Thursday, 4 October 2012

Do Arsenal need extra midfielder?

So added to the misery of any defeat against Chelsea was the fact that Diaby limped off after quarter of an hour with yet another injury. It is the tall Frenchman's second injury already this season, and he really does look anywhere near being able to get over his injury woes.

Yet without Diaby in the side, which giving his track record is not something you'd bet on, Arsenal need more strength. This is recognised by Arsene who recently said that "We don’t have many physical players," 

This has become a common theme surrounding the Arsenal side in the last few years, as other side try and take advantage of the fact that we are seen as too weak. The last time we won the league we had Vieira and Gilberto destroying other teams height and strength wise, with able back up from Campbell and Lauren behind them. But even Thierry, Bergkamp and Pires were known for giving out as good as they got on the field.

Whilst its silly to compare our side to that team, as it will undoubtedly come up short, we may be wise in trying to add some bite to the side. Without Diaby, who regularly struggles with his perennial injuries, we are likely to field a central midfield with its tallest player being 5ft 8in, and even the manager is realising that not signing a stand in for Diaby is something of a risk.

It's foolish to doubt the quality or Arteta (5ft8), Cazorla (5ft6) and Wilshere (5ft7). Attacking wise there are not many midfield's in the world with such technique, vision and ability. Even defensively, Arteta had slotted into a deeper role seemlessly this season, which was highlighted by Arsene too. The manager said "Mikel Arteta has shown he can be a great defensive midfield player. He was outstanding in that area against Chelsea."

 Similarly, Jack's style of play cleverly combines an effervescent English desire of pace and power with technique and skill that could see him slot into a Spanish or Italian team with ease. Even Cazorla, our little Spanish midfield maestro has deceptive strength and will not be bullied. He also is schooled in quick pressing up the pitch which certainly helps out the rest of the side defensively.

However, especially since we are yet to see these three feature together, can we really rely on these players to not get physically dominated by teams. Even Barcelona like to have the strong Busquets shepherding the midfield, and Song will give them the physical presence they need to replace the outgoing Keita. And that's in the Spanish League, which is not known for its physicality.

The challenges laid out by Stoke and Allardyce's West Ham could dominate our small midfield and stifle their creative talents. Even Yaya Toure's physical presence is relied upon by City. This was partly shown on Saturday against Chelsea, and even the first half of the Olympiacos game. Cazorla's creativity was stifled by the packed midfield of Ramires, Oscar and Mikel, and he drifted all over the pitch in an attempt to make an influence on the game, and this meant he was not in the right areas to cause to most damage to the opposition. Furthermore Steve Bould picked up on the same problem in last night's game, declaring that "they set the 4-1-4-1 with the big fella sat in front of the back four. Santi couldn't get on the ball in the first half and we tried to correct that at half-time, and I thought we improved."

What is the biggest challenge though is from set pieces. We have already conceded from 3 set pieces this season which is pretty awful. Plus the goal last night was a goal that we did not like to see. Noone closing down the cross, and no real challenge for the header in the box. The team evidently needs to work on them more, as we are basically giving away goals. Every Premier League side boats tall, powerful headers of the ball and for us, without Diaby we are quite small which was epitomised by the fact that after taking off Diaby, we had Chamberlain marking the  Chelsea centre-back David Luiz. Surely a mismatch there...

With Wenger admitting that "it was a gamble" not to buy a stand in for the languid Diaby - who has been excellent this season - then is it right that he is making that gamble? With so much excess cash in the bank, as illustrated by the excellent financial results for this year, surely we could have splashed out on someone to slot in. Losing Song hasn't been such an emphatic loss as many predicted, and arguably we are a better side without the Cameroonian international, but now we have lost Diaby's height we may be about to discover that things aren't so rosy.

In defence of not buying any physical replacement, Arsene did state that he "was calculating as well that Wilshere was coming back, Francis Coquelin is here but was sick and Emmanuel Frimpong is back. Tomas Rosicky is coming back so we have many midfield players." We also have Aaron Ramsey who seems to have put behind his bad form of last season and is showing some great form. However, none of them bar Frimpong, have that physical stature we are craving. And Frimpong, whilst impressive can be quite erratic and does need to learn and develop more of his game before getting near the first team. Coquelin has been very impressive in his first team action this season, and certainly has a fan of his work in Wenger. But he is still very young and has a lot to learn. He may well be given the chance in coming weeks, and certainly needs to take that chance with both hands.

It strikes me as a peculiar gamble to take from Wenger in not buying a recognised stand in, when the stakes this season are so high. But hopefully it will pay off, Arsene did say that "We’ll see overall if it was a good or bad decision at the end of the season."

Let's hope he's right. West Ham away will be a massive challenge for us, especially with them flying high in the table right now. Allardyce loves the physical challenge of the game, and with Andy Carroll set to be fit for Saturday's game, we are definitely going to be bombarded with balls in the box.

Having Mertesacker back fit will be a big boost, if he can recover form his illness, but we may still need more power across the team. Wenger's close pursuit of M'Vila hints that he may have liked to sign someone in that role, but eventually that come to nothing.

I hope his gamble is right, and if not that he rectify's the problem in January.

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