The curious case of Denilson

Denilson is a player that divides opinion: he’s a bit like Marmite – you either love him or hate him. Some see the Brazilian as an integral part of Arsenal’s midfield alongside Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song; whereas others see him as overrated, a player lacking positional sense that is just a big liability for the Gunners.

Last season, Denilson was an integral part of Arsenal’s side, breaking up play and being the anchor in the midfield next to Fabregas. His performances did blow hot and cold, but that was partly due to his lack of experience compared to his predecessor in central midfield, Gilberto Silva. But Denilson showed that desire to improve and a good work ethic and was expected to play an important part for Arsenal this season.

This campaign though, Denilson has found his opportunities limited for Arsenal, mainly as he has been in and out of the side because of injuries and the emergence of Alex Song as the commanding presence in the holding midfielder role. Once again Denilson’s performances have been hot and cold, especially in recent weeks. For instance, in the victory over West Ham, Denilson was excellent and scored a superb team goal for Arsenal’s opener. But in the draw with Birmingham on Saturday, Denilson’s flaws, particularly his positional sense, were exposed by James McFadden, as the Birmingham midfielder had so much room in the area that Denilson was supposed to be defending. This meant that Song had to fill the gap from defence, which exposed the likes of Gael Clichy and Cesc also had to drop deeper to combat Denilson’s inadequacies. In yesterday’s draw with Barcelona, Denilson again blew hot and cold, his passing was good and he made few mistakes, but he gave the likes of Xavi and Sergio Busquets too much time on the ball, which allowed them to dominate the midfield.

If we take a look at Denilson’s stats this season compared to the previous year, this season pales in comparison. Last season, Denilson started in all but two of Arsenal’s Premier League games and made a total of 49 appearances in all competitions, scoring 3 goals and had 7 assists. This season, because of the injuries and the presence of Song, Denilson been involved in less than half of the games he played in last season, making 22 appearances, scoring 6 goals and making just one assist.

Denilson is only 22 years old, so he can still be considered a work in progress for Arsenal, and is a player who still has plenty of potential. The Brazilian has improved his attacking play, which is shown in his goal tally doubling from last season, and is better suited as a box to box player where he can use his good range of passing and his willingness to get forward and shoot to good effect.

The main area that Denilson needs to improve in is his defensive play, despite the Brazilian primarily being a holding midfielder. Denilson is susceptible to being caught out of position, is too weak in the tackle and poor in possession, which will be exploited by better sides.

So where is Denilson’s best position? Arsene Wenger described the Brazilian’s style to be between “Tomas Rosicky and Gilberto”, but some Arsenal fans believe he only has the attacking prowess of Gilberto and the defensive capabilities of Rosicky. I think Denilson is best suited as a box-to-box player, which would allow Song to play in the holding role and allow Fabregas to push further forward.

The amount of competition in the Arsenal midfield could harm Denilson’s future chances at the Emirates, with the likes of Rosicky, Nasri, Diaby and when he returns from injury, Aaron Ramsey, all vying for the last midfield spot next to Song and Fabregas. While I am not saying they are necessarily more deserving to be picked ahead of the Brazilian, they all bring different attributes to the Arsenal midfield that Denilson does not possess.

What do you think of Denilson – is he good enough for Arsenal or are others more deserving to be picked ahead of him?

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