It seems bizarre than an area that historically has provided Arsenal with such assured incision is now the source of a major headache for Arsene Wenger. The Premier League club’s midfield has for a while now been pillaged by other clubs and plagued by injury in equal measures. With the impending arrival of Luiz Gustavo, how does Wenger make the most of his options?
For too long now Arsenal have simply been making do with what they have. The departure of Alex Song and the long line of injuries to Abou Diaby have forced other players to curb their normal attacking tendencies and retreat into deeper roles. Mikel Arteta was subjected to such treatment last term with Cazorla being allowed the freedom to exploit the opposition further up the pitch, something that proved successful as a short-term solution.
Arsenal fans will be pleased to hear that the capture of Luiz Gustavo from Bayern Munich appears imminent. Wenger confirmed to the Guardian after the 3-1 victory over Manchester City in Helsinki that talks were ongoing with ‘nothing concrete yet’. The defensive midfielder is surplus to requirements at the Allianz Arena and during a World Cup year he will naturally be keen to play consistently in a Champions League side. This prospective deal is advantageous for both clubs and unless another side come in with an eleventh hour bid the gunners should get their man. Arsenal have been here before I know, but this is a deal I wholly believe will materialise for the North Londoners.
So what does this mean for the midfield? Gustavo is regarded as an excellent defensive midfielder who can effectively screen the back four. Limited in attacking influence, his capture could pave the way for Wenger to employ two more midfielders in slightly more advanced roles, the system he ideally would have played had Diaby not been so riddled with injury during his career. So does this mean Arsenal are now overloaded with midfield options?
Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta would easily find their way into the majority of Premier League sides and Arsenal clearly have an abundance of riches at their disposal in midfield. This is without even mentioning Aaron Ramsey who looks to rebuild his career after suffering a horrific leg break a few years back now.
I think Arsenal fans have yet to see the very best of Mikel Arteta thus far. Forced to play in a holding role, he has been unable to assert his attacking influence on many games. Criticized for giving the ball away too cheaply, I think some fans have been too quick to write-off someone who has been played out of his natural position in the main. An incoming defensive midfielder could well afford Arteta the opportunity to press further forward and I think fans will begin to see the Spaniards very best next season.
But can Arteta displace Wilshere and Cazorla? Wilshere whilst still young is in many fans eyes the long-term captain of Arsenal and the general to build their side around. Cazorla has been a breath of fresh air and was arguably Arsenal’s brightest star last term. He combines Spanish flair with a degree of industry that is so crucial to Premier League success. Arsenal played their best football in the modern era with the attacking options of Bergkamp and Pires. Could Wilshere and Cazorla prompt a return to these glory days?
Arsenal at times appeared a little one dimensional last year especially when Cazorla’s space was restricted, something which occured more frequently during the second half of the season. One option which would enable Wenger to play all three midfielders would be to push Cazorla slightly wider and allow him to find more space, a position he appeared comfortable in for Malaga.
My belief is that Wenger will not be forced into making a definitive decision on who makes his midfield two and who doesn’t. The Frenchman knows that Jack Wilshere must be carefully managed to prevent re-occurrences of his stress fracture, similar question marks remain over the fitness of other Arsenal midfielders and as such the onus may well be on flexibility and rotation. It is easy to forget what an excellent pre-season someone like Thomas Rosicky has had, and with this in mind I expect to see wholesale changes to the shape of the midfield throughout next season. Yes perhaps if he was honest a partnership between Cazorla and Wilshere maybe ideal, but the workload that Arsenal could face will necessitate that he is flexible with his options.
The bonus for Arsenal is that the majority of their options are extremely capable. Even if he were to play a combination of Arteta and Rosicky or maybe Ramsey, the team would still be afforded the same sort of style and ethos that transcends the whole football club. I don’t see a potential overload as problematic, but instead quite useful for Wenger as he makes plans for the coming year.
Will a defensive midfielder see Arsenal overloaded or will they now have strength in depth?
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