Rewind to May 17th 2014. Arsenal have just ended their nine-year wait for a trophy and everyone around the club is elated. This coupled with a 17th consecutive top 4 finish signified a great season for Arsenal Football Club. This happiness that I speak of continued throughout the summer as Arsenal approached a summer transfer window with no financial constraints for the first time since the beginning of the Emirates Stadium construction.
There was talk that manager Arsene Wenger was going into the transfer window with a 100 million pound war chest with which to bolster his squad. Two areas in particular that Arsenal needed to strengthen was defensive midfield and a quality striker. It seemed pretty straightforward and most Gunners fans were confident that both would be addressed. Over the summer, Arsenal were strongly linked to Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton, German World Cup winner Sami Khedira of Real Madrid, and Sporting Lisbon’s young Portugese powerhouse, William Carvalho.
Casting yourself back to this point in time, one must remember that the club had spent 75 million pounds and still had Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini as their defensive midfielders. While club captain Arteta has proved himself to be capable in the past, he is at the age where his physical traits are declining, causing his output to diminish. He has been a reliable servant to the club during his time, but Arsenal simply need someone better than him.
Flamini is also good player who works hard, and while he can do a job for the team, he just is not at the level of the players in his position for Arsenal’s rivals. Chelsea have Nemanja Matic and John Obi Mikel and Manchester City have Fernandinho and Fernando – all players who fit into Arsenal’s starting XI with ease.
Arsenal’s lack of resilience and defensive aptitude was vindicated last season as they lost away matches to title rivals Manchester City 6-3, Liverpool 5-1 and Chelsea 6-0. These results contributed in no small part to the Gunners falling out of the title race, despite being top of the league for 128 days. So far this season, Arsenal’s two defeats to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea share the common trait in that the victors’ defensive midfielders, Sven Bender and Matic both successfully stifled the influence of the Gunners’ chief creators, resulting in Arsenal being toothless in attack. While Bender and Matic did their jobs, the players in front of them exploited the fact Arsenal did not have those type of players and so were able to perform better than the opponents in their position.
Players like Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan all had put in decent displays, but nothing special. The nature of their defeat stemmed from the side’s lack of a top quality defensive midfielder.
Recently, Wenger has dropped hints that he intends to utilize Abou Diaby as a defensive midfielder once he is fully fit. The Arsenal manager said: “I have tried to develop him in a deeper role. I think he can do it, he can be very interesting and has all the attributes”. While Diaby may be better suited to the role than other options, his fitness is of great concern and he may not be a player to rely on to play 20 matches in a row. With links to Khedira still being reported, it seems insane to assume that Arsenal will not be actively pursuing a defensive midfielder come January, despite saying in 2012 that the age of the specialist defensive midfielder is over.
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