Posted by Gingers For Limpar on at 13:26
Do Arsenal need a defensive midfielder to replace Alex Song?

Life was simple, back in the day. School was dull; parents were annoying; the Prodigy were ace; a can of “cola” from KwikSave was 18p; Kelly from across the road was fit; and football teams played 4-4-2.

If you had anything remotely like a functioning left foot, you played left wing. If you were the fat kid, you played at full back. If you had what is known in England as “technique” (a quality not necessarily required to play football) then you’d most likely be in centre midfield.

And the teams that the kids in the playground supported weren’t much different – Julian Dicks was the fat kid at full back, for example. Admittedly, the centre of midfield was a tad more complex at these professional sides. You had:

  • Defensive midfielders
  • Box-to-box midfielders
  • Attacking midfielders (the ones called “AM C” on Champ Manager)
  • Kind of regular midfielders

But that was about it, really. So you might have John Jensen (DM C) alongside Paul Davis (MC). Or, a few years later, you might have Roy Keane (who transformed from an MC to a DM C) alongside Paul Scholes (who changed from a CF to an AM C).

Your position basically demarked whether you were defensive, attacking, or one of those oddballs who wants to be both so spends the whole time chasing up and down the pitch like a deranged pet dog chasing a bouncing ball.

But then, somewhere along the line, everything changed. Paul Scholes is now a “distributor”, at least when he’s not maiming an opponent. What the hell is a distributor? Is that a “water-carrier”? Is this defensive or attacking? Do they run up and down? If not, why not? What caused the financial crisis? What’s a fixed income derivative operation? What the fuck is Libor? Is Kelly actually that fit or was I just a bit pissed last night? And who or what is Tulisa?

Life now is complicated, and no more so than in the centre of midfield.

There’s one man I blame for this – Rafa Benitez. When he arrived on these shores, midfields (at least in England) were still pretty straightforward. Arsenal tended to play a defensive player (Petit, Edu, Gilberto) alongside Vieira who, frankly, was a kind of everything-midfielder, the like of which I have never seen before or since. Man Utd still had Keane and Scholes, or were trying to replace Keane with a series of abject failures like Alan Smith or Eric Djemba-Djemba, both of whom were supposed to be traditional DM C or MC.

Yet at Liverpool it quickly became clear that Benitez preferred his own midfielders to have specific tasks, rather than broad roles. He seemed to want one expert tackler (who became Mascherano, although he also wanted Sissoko to be the tackler at one stage). Alongside, he liked having an expert passer (typically Alonso).

His reluctance to play Gerrard as one of a middle two provoked endless outrage among the British commentariat. Why wasn’t their all action hero allowed to feature in the middle of the action, they cried. But eventually it became clear when Gerrard linked excellently with Torres in an advanced midfield position, which was virtually right behind or even alongside the front man.

I’m not pretending for a second that Benitez was some kind of ahead-of-his-time revolutionary – aside from anything else, Mourinho and many other managers across Europe, and beyond, were deploying three man midfields with players having more specific, detailed roles. In sophisticated circles, this had been common for decades.

But this blog post isn’t supposed to be a history of tactical change. Rather, it’s a very long-winded way of examining Arsenal’s current midfield situation and the departure of Alex Song. So let’s return to the core subject – Arsenal.

The last remotely traditional two man midfield that Arsenal fielded was Flamini-Fabregas, a combination which was pretty damn effective in 2007/08. However, pushing aside the rights and wrongs of changing the system, the fact is that it did change. Soon Arsene Wenger succumbed to the modish option of having three central midfielders: either with one sitting deep and two with more freedom to get forward (a 4-3-3); or with a two sitting deep / taking turns to sit deep (a “double pivot”) and one playing almost like a Bergkamp-esque “trequartista”, ie. aiming to play in the space between the opposition’s defence and midfield (a 4-2-3-1).

Having originally thrived in England with fairly traditional two-man midfields such as Petit-Vieira, I believe that at some point Arsene decided to aim towards having midfielders with specific attributes. One of these is the “distributor”, or, similarly, a “hoarder”.

The role of these so called hoarders is simply to play at the base of midfield – accessible to the full backs, centre backs, and to safe back-passes from more advanced players – and to keep the ball moving. They err towards the ball like a magnet, finding space and then playing it off again. Quickly. This is what Denilson was supposed to be.

But England being England, sitting there and prancing around with little one touches isn’t always enough. Often that player will also have to fight – such as during those mythical rainy Wednesday nights in Stoke. And Arsenal being Arsenal, the opposition are often likely to hit on the break, so the deepest lying midfielder must also be able to defend from such counter attacks.

Denilson, alas, ultimately failed in both those departments, with the infamous goal conceded to Man Utd in the European Cup coming to encapsulate the boy’s inability to do the dirtier side of his job.

Notably, however, by this stage Arsene had clearly decided that Alex Song was not suited the role of a deep-lying hoarder himself. Song’s career had turned for the better when Arsenal moved to a three man midfield; amid more packed conditions in the centre of the park, he became expert at tidying up messy situations, able to steal the ball off opponents and also to hold off their attempted tackles. With his physique he could survive the battle far more than Denilson could, yet also had the technique and composure to help Arsenal keep possession.

But the problem with Song was that he didn’t have the mindset of a hoarder. He thinks more creatively and is happier trying to pick out an ambitious pass than a quick, simple, ball-moving one. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe he’s ever dominated the passes-completed field of statistics in the way that hoarders usually do, despite playing so consistently in centre midfield.

Thus with Denilson’s part-departure, Arsene looked towards Mikel Arteta to come in and play the distributor role – which he did last year to widely-acknowledged success. The fact that Arsenal struggled to win a game without Arteta in the starting XI reflects that, simply, he is the only distributor in the squad.

For clarity, I’ll repeat the main two points here:

  1. Arsenal have an over-reliance on Arteta, as the squad’s only deep-lying hoarder
  2. The hoarder is often sitting in front of the defence, and ideally should also be able to battle, and defend against counter attacks

These two points, for me, explain the manager’s long-standing interest in Yann M’Vila. A quick disclaimer – I’ve never seen M’Vila play 90 minutes. But from highlights that I’ve watched, he appears to be a hoarder who’s also pretty strongly built and capable of sticking his foot in. There are no doubt other reservations about the player, but the point is that Arsene wants this type of player – a Denilson/Arteta style player but who is also what we still like to think as “defensive midfielder”.

As a quick aside, however, it is worth considering what a defensive midfielder actually is these days – particularly when observing the top teams, who typically dominate games and rarely have to sit deep under sustained pressure. The traditional view of a man sitting in front of the defence and helping shield it from deep lying forwards, trequartistas, attacking midfielders et cetera suddenly seems superfluous when a team rarely finds itself under that kind of threat.

How many times against Sunderland on Saturday, for example, did you see Arsenal’s back four sitting deep in a line, with Arteta and/or Diaby defending in front of them? Even once? Such deep defending mainly occurs when the opposition force their way to a set-piece high up the field. Other than that, it is typically counter attacks that offer the greatest threat. The Everton game against Man Utd provided another example – where exactly was United’s defensive midfielder? Arguably they don’t have one at all.

Does this mean that top clubs’ midfields don’t have to defend? Of course not. But it changes the emphasis on how they defend. Being able to storm around sticking your boot in is simply not a useful enough attribute to top sides anymore. Rather, midfielders need to be organised and positionally-clever. They still need to be able to pressure opponents when the time is right, and to tackle well. But they also need to know where to put themselves when faced with tactics such as counter-attacks or long balls. This is something that one “DM C” cannot do alone, and is thus a challenge for not only the whole midfield, but also the whole team.

Now, back to Song. As discussed, Song had not been the deepest lying midfielder at Arsenal for quite a while. I have sometimes read people saying that Song and Arteta took turns to sit deepest last season, as if they did so to an equal extent. They didn’t. While it is true that Arteta often drifts into more advanced pockets of space (and sometimes presses, by moving forwards), overall he was furthest back. This trend was continued when Diaby replaced Song against Sunderland, as this average position graphic shows:

(Via @1davidwall)

Yet Song also completed lots of tackles – and while it may seem like an obvious thing to say, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to be furthest back in order to make tackles. In fact, it is debatable to what extent tackling is an indication of a midfielder being “defensive”.

Let me give you an extreme example: on Saturday, Santi Cazorla completed as many successful tackles as Lee Cattermole (both with three). Also, Arsenal players made as many interceptions (22) as Sunderland. Both tackles and interceptions are perceived as “defensive”, when in fact they are arguably either a neutral or even attacking consequence of a combative sport. The tika-taka-inspired technique of pressing high up the pitch shows how these aggressive qualities can be part of an attacking style.

Song’s ability to compete in the midfield was thus useful for an attacking Arsenal side. And last season, with Arteta pulling the strings so well, Song had the freedom to turn himself into a “deep-lying creator” (there’s another one for the glossary). He did exceptionally well at this, playing more accurate through balls than any other player in the English top flight (via @whoscored) and chipping in, often literally, with 14 assists.

His performances as a deep-lying creator were so good that I, like many Gooners, was very keen that he should stay at Arsenal. But without delving into the politics of the situation, it is clear that something went wrong between him and the club, and so he has departed. The important point to note is that he departed as a deep-lying creator who could also tackle and stuff – not as an old-fashioned “defensive midfielder”.

Nuri Sahin is also a deep-lying creator. While we know virtually nothing from his time at Real (I don’t think I watched him once for them), we know from his previous season at Dortmund that he loves what statisticians call a “key pass”. Like Song, who would instinctively look for Van Stapleton’s runs, Sahin sees his team’s forwards as moving dots that he can try and pick out with cunning through-balls. He is ambitious with his passes, and certainly no “water-carrier”. And like Song, his ideas often don’t come off.

If we assume that Sahin a) joins and b) is as creative as Song, the remaining issue is whether Arsenal will still have the requisite bite in midfield, having lost the Cameroonian. And another issue is whether they will improve at defending from counter attacks, something that Song was notably poor at doing. So often he would trip an opponent who was skipping past him, immediately earning a yellow card even if it was his first offence of the game. And so often last season we watched Arsenal’s entire team fail to organise itself sufficiently to defend being caught on the break.

[Update: Sahin actually averaged more tackles and more interceptions during his last "proper" season than Song did last season. He also conceded a lower rate of fouls. Click here for the full figures, via @jarzp. Also note the extremely low level of shots that Song blocked last season – a point that corroborates much of my argument here.]

[Another update: Song was booked 13 times last season, typically within the first hour of the game (average minute for his booking was the 58th – and three times he was booked within the opening half an hour of the game). Stats via @christowers_88]

[Final update: ok, so we didn't sign Sahin. Treat all those bits as theoretical.]

This is what midfields must do: they must be able to keep the ball moving quickly, and thus able to hoard possession; they must be able to press the opposition into losing the ball, in order to win back possession; they must have the tactical nous to protect their defence and reduce the chance of conceding goals; and they must have creative flair, being able to bring the ball forward and feed the attackers.

While the hoarding part is sometimes led by one player (eg. Arteta) and players can be labelled according to one specialist skill, a lot of the above is due to the collective effort of the three chosen midfielders. Jack Wilshere appears to be a “carrier” (get the glossary out again), the kind of player who looks to bring the ball forward and drive his team up the pitch. Yet he is also tenacious and has an exceptional range of passing and creativity. He embodies the argument that relying on a single “defensive midfielder”, or even a single “creative midfielder”, is no longer necessary or progressive.

And when judging prospective first team midfielders such as Coquelin, we need to ask not “is he defensive”, but rather how many of the above skills he can contribute to an acceptable standard. The same questions should be asked of Diaby, who has always appeared to be the polar opposite of a hoarder and certainly not a creator (how many killer through balls can you remember Diaby playing? Any?) Rather he appears, when fit, to be an over-sized carrier, and one who can shoot, intercept and tackle. Will this work alongside Arteta and in what kind of games? Again, this remains to be seen. The methods of a post-Song Arsenal initially raise many questions, but hopefully the upcoming months will provide many interesting answers.

As I warned at the start of this post, life’s not as simple as it used to be. Nowadays you have to go to dinner parties and get asked what you think of Julian Assange before the atmosphere goes all tense as someone becomes angry about there being “no grey areas with rape”. You try to find refuge in your drink only for a civil servant called Zoe to start telling you that she hates Chablis. You laugh that it all tastes the same and she just smiles awkwardly and you both sit there in silence eating organic home-made pea and mint soup.

When did this all change? What happened to Kelly?

The football we watch at the Arsenal is no longer as simple as suggested by games like Champ Manager (or whatever it’s called these days). But this need not be a bad thing. Would you rather the simplicity of watching John Jensen and David Hillier lurk around the midfield, or the complexity of observing the first game when Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla all line up in the same starting XI? I know what I’d prefer, and when one thinks about it, it’s really not all that complex – it’s just watching footballers kick a ball around. Which, ultimately, is one of the few simple innocent pleasures remaining from most of our childhoods.

83 Responses to Do Arsenal need a defensive midfielder to replace Alex Song?

  1. hdcjr says:

    21/08/2012 at 16:20

    “…or one of those oddballs who wants to be both so spends the whole time chasing up and down the pitch like a deranged pet dog chasing a bouncing ball.

    • hdcjr says:

      21/08/2012 at 16:21

      /visions of Aaron Ramsey

    • S says:

      22/08/2012 at 20:13

      Nice write up, informative and get’s me excited about the big ‘if’.

    • Godfrey Oyema says:

      22/08/2012 at 21:35

      Yes Arsenal needs defensive midfielder with the following features; physique, skills and speed…also Wenger should think of biding Maroane Fellain of Everton

      • fox.jedah says:

        23/08/2012 at 08:24

        maybe is because i’m a chilean gooner, but i like what Arturo Vidal has done in Juventus..maybe he could replace Song, but, do we need to replace song? maybe what we need is another thing…maybe the cazorla-arteta-wilshere midfield works like a charm…maybe we need a better tackler..maybe, maybe…maybe…

        diaby is a good player…just that..good. song was a good player too. we need wilshere, nothing else.

        • Leandro says:

          24/08/2012 at 04:42

          I’d say Sahin, Vidal and Fellaini would all fill the role very well. Perhaps M’Vila too, haven’t seen much of him. Since Fellaini and Vidal are very unlikely, here’s hoping the deal with Sahin goes through.

  2. Oli says:

    21/08/2012 at 17:14

    Great article – has helped me move on from the Viera/Gilberto midfield I so missed

  3. Le Bob says:

    21/08/2012 at 17:19

    Great post with lots of valid points, sir. I know which of the two midfielders we’ve been linked with the most I’d prefer, though, but whatever happens I’m just pleased AW & co are looking.

  4. Clock End Mike says:

    21/08/2012 at 17:35

    Very interesting, but does it answer your original question? I assume you’re suggesting the answer is “no”?

  5. Longshanks says:

    21/08/2012 at 17:52

    Tulisa is the female type of a fistula.

  6. Jack Straw says:

    21/08/2012 at 21:02

    Absolutely great article, G4L! Sounding more and more likely that Sahin will join (if only for a year) – hope he makes us all forget Song quickly. I think he will.

  7. Fall River Gooner says:

    21/08/2012 at 22:07

    Very well thought out and presented. Helps some of the less knowledgeable of La Juega Bonita on the finer points of the game.

  8. Pingback: Nuri Şahin Loan Deal Done? « The Tasty Nuggetz

  9. J-KEF says:

    22/08/2012 at 06:22

    What a great article! Really informative and entertaining!

  10. Pingback: Santos in ‘dangerous driving’ arrest :: thoughts on midfield ‹ Arseblog … an Arsenal blog

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  12. ian minto says:

    22/08/2012 at 08:51

    Great article, any thoughts on players with the requisite skill sets being in same team but ‘recognising’ when they should adopt a specific role and if you think that a truly cohesive team would/could contain these multi purpose midfielders but train together with an eye to recognition and decision making according to situation??. I guess its a sort of ‘total football’ or in french terms ‘polyvalence’ with multi skilled and versatile players.

  13. haohaohaohtc says:

    22/08/2012 at 09:01

    Great post!

    Who is Kelly and what happened to him?

  14. Dan W says:

    22/08/2012 at 09:25

    Great post! The idea of us playing with Arteta (hoarder), Wilshere (carrier) and Cazorla (attacking creator??) is pretty mouth-watering.

    • Kev says:

      22/08/2012 at 10:42

      Except we will concede two goals from corners every game

      • MattC says:

        22/08/2012 at 17:27

        because Barcelona concede two goals from corners every game? defending set pieces isn’t all about height!

        • FCnathaniel says:

          22/08/2012 at 18:38

          Barcelona plays in the Spanish league where the average height is like 3’11 (exaggeration) and the players are much less physically aggressive. The game is more technical there and physical in the EPL. Corner Kicks are a concern we would need to address if that midfield is deployed.

  15. dtf says:

    22/08/2012 at 09:30

    Loved the article. One of the best articles written about Arsenal i have read this year!

  16. gnarly charlie says:

    22/08/2012 at 09:51

    Top article. Love your humour.

  17. blazingooner says:

    22/08/2012 at 09:54

    Excellent article. One of your best – both well reasoned, informative and funny. Here’s to redefining our midfielders on those various skills rather than buzzwords!

  18. GJGooner says:

    22/08/2012 at 10:02

    Excellent piece with balanced views and analysis.. good work!

  19. marc says:

    22/08/2012 at 10:44

    awesome well analyzed & written.
    loved to read that one!

  20. vickenzs says:

    22/08/2012 at 10:52

    Great article; obviously Song’s sale was more political than footballing

  21. Dgob says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:01

    Gingers for Lampar,

    I think you have written one of the best (or, to quote Chris Eubanks, simply The Best) piece concerning AFC and our midfielding needs and options. I seem to recall you posting on ACLF and hope you can bring the same degree of focused detail to the blog as well.

    Thanks for the work and consequent read

  22. echeGunnersy says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:03

    common gunners this is our season.

  23. Benson says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:16

    I’ve watched M’Vila and i kno he has something we lacked in Song. I also want d boss to tell Diaby and Carzola to stop fireing like Arshavin and start giving 2ru passes to Giroud, Podolski, Theo and Gervinho. If Santiago used Lukas like he did Olivier, he’d hav scored b4 going off. He shld pass like Fabrigas frm that position.

  24. Podolski's Chocolate Leg says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:26

    Great article, fantastically written. I have seen one brilliant Diaby through ball ( so maybe Arsene thinks he can take over Song’s mantle of being a lazy hoarding world class holding creative midfielder!

  25. Kudz says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:44

    Who is this scribe and what watering hole does he drink at? Pray tell, so I may summon him to my table and order a bar wench to fill his chalice with the finest ale on offer!

  26. MelcFromFinsburyPark says:

    22/08/2012 at 11:48

    Spot on gingers. When Arsenal have been good in Wengers era it has almost always con-indided with there being players in the midfield who can see a pass and then play it, the forward players have always carried on making forward run after forward run because they know the chances are high they will get given the perfect pass. I kind of felt that this would once mor eoccur last year and that Walcott and Gervinho would score a hatful as a result. But it didn’t maybe because Gervinho lost his shooting bootas and because Walcott is not cunning enough to know when to run and when not to. Last season Arteta was superb sitting deep, knitting play together in a quite and tidy fashion and then breaking up attacks on the break by knowing exactly where he ought to be and when. Song had the freedom to go forward and pick passes. From the reports on Sahin it would seem that he has a peach of a left foot and isable to pick long diagonal passes at will. The thought of Sahin, Cazorla and later Wilshere picking passes for our forwards is a mouthwatering one. The question is, do the forwards we have have the nouse to be able to make the right runs in the way that Van Stapleton did last season?

  27. mazer says:

    22/08/2012 at 12:08

    fantastic. loved every line.

  28. smogun0106 says:

    22/08/2012 at 12:34

    Quite an enlightening piece, all well said but i think we need a Viera like kind of midfielder or whatever name we call him, someone who can convert defense to attack in no time. i like Tiote though!

  29. Yusuf Kehinde Saheed says:

    22/08/2012 at 12:38

    Great article by the way. Arsenal conceded loads of gaols last season because there wasn’t a proper shield in front of the back five. We have a worldclass back five(Konscielny,Vermalaen,Sagna,Gibbs & Szezny) & yet we lost 10 games & conceding goals like a mid-table team. Rosicky & Arteta were able to press & harry opponent with the former showing tremendous energy level. To actually prevent opponents from getting into shooting positions,we need a defensive Gilberto-like wall. If Arsene decides to play Cazorla & Rosicky @ the same time,given both’s attacking playing style,the team certainly needs a player who’ll make the necessary interceptions,tackles & even block goal-bound shots.
    Manchester United lost the 2011 Champions League final because they have not a true DM. Barcelona lost some key matches last season because they do not have 1. Munich & Chelsea,both 2012 Champs League finalists,have atleast on proper DM. Gudstavo for Munich & Mikel for Chelsea. Inter won Treble in 2010 because they have Cambiasso. Arsenal certainly needs a true DM

  30. Dave The Gooner says:

    22/08/2012 at 12:38

    Great article, make a great point, and made me question my opinion on our need for a defensive midfielder.

  31. A.N Other says:

    22/08/2012 at 13:01

    I appreciate that you’re writing about Arsenal and that’s the focus of the article (which is very good), but if you don’t mind some constructive criticism…. How can you blame Benitez and then say that he wasn’t the only one doing it? Mourinho arrived at Stamford Bridge at the same time as Benitez did at Liverpool. Blame Benitez if you want, that’s perfectly acceptable, but can you make it clear why it was his fault? Because he was generally a moron? Because Liverpool were nearer Arsenal’s level at that time than Chelsea were?

    Also, factually, Sissoko was never meant to be the only player in that role, he was meant to be interchangable with Macherano depending on the opponents. Sissoko may have suited that role, he may not have done, but we never got to find out due to his eye injury.

  32. ilyas says:

    22/08/2012 at 13:16

    Pleasure to read, great article! I haven’t watched Mvilla but Nuri can easily fill Song’s boots.
    Hope all is well,

    • Gingers For Limpar says:

      22/08/2012 at 13:22

      Cheers fella, great to see you on the blog! Are you and/or Kerem on Twitter, by the way?

      • ilyas says:

        23/08/2012 at 08:08

        No neither of us are. Though I’m coming down for a proper holiday next summer so arrange for a late August/early September Arsenal fixture!

  33. Goonerhaea says:

    22/08/2012 at 13:39

    Great article. Thank you for this, very informative and gave me a new dimension when thinking of the midfield. Definitely explains Arsenal’s midfield better than I have ever seen it explained.

  34. Ernest Tell says:

    22/08/2012 at 13:51

    Great article and very informative! I feel I’ve learned a lot by reading this. Having seen what Diaby can do, I think he is a kind of box-to-box player like you said in the start. I have seen him being in our box defending a corner and then seconds later finishing off a great counter-attack by catching up everyone and getting himself into a scoring position(AV at home). I think he has the stamina and physique to be an all-rounder who can be at both ends at (almost) the same time. Hopefully this season he will stay fit to prove this.
    Thanks again!

  35. DONT_READ_THIS_YET says:

    22/08/2012 at 13:59

    I have a hunch Nuri Sahin will be playing Left Back for us. Wenger said he wanted to sign both a midfielder and a defender. The only current rumors are Mvila and Sahin. Mvila is the ideally the perfect replacement for Song, but once that position is replaced then what? Where still as good defensively as last year, maybe slightly better. I attended the Real Madrid vs. Celtic game which Mourinho played Nuri Sahin as a leftback, seemingly to showcase to suitors his versatility. Possession starts from the back line so replacing an inconsistent Gibbs/ Santos with Sahin would be a tremendous improvement for our organization and ball possession.

    If Wenger fails to bring in trophies this year I feel he will be booted and Jose Mourinho will be brought in to save the day. I personally hope this doesn’t happen because he is an amazing coach, slightly stubborn, but amazing none the less. His legacy should not be tarnished with termination.

    You suck. I’m ashamed to say I was excited for you’re arrival. You’re just a big oaf who’s success was completely dependent on the man to you’re left and right. Step your shit up.

    • Solo says:

      22/08/2012 at 18:18

      bahahahaa Mertesacker

      • camparsenal says:

        22/08/2012 at 18:27

        I agree so weak in the back Gibbs and Merte will not do.

        Do you think he’ll sign another CB a’so?

    • FCnathaniel says:

      22/08/2012 at 18:31

      YOUR CRAZY! Jose will never be the coach of Arsenal no matter what happens with Wenger. He’s at Madrid so why would he ever leave

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  37. mcd410x says:

    22/08/2012 at 14:31

    Interesting piece. Excellent excuse to look back at a few Bergkamp-to-Ljungberg goals from 2002. I love how Freddie would make those little diagonal runs behind the defense. Wonderful timing.

  38. Red Islington says:

    22/08/2012 at 14:41

    Great article indeed sir , pleasure to read .
    Now that we know Sahin is on board ( and M’vila still an option ) we shall see for our selves ..
    He aint strong nor tall as Song , doesnt have any premier league experience , hasnt played football for ages , and didnt have a pre season to work with his team mates . He doesnt have Arteta’s age and experience nor Cazorla’s X-factor . But he did impress in the Bundesliga , he was bought by Real Madrid , and he is young and full of ambition . Song’s greatest contribution was however the killing pass to former number ten . Do we now have a replacement for that ? season will tell

  39. duder says:

    22/08/2012 at 14:43

    fantastic article. Thank you sir.

  40. steww says:

    22/08/2012 at 15:34

    Absolute quality post. Incredible that such a well thought out literate piece of clear minded writing can attract such utterly facile lame and irrelevant comments. I’d change the name to Dont-read-this-Ever.

  41. zulu gooner says:

    22/08/2012 at 15:56

    excellent post – thanks

  42. chuva says:

    22/08/2012 at 16:06

    the best article i hav ever read…… I hope we get both Sahin & M’villa.
    Proud been a gooner

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  44. graham says:

    22/08/2012 at 16:37

    This is brilliant! Thanks for a really great and informative read.
    Lots to agree on, the occasional difference of opinion – but overall, really fascinating.
    However, it still doesn’t answer the question as to who covers for Arteta when he’s injured or – given the number of minutes he plays – when he’s tired.
    I think that’s going to be a real challenge for Arsenal this season.

  45. scott lewis says:

    22/08/2012 at 16:50

    yes we need a defensive midfield player because we simply dont have a defence that measures up to the old back for of bould—-winterburn——dixon——and the great tony adams,i have been telling all of my friends for the past 2 years that we should have baught fellaini from everton to partner song,the only reason for this is that our so called defence is crap,they lose the ball to easilly and they panic,also wenger wont spend the money(although he has been given it)on a decent defence,so please their is no question about it,just get the right players in,spend the money which wenger has and then win trophies cause soon people like myself will stop going to games cause the team will play pretty pass football and wine nothing.

  46. Two Owls says:

    22/08/2012 at 17:43

    Absolutely top notch article! I think that my concepts of midfield players was rather limited. I did have some thoughts about the matter when ‘The Perfect One’ coached at Chelsea. He used a French mid field player who was ‘the defensive midfielder’ and who allowed other mid field players to go forward in attack. Frank Lampard scored a lot of goals during those days. He does not seem as prolific recently. Your thoughts about Viera are interesting but he was very big and a very intimidating figure. Is there room for another mid fielder in your classification system….The Intimidator.

  47. paulie gooner says:

    22/08/2012 at 19:57

    What an excellent article,clever, funny and well thought out,will be following this blog from now on,quality!!

  48. Uc says:

    22/08/2012 at 20:34

    Gud on but i tink someone like song can fit into any partten u want. so i say yes we nid some like song or better than song.

  49. alan wilkinson says:

    22/08/2012 at 22:15

    Long ,drawn out discussions about Song and Arteta,I feel we definitely need a defensive midfielder ,and in my mind ,{ after anger management }Frimpong is the ideal candidate,can stop a man and takes no prisoners.job done.

  50. olajide akintomide says:

    22/08/2012 at 22:54

    a team as arsenal style needs a real defensive midfielder.Song did his best but the team still concede goals never imagine due to Song preference to attack in lieu of his primary role.A sitting midfielder will help to shield the defence.Defensive player will also help,in time of central defenders going forward for set pieces thereby forestalling counter attacks.

  51. a99 says:

    23/08/2012 at 00:49

    Would just point out that no discussion of DM would be complete without mentioning the two most proficient DM of modern times: Desailly (at AC Milan) and Makalele (at RM); both players broke up play and quickly passed the ball short to more creative players.
    Re: AFC my issue with Arteta is that he takes too many touches of the ball before laying it off which does seem to slow our attacks.
    I also note the Sahin was dribbled past 2.3 times per game which is 50% higher than Song, so swapping Song for Sahin does not necessarily suggest a huge improvement in defensive performance

  52. Dawa says:

    23/08/2012 at 05:36

    Great article!

  53. mwita says:

    23/08/2012 at 10:33

    good article, but you trying to generate NO as the answer. anyway Song swap is total AFC football politics,

  54. shirwa says:

    23/08/2012 at 12:25

    Great Article, tired of reading about arsenal in British toilet papers. Thanks for your input.

  55. Worried Gooner says:

    23/08/2012 at 14:09

    I think one of the key factors in discussing Song’s “replacement” is not highlighted enough in this article: the physical nature of the PL. As you said, on those rainy nights at Stoke, are we going to rely on the physicality of Arteta and Diaby/Sahin/Wilshere/Ramsey in the middle of the park? SURELY, Wenger must be asking himself this question. As you said, M’Vila ticks off the boxes: technically gifted, great simple passer, physical. Song was the “deep-lying creator” last season for us, and I am not so sure M’Vila would be that for us, but that is why we purchased Cazorla. All things creative will flow through him this season. Rosicky for as much industry and heart as he has, is not the type of CAM that finds killer through balls all over the pitch. He is much more the “carrier” with his quick turns and driving runs. It is not even a question in my mind, M’Vila is what we need. If we could get both he and Sahin, I would be all for it with M’vila to take on more of an Arteta role (sitting back and just keeping the ball moving) and Sahin to take on more of the Song role (finding passes over the top while still being in a position to put in tackles to stop counter-attacks before they develop).

    Anyway, great article very well though out, very well written.

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  57. GunnerX says:

    23/08/2012 at 18:06

    I just have to concur with all the above comments. Excellent read, and very informative.

  58. Roland Freeman says:

    23/08/2012 at 23:18

    I rarely comment on these but this is an excellent article, much more incisive and intelligent then the usual ‘analysis’ you hear from telly pundits. Looks like Sahin is not joining now unfortunately but perhaps M’vila could fill the void as you have suggested

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  60. Mick Warren says:

    24/08/2012 at 17:31

    Go for Sahin.Voted Bundesliga player of the year 2011.Left to rot at Madrid.

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  61. ada says:

    25/08/2012 at 11:32

    Great Article!!!!!!!!

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  63. Ricardo says:

    27/08/2012 at 03:53

    So who’s Kelly?

  64. Brian says:

    27/08/2012 at 14:10

    Like another of those who replied, I appreciate your explanation of the transformation of midfield from 2+wingers to a “more complex” 3. However, a question I have about these new midfields is how difficult is it to replace an injured player. In the more complex system, it seems getting the balance right can yield great results, but when a cog is removed, how difficult is it to find a new balance with a player who presumably doesn’t have the same attributes. So, what I’m asking is: Was it easier to sub players in the 2-man central midfield versus the new “more complex” 3-man version?

    One other comment…I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on playing 3 at the back. I think Wenger is too stubborn to try it, but such a system would seem to me to fit a team that has so much possession. If our full backs aren’t providing attacking threats (Jenkinson & Gibbs in our first 2 matches), what’s the point of having full backs?

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