There’s a strong case to be made that Arsenal’s most important signing this summer will come in central midfield, not centre-forward.
The team suffered for a lack of goals and ingenuity during the second half of last season. Olivier Giroud was entrusted with the burden of being the leading goal-getter for the side, but the paucity of alternatives throughout the campaign had the Frenchman running on empty when it mattered.
This team need goals if they’re to win the Premier League. The key, however, is that they need more. They also need inspiration from an individual of the class of Mesut Ozil, whose arrival at the club last summer did much for the apparent transformation, lift in spirits and trophy success with the FA Cup.
This Arsenal side aren’t lacking players who can score. Last season, Theo Walcott only made 10 league starts yet he still managed five goals. The season prior, the England international had a career-best 21 goals in all competitions. Aaron Ramsey is a player reborn, finishing this past season on 13 goals in all competitions. How much more would it have been if not for that thigh injury suffered in December?
There are concerns about Lukas Podolski’s defensive work, as well as his ability to fit in effectively to this system employed by Arsene Wenger. But if progress is made on that front, the Polish-born German international is comfortably the best finisher at the club.
The problem has been injuries. The problem has been a lack of consistency at fielding the team’s best XI. Injury causes confusion, a disruption of form and an ultimate struggle to attain the goals set out at the start of the season. It’s not to say Arsenal don’t need more goal scorers – they do, and it’s very much about depth – but central midfield is of vital importance to the continued development of this group.
Arsenal were horrifically exposed in the away losses to Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea – 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0 losses. The issue wasn’t so much that the attack was poor – I still struggle to see how blame can be placed at the door of Ozil for those losses, as some have felt the need to single out the German as the prime culprit for such capitulations.
Arsenal were not only overrun in midfield through Wenger’s disinterest in flooding the centre of the pitch, but they also lacked a specialist to suitably and effectively stem the tide towards their own goal.
Mikel Arteta should be commended for his efforts for the club in what was initially thought to be an unfamiliar midfield role. Mathieu Flamini may wear his heart of his sleeve and will never throw in the towel, but the Frenchman lacks the smarts and composure of some of the leading defensive midfielders around Europe.
Morgan Schneiderlin may become a part of the exodus at Southampton this summer and Arsenal have been touted as a highly probable destination.
The French international doesn’t have the glamour of Javi Martinez, nor does he have the experience of Sami Khedira, but there are few better suited to playing the Arsenal way than Schneiderlin.
Arsenal don’t just need someone to step into the team and play a one-dimensional defensive role. Wenger is well known for wanting his players to carry out multiple duties on the pitch. The team need a player who can play effectively at both ends of the pitch; they need someone who won’t disrupt the methodical build-up play of the rest of the team.
Schneiderlin fits that description. What Arsenal need is a blend of both Arteta and Flamini, someone who can fit in seamlessly with the rest of the squad and play the possession-based game as done by Arteta, as well as add the toughness and aggression regularly associated with Flamini.
Arsenal have regularly been criticised for their soft underbelly. Maybe it can’t simply be addressed by acquiring a specialist in an area that should, in theory, prevent the opposition racking up high score lines. There’s a lot that needs to be done with the mentality in the Arsenal squad, including preparation.
But the natural step is to ensure the right pieces are in place. Schneiderlin’s advantage over others who have been linked with Arsenal this summer is his familiarity with the Premier League. There’ll be no need for periods of adaption, while there is also little doubt about his credentials, having been instrumental in Southampton’s impressive form over the past two seasons.
Arsenal’s midfield needs to get younger. Both Arteta and Flamini are in their thirties. At 24, this is the right time to bring Schneiderlin in. With Arteta currently 32, there is still time for the Spaniard to assist Wenger in helping the Southampton midfielder adjust to life in north London, specifically in carrying out that anchoring role.
With everyone fit, Arsenal won’t struggle for goals. But a fully fit squad does still lack the adequate tools to prevent on-pitch humiliation in the form of five or six-nil hammerings.