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Rethinking Midfield Strategies

Rethinking Midfield Strategies

"You have to analyse the way we play for the national team. At Arsenal there is only one channel between the defence and attack and that is me, so I'm involved in practically all of the attacks but here with Spain there are more variations, more ways of attacking."

Those words from Cesc during the Euros this summer may not have meant to portray a negative about Arsenals game but it does convey an air of predictability in our playing style. Maybe somewhere in there is a clue as to what reconstruction might be going on in our midfield.

The apocalyptic air which has followed the closure of the transfer window is rooted in our failure to secure a midfield defender or enforcer or other such noun intended to impart a positive to an essentially negative action. If, as Cesc says, he is the one channel between defence and attack is he helped by partnering him with someone who reinforces that reality? Wouldn`t he be more logically assisted by someone who can offer another channel between defence and attack? That would give him more time and space and make us less predictable in the process surely.

Looking at our games so far this season it is notable how often Denilson has sought to go past the forwards to make telling contributions with assists for Nasri and Adebayor while scoring himself. Denilson is a player Wenger described when he signed him as 'a little bit Rosicky and a little bit Gilberto`. If that`s true it offers a tantalising prospect of being able to meet our defensive obligations while lifting some of the creative burden from Fabregas.

But are our defensive obligations compromised by such a selection? Possibly but here we are talking about midfield balance. It is worth remembering that, as good as he is, Cesc is still someway from his peak. He is getting physically stronger as was evident playing for Spain and as Wenger said recently he is intelligent enough to make a good defender himself. This is an aspect of his game that will improve the overall defensive capability of midfield especially as Nasri shows a greater capacity and effectiveness to work back than Hleb, for all his other qualities, was able to do. Diaby, when fit, offers another midfield combination in which his height may give some defensive protection from long high balls. The option is there to match the combination with the tactical need and would even include everyone's favourite - Eboue.

The only 'confirmed,` if we can call it that, midfield target this summer was apparently Alonso. Not your archetypal midfield destroyer but a player whose passing range offers an attacking threat while the tempo and accuracy of his passing helps retain possession. The value of possession as a defensive strategy isn`t always appreciated. By contrast 'ball winners` imply risky tackles which can give away free kicks around the penalty area. It is from just such situations that less gifted teams can gain a scoring opportunity. It makes sense then to avoid, as much as we can, conceding free kicks in having to win the ball back in those areas. The ability to pass swiftly and accurately helps with that objective.

It`s easy to feel that there is a natural combination of attacking midfielder and defending midfielder but Senna , while the defending midfielder, still played a fairly attacking role for Spain while Xavi would also 'hold`, when needed in the way that Alonso does. Maybe instead of ruing the failure to acquire a midfield enforcer we should contemplate an interesting and less predictable rethinking of our midfield strategy using the resources we have.

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Date:Thursday September 4 2008
Time: 1:50PM


Great article A-moose. Thats why Denilson will be a start this season!
04/09/2008 14:03:00
04/09/2008 14:04:00
But there's not enough meat in the sandwich. I accept that Denilson could replicate Flamini's energy, but could he become the physical presence that Flamini offered? It's all very well pontificating the possibility of possession as a method of defence, but the reality is, we won't always have possession and we don't we need somebody to get it back. The stategies as outlined above are all very well when Arsenal are at their flowing best, but there needs to be an alternative for when we are not. Look at Villa Park last season, we came under extensive pressure in the second half, a large part of the reason we were able to resit it and hang on was the ability of Diarra and Flamini to break up Villa's attacks. I don't see the midfielders in our current squad that would be able to replicate that.
Little Dutch
04/09/2008 14:15:00
Agree Amos and a lot of people are totally missing this point in thinking there is only one way to play the game. If the midfield attacks when they have the ball and defends when they don't as we did against Milan, that will make the difference
04/09/2008 14:20:00
IMO Denilsons passing hasnt bin up to scratch
04/09/2008 14:38:00
The point about the away game at Villa is a good one LD. We came under great pressure in the second half because Hleb, he of the magnetic boots, went off early. We murdered them in the first half because they couldn't take the ball off him. We swopped him for Walcott whose boots are a shade less sticky. Then we came under pressure.
04/09/2008 14:44:00
Amos, yes, that's true, Villa resorted to the only way opponents know how to defend against us and that is to target our toughest player to get the ball from and kick him off the park. That tactic won't change. I like the notion that AW may be trying to diversify our attack by having different options in midfield -- but for that to work we need better options there. For that strategy to work, we need a helluva of midfield. Denilson's passing is a bit wayward. However, in this month's opta stats, he's one of the league's top tacklers. I'm sure he can improve on his passing but is he tough enuf to face the kind of tactics Villa used against Hleb, consistently? The issue for me is that our midfield options--while each having a number of strengths--have yet to convince me that they can effectively handle a long league campaign against teams who will resort to what Villa did. Hell, they couldn't do it against Fulham!
04/09/2008 15:52:00
I think that ideally Wenger would have wanted to ease Denilson in over this season. Maybe he is forced to use him earlier and more than he would wish hence the pitch for Alonso. But I don't see too many other options and more to the point neither it seems did Wenger. In all fairness they have yet to convince me that they can sustain a full campaign - but I still reckon we can compete. Once again though the real weakness against Fulham wasn't our central midfield.
04/09/2008 16:00:00
Finally someone talks some sense, we actually are'nt that bad off in midfield and the combination of Denilson and Cesc looks promising and don't forget that Cesk can tackle and track back quite sucsessfully.
04/09/2008 16:16:00
STOP WHINGEING!!!!! 10 months aint that long ! just cope with the jeers from spuds and citeh, and playing in uefa cup next season! but worry not, 2009/2010, well win a double, EPL + UCL, go ARSENAL!
04/09/2008 16:18:00
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