luck to fall in to the same age category as some of the best Spanish midfielders ever like those from Barcelona. And therefore he never got the recognition he deserved on the international scene.

But there is criticism amongst the ones who never are satisfied. They say he is not a pure defensive midfielder and that is something they are right about. He is much more. And that much mores might be missed when we would play someone like the normal defensive midfielder up front.  So I am glad he is different.

Of course it might have cost us at times. A few matches where we couldn’t defend enough in midfield and he got exposed with the rest of the team.  I still think that in such matches it has to be the whole team that sees what is happening and helps out on the defensive work. It’s not good enough to let Arteta then drown in his position. The rest of the team should then help out and add to their defensive shift.

One thing about Arteta is his penalty taking. I can only remember him missing one penalty. I was in the stadium in that match when he got a last minute penalty against Fulham. And the keeper saved his effort and the match ended in a draw. But apart from that he even scored twice when the ref let him retake his penalty against Everton of all teams.

The big question for me and probably for Wenger is: how long will he still last?  He is 32 years old now and he might have another good season for us in that position. But I think by then we will have to bring in something new for him. And by new I don’t mean a real new man. It might be one that we already have or someone coming through from the youth set up.

Arteta was one of the panic buys in that dramatic summer a few seasons ago when we lost both Cesc and Nasri. Would one of them be the answer to replacing Arteta then? I probably ruined my article and the comment section by adding this but to be honest I do think he might work over there. And I don’t mean Nasri.


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16 Replies to “The season’s impressions: the non-existent defensive midfielder”

  1. It was Na$ri that should not have worn the Arsenal shirt in the first place.

    “Arteta is just as Gilberto was in his days; a bit of an invisible player but oh so important. A player that has the bad luck to fall in to the same age category as some of the best Spanish midfielders ever like those from Barcelona. And therefore he never got the recognition he deserved on the international scene”- This statement sums up Arteta for me.

    Thanks Walter for the article. But you did not mention Arteta’s perfect hair.

  2. “did things his own ways without listening to the coaching staff, coming late for training on a regular basis, not doing his training as could be expected. Well that was at least what came out after his sudden departure to Barcelona.”
    With all respect for your usual higher standards, unless you give a source, you don’t know this from anything that any player at AFC has publicly said, do you? It may or may not be, but here you are trusting the rumors by the same press and media that you otherwise (rightly) criticize for being so biased and slanderous when it comes to all things Arsenal. I think, without facts, it’s unfair to Song that these rumors are perpetuated for whatever purposes – until he or someone at some stage comes forth and says that this indiscipline and egoism that you pass along this way is actually confirmed.

  3. Gotta agree with bob here. We can’t complain about rumour mongers when they write stuff that we don’t like and then turn around to believe hearsay when it fits what we want.

    The fact that Song left when he did was bad enough for me. His antics in training is not of much concern to me. Romario, the star of USA 94 world cup and World player of the year for 1994 was notorious for hating training and so were many other mercurial players.

  4. Been saying this for a while now, wenger abandoned the Dm role and next it could be the full backs. With most teams playing 1 up front why do we need 4 defenders and a defensive midfielder. With sagna departing and jenkinson, gibbs and monreal not the most efficient of full backs, it could be time to bring our skipper into the team and go 3 at the back. Gibbs and Monreal could vie with all the other midfielders, whilst jenkinson could be cover for the back 3. We could then play with 2 up front and 5 in the midfield as usual.

  5. @bc
    ‘jenkinson, gibbs and monreal not the most efficient of full backs,’
    Can’t agree with this statement bc, Gibbs is good enough for most teams, Monreal good enough for several Spanish caps as back up. Jenkinson young but progressing and who knows how he will turn out until he gets a run of games but I would guess Wenger will be strengthening right back as Sagna is leaving.

  6. I got the “rumours” about Song not via the media.
    I got them from someone who is working at Arsenal in the training staff of the youth teams. Someone who has given me rather reliable inside information about the youth teams at time and it was him who told me about it and told that Song would be sold before it happened. To be honest I didn’t believe him at first but he was right about the selling and also on many occasions about the new talent coming through.

  7. Walter @ 3.24pm:
    Hear, hear…
    Walter has got a “deep throat”.
    Walter has got a “deep throat”.
    Walter has got a “deep throat”.

  8. How Arsenal proceed with the DM position is one of the most fascinating aspects of the team’s development.

    We all know the brain dead AAA don’t think Wenger does tactics, but Wenger has employed a wonderfully fluid interchangeable midfield, arguably the best in the EPL when everyone is fit.

    Arteta, as the deep lying semi-DM is vital to this set up, but Arteta is much more than a DM, as Walter points out he is often the link between defense and attack, and is capable of producing a simple pass or a penetrating one – whatever the situation requires.

    I feel Arteta is at his best alongside Ramsey – not just because Ramsey is an excellent player, but because Ramsey is rather more box to box than the rest of our midfielders. The question would be – in the future would we be better to utilize two box to box midfielders as a central pivot? One to join the attack & one to hold back – but interchangeable – adding a little more fluidity to an already fluid midfield?

    That does not mean I am writing off Arteta – as the AAA, when they can’t think of anything else, try to do. I would like Arteta to remain for quite some time, he has another one or two good seasons in him – but in addition his experience, common sense and calmness must be vital for the team.

    In the past we may have discarded experience too quickly, we now have a much better balance between young players, those in their prime and those with extra experience, lets keep that balance.

  9. Arsene is looking to play without a CF, not FB’s who presently provide width for the team.

    If you wish to appreciate how good Arteta is at the role he has been given then try a comparison with super stevie, either for england or pool.

    I suspect you will discover a severe lack of understanding, and pathetic positional awareness………..he actually plays constantly BETWEEN the Ch’s.

  10. I remember liking Arteta when he was at Everton so I was very pleased when we signed him. I’m also pleased for him because he got the chance to play in a team at a higher level and he certainly rose to the task. And now he’s won the FA Cup and been part of a team that led the league for longer than any other team last season. It’s a deserved reward.

  11. We can all agree that there was something off about our midfield. All three players used to share attacking and defending responsibilities. At the moment, Arteta has an even more defensive role, because Ozil rarely, if ever, drops deep into midfield. He is much more likely to pop over to either wing. This means we no longer play with a fully rotating midfield. It kind of takes away a lot of Arteta and Arsenal’s strengths imo.
    So after a lot of thinking I would prefer that we invested most of our money into midfield rather than into one super striker. For instance, I hope we get Cesc back, even though it would mean letting Santi go. This would see Ozil given pretty much the same role as he has now, but starting on the left in a free role.
    This would mean Cesc can rotate with the midfield, giving both of them more freedom. Now to the point of the Article, I would love to keep Arteta, but sign a new player to compete/start over him. The dream signing would be Pogba/Gundogan, who would both add a huge amount to the team. As these are almost impossible signings, I’d like to see a player such as Ever Banega come into the squad.
    By adding these two players to our midfield, we have imo, the most creative midfield in the world. All that would be left to do, is Aurier to replace Sagna and a Vela/Remy type to compete up top.
    Bring back our rotating midfield Arsene, bring back Cesc.

  12. Look let’s not assume that Arteta is 100% suitable for his job, and the AAA do have a point.
    He first problem is his strength. Don’t tell me you don’t see him trying to win the ball when coming from the back of the striker and getting shrugged off? So he defends with positioning, but positioning alone doesn’t win back possession.

    2nd problem is his mobility. Because he is 32 years old, he isn’t so agile on the ball anymore. This makes him very susceptible to pressing and since he is the deepest lying midfielder we find it hard to build pass the midfield.

    3rd problem is his age. He is very good in the first half of the season and got tired in the second half. Just contrast his performances against Dortmand over 2 legs vs that against Bayern.

    I am not saying he is no good. He is very disciplined and his passing from deep positions is essential. But we can, and we should be buying someone like him, but with either greater strength and mobility.

    Arteta was crucial for us in the post Fabregas years; especially his professionalism which is a great role model for the younger players (cue Song). But if we want to truly push on, we need someone who can do the job better than him.

  13. Why didn’t you post my comment? It was perfectly relevant and well thought out. How do you expect to get new followers when you don’t let them comment? I have read Arsenal blogs for several hours each day for several years now. I am a respected member of the Arsenal blogging community, have stuck up for Arsene every single day. Yet you constantly refuse to post my comments, which is why I often don’t click on your links. (P.s. I’m sure there are many like me, who are pro Arsene, pro Arsenal but get rejected by your sight for not aligning completely with what you think suits you… The funny part is that half the comments you do let through are pointless.

  14. Phillip

    You said:

    “We can all agree that there was something off about our midfield.”

    That’s a rather sweeping statement don’t you think? And far from the truth.

    I just don’t get what you are on about.

    Our midfield is magnificent. The issue we had was the lose of Ramsey, Wilshere and ozil for significant periods, and often at the same time.

    And to compound the issue of losing 3 of our most important offensive midfielders we was for long periods without our most offensive wide players, Theo and the Ox, as well, also for large parts of the season, and again at the same time.

    To even suggest that a midfield of Ozil, Wishere, Ramsey and Arteta is not fluid is ludicrous.

    Now I’m not saying DON’T get Cesc back, but equally I just cant for the life of me see how he will make that much difference, if any.

    To me, you seem to be making some really weak arguments just to justify your obvious desire to see the return of Cesc.

    Phil23 (Philip)

    You said:

    “I’m sure there are many like me, who are pro Arsene, pro Arsenal but get rejected by your sight for not aligning completely with what you think suits you…”

    Another load of nonsense.

    If you really read this blog regularly you would know what a crock of shit that is.

  15. I think Arteta has been a fine fine player for Arsenal; professional, committed, disciplined and playing for the cause. Very glad to see him win a trophy too. He has done the deep-lying, defensive holding job as well as anyone since Gilberto. I would go as far as saying he is probably a significant reason why our off the ball game has worked better in the last couple of years than it did with Song and Flamini. But ultimately the clamour for a different kind of player in that role is because many fans feel we are still not as strong as we need to be in this aspect of our game to win the League. I feel the system we play (with a lot of light, attacking and possession oriented players) might be more effective if there was a little more power, strength, height in midfield. I’m not talking about getting a “kick you to pieces merchant” , but a player who uses his intelligence and know how and yes, when needed, can stand up to the physical power and pace that Premiership teams often use to power forward. Arteta, never fast, now at 32, is the midfield player that appears to have lost a yard or two of pace (unlike Rosicky for instance), he’s used in the deep lying role and it seems relatively sensible therefore to target that position for strengthening. And if that’s what you choose to do, find a player, for the team’s sake, who has all the required attributes instead of one who is short of one or two. This should be within the club’s capabilities and financial budgets. Whatever other reasons there were for Arsenal falling so badly short away at Liverpool, City, Chelsea and Everton last season (early morning kick-off, naive tactics, injuries to key players etc), having a defensive oriented mid, fully equipped physically and mentally, might have helped prevent Per and Kos being so exposed for the second or third goals and given us a more of a platform to prevent the complete collapses we experienced and perhaps even claw back a point from one or two of those games. Just having someone like that at the club, to play a key role in pivotal games, is vital because, as proven in the glorious 1997-2004 seasons, we needed that kind of player even when we had the likes of Henry, Pires, Bergkamp , Overmars, etc.

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