It’s a shame Arsenal‘s rumoured pursuit of Arturo Vidal was nothing more than a manifestation of silly season, inspired by a manure-stirring journalist and his inaccurately translated misquotes, because the Chile international could have been the perfect compromise between Arsene Wenger’s vision of the Gunners’ engine room and the opposing demands of Premier League football.
Since the days of Gilberto Silva, the Emirates gaffer continually moved away from the idea of a big-and-burly, stereotypical holding player at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Rather, Wenger has turned towards short and energetic play-breakers like Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin, or Pirlo impersonators like Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere. Even the 6ft. 2″ Alex Song wasn’t your run of the mill enforcer; notorious for drifting out of position and claiming eleven Premier League assists during his ultimate campaign in north London.
In a sense, it’s understandable; Arsenal are the most technically-demanding side in England, enthused together upon the ideals of free-flowing tiki-taka, so the concern that a cumbersome 6ft. 3″ warrior of the William Carvalho variety could disrupt their rhythm, tempo and elegance is a natural one.
Especially considering the best of the best in that role can cost an absolute fortune. Carvalho is rated at in excess of £30million and the likes of Lars Bender, Morgan Schneiderlin and Grzegorz Krychowiak aren’t too far behind. Manchester City forked out £24million for Yaya Toure before he became the relentless attacking battering ram we know today, whilst Chelsea coughed up £22million for Nemanja Matic just 18 months ago.
So the recent emergence of Coquelin – dubbed ‘The Midfield Detective’ by Arsenal-legend-come-Sky-Sports-analyst Thierry Henry – has only further convinced Wenger that he shouldn’t devote a significant chunk of his summer budget to a player who, by nature, will juxtapose the ideals the rest of the starting XI is built around. If Arsenal are to buy an out-and-out defensive midfielder, it would have to be someone truly spectacular; a Sergio Busquets or a Javi Martinez, who both seem to be off limits this summer; or a budget buy who knows he’s the Gunners’ answer to John Obi Mikel, reserved for big fixtures and solidifying duties from the bench.
The Premier League, however, demands athletic, tall and powerful players, and the current absence of one in midfield is seen by many as a glass ceiling between Arsenal and the division’s other title contenders. Manchester United’s Michael Carrick and Maroaune Fellaini measure in at over 6ft, City boast Toure, Fernando and Fernandinho, and Chelsea’s Matic is the largest centre-mid in the league. Meanwhile, Aaron Ramsey is currently Arsenal’s only midfielder breaching the 6ft mark – and he spent the second half of last season on the right wing.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a holding player, but injecting athleticism and power somewhere into Arsenal’s engine room should be one of Wenger’s leading priorities this summer, if only for the sake of the six-point affairs, which is why I view Arturo Vidal as the perfect compromise.
He’s capable of undertaking that anchoring role but is far more influential as a box-to-boxer, last season juxtaposing seven goals and four assists with 3.1 tackles per match in Serie A. The Chile star offers that uniquely South American blend of technique and tenacity, bridging the gap between what the Gunners need and what they currently have, not to mention physicality and stamina in abundance.
He maintains the Gunners’ current themes yet also adds something a little different, but most importantly of all has the attacking and technical prowess to play in the same midfield as Coquelin without reducing Arsenal to a war of absolute attrition in the middle of the park. There’s no doubting his pedigree or experience either, as a four-time Serie A winner, a 2014 World Cup quarter-finalist and a 2015 Champions League finalist.
At 28, Vidal may not offer much longevity, but in terms of the north London outfit’s title credentials for next season, he would have been a formidable boost, whilst his on-pitch and personal relationship with compatriot Alexis Sanchez is another added bonus.
But unfortunately, Arsenal’s pursuit of ‘Il Guerriero’ was all hot air, the result of some twitter-mad hack trying to make a name for himself. Which makes you wonder who Wenger does view as the ideal candidate to address the imbalance in the Gunners midfield, or even if he sees it as an issue requiring his attention. At this point, however, it seems improbable the north Londoners can win next season’s title without a midfielder of Vidal’s athleticism, tenacity and calibre.