Son of a Gun!

Musings on Arsenal Football Club by a Singaporean Gooner (Gooner since 1988)

Midfielders for the season ahead August 12, 2009

Filed under: Midfield,Pre-season — Son of a Gunner @ 11:52 am

I had intended to write about Right and Left wingers for the season ahead for my positions for the season ahead series. But seeing that Wenger has been using 4-3-3 all pre-season, I’ve decided to uodate accordingly as well. Today, I will talk about all our midfielders and who should be in the midfield trio.

From what I have seen in pre-season to-date, this midfield trio is pretty interchangeable. The only constant is that the midfielders will remain just behind the attacking trio and the flank players of the attacking trio will fall back to make it a 5 man midfield when we’re not in possession. Then one of the midfield trio will fall furhter back, just ahead of the back four to act as anchor. With that in mind, let us begin:

Francesc Fabregas – Our young captain meteorial rise in the footballing world is the one big positive of the past 5 seasons since the class of the invincibles. I doubt there are many superlatives that wasn’t use on him. To me, he is already one of the world’s finest midfielder. His range of passing is world-class, and while there are many excellent passing players in the world such as Andrea Pirlo and Xabi Alonso, anyone who has been watching Fabregas will know his passing will not pale to these other greats. The amazing thing is, he is still only 22.

Other than his excellent passing and reading of the game, his footballing intelligence is also exceptional. However, besides all these obvious traits, Cesc also has some underrated qualities. Cesc is a fighter, both mentally and on the field. His winning mentality is there for all to see when he bites into challenges even though he isn’t the biggest player. To be able to not only survive in the Premier League but actually excel in it, is admirable for such a young player who isn’t even English. And I’ve always thought his tackling ability is a bit underrated.

The only weakesses he might have are his aerial ability, but he has already scored a couple of headers, and his lack of pace, although he isn’t the slowest player in the world. His quick thinking, excellent positional awareness and pace of his passes completely shadow his weaknesses. Many mention he isn’t a leader, but I think his behavior off-the-field is exempletary and is something the youngsters can learn from. Yes, maybe he isn’t a natural leader but he has the qualities to lead by example. This will be his first full season as captain, here’s wishing our leader all the best on the field – may it be his best yet!

Alexander Song – Alex Song came to Arsenal only with the reputation as the nephew of Rigobert Song. I remember seeing his first few matches for Arsenal in his first pre-season and I thought he was lively and always seem ready to dive into 50-50 challenges.

Since Flamini and Gilberto left, Song became our only true defensive midfielder. He came into prominence in the second half of last sason, and cumulated into a man-of-the-match performance against Burnley, laying that cheeky backheel for Eboue to score. I almost couldn’t believe that was Song in the game, he was dominant in the centre of the park and was technically very sound as well.

If no one else comes in, then surely Alex Song has to start with Cesc. I know Wenger thinks he also make a very good defender (he is even officially listed as a defender in the official website) but I remain unconvinced. During pre-season, he didn’t look comfortable whenever he was moved into defence and if we did move him, then our midfield won’t be as rock solid as if he were there. However, it is worth bearing in mind that energetic, mobile midfielders can also excel in this new formation. So with that, we move on to our next midfielder:

Aaron Ramsey – I’ve said many times that he has really impressed me in pre-season. Ramsey is mobile, has an excellent engine that made him looked as if he has more than a pair of lungs, and has developed physically as well. His box-to-box displays reminds one of a very young and raw Bryan Robson.

He is both-footed and has a mean long rang shot. He has a tendency to try from distance, which is extremely rare in this Arsenal squad and he may yet yield a few goals for us using this avenue. Only 18 years-old, he is already full international. He has impressed enough to start most of the pre-season friendlies and I can’t wait to see more of him this coming season.

Abou Diaby – He joined in the same January window as Adebayor and Walcott and was immediately dubbed the new Vieira due to their similar height, physique, baldness and overrall look. Before he had that horrible ankle injury, I really thought he was a very decent player although his tackling isn’t exactly world-class. Since his return from that injury, he wasn’t exactly injury-free for long periods of time and that has certainly affected his progress.

There is a running joke about how he will play one game and be injured for the next 5 games. And the sad thing is, it isn’t far from the truth. Along the way, he was converted into a wide player on the left and even played up front just behind the target man for a few occasions. Because of this, I think he can adapt easily into the new formation as his natural position is in the centre. And due to the mobility of the team play in the new formation, he may have to go left, right or just able anywhere to fill gaps his midfield colleagues has left behind and yet still blend into the teamplay. He has enough experience playing in those wide positions and he is only 23. Seems incredible but that just goes to show how young he was when he first joined Arsenal. Now, we can only hope he can stay injury-free long enough to learn about his role in the new formation.

Emmanuel Eboue – I featured him in Rightbacks for the season ahead as well but as all Gooners know, he is very versatile. With transfer rumours of him leaving cooling off, I’m actually feeling very relieved that he’s staying. We cannot afford to let him go especially when we are lacking in quality in rightback after Bacary Sagna and he can also fill in at midfield or even as part of the attacking trio.

In midfield he can flank Fabregas on the right but still remain mainly central to keep the balance of the team. If need be, he can also provide useful crosses (we often forget what a good crosser of the ball he is) by drifting out to the right and to provide defensive stability in midfield when we lose the ball. He should adapt well in this role as it shouldn’t be entirel unfamiliar to him, he has played in centre midfield when we were still using 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 before. He is a very useful option.

Denilson – He played the most number of games last season and had a brilliant start to last season when he created quite a few goals and always looked purposeful whenever he went forward. However, he was criticised in the second half of the season when he looked jaded, lost, passed sideways too often and often outmuscled in games. We forget that despite his excellent fitness, he is still only 21 and to be jaded is not uncommon. He is not the biggest midfielder but his exceptional fitness ensured he doesn’t look out of place even when he is playing a lot of games.

Denilson was the Brazilian U19 captain, so he cannot be a bad player. I just feel he isn’t the type of midfield enforcer that Cesc need alongside him. He is more of a Cesc understudy but with the new formation, they could play together with a strong disciplined holding midfielder behind them. He has featured heavily in pre-season but I feel that the new formation would also mean we won’t be seeing him as often this coming season as we did last season, and maybe that might keep him fresh so that isn’t a bad thing at all.

Andrey Arshavin – What else don’t we know about the Russian magician? Myles Palmer (whom I often find ridiculous) of ANR rightly claims he is one of the top 5 players in the world, and I believe that too. But only if he is talking about the top 5 attacking players.

I had meant to feature him in the attacking trip article but I think there will be times that he will play in the midfield trio this season. How he can fit in would be if Cesc and Song/Denilson/Ramsey were side-by-side with Arshavin in a slightly more advanced role behind the main focal point/target man of the attacking trio. This might be seen when we are chasing a game or when we are playing a very defensive side.

However, I think Arshavin is already part of Wenger’s first choice attacking trio. We shall see. One thing we Gooners can be sure is – he will be a player who will have a big say in our fortunes this season.

Samir Nasri – He has started his Arsenal career as a Pires-style right-footed left-sided midfielder and was hugely impressive. Towards the end of the season, Wenger experimented with him in a holding midfielder role to mixed results. Although many criticised this move, I can understand where Wenger is coming from.

Nasri played in the centre for Marseille, and is physically very strong and can hold the ball well. He is also technically very sound to be able to play the kind of fast-moving one-touch football Arsenal is famous for, through the middle. The ony thing that needs polishing is his ball-winning skills. However, I’ve always felt playing him in such a role will stifle his attacking instincts, which to me, are his main strengths.

What I’m trying to get at here, is that he will fit seamlessly into the midfield trio. We will see for ourselves when he returns, hopefully in October. The bad news is, he has had pre-season to adapt to the new formation.

Jack Wilshere – The boy wonder can’t keep himself off the news since his out-of-this-world performance in the Emirates Cup. He is a natural left-footed genius who can play in any attacking role. He plays in the centre for the reserves and in the academy side so he will fit in nicely both in midfield and in attack using the new formation. I believe we will be seeing him quite a fair bit this coming season.

Tomas Rosicky – Out injured after having a very good pre-season is the biggest downside to his comeback so far. However, the good news is his performances in pre-season has shown that he hasn’t lost his touch at all and will be able to fit into the Arsenal system with much ease. The flexibility of the new formation could mean we have the possibility of seeing him, Nasri, Arshavin, Wilshere, van Persie and Cesc all playing in the same team. That simply spells disaster for any defence.

Overrall:
Defensive midfield trio – I would recommend Abou Diaby with Alex Song and Cesc Fabregas in the centre if we want to be slightly more conservative or to put more stability into the side. Ramsey can come in for Diaby if he is not available. Diaby may not be a good tackler but he has the most imposing figure aong our midfielders and Song remains our first choice holding midfield, and he has improved technically as well to launch quick counter-attacks to make our 4-3-3 as fluid as Wenger would have liked.

Offensive midfield trio – If we are playing against very defensive teams, we can try playing two of Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Andrey Arshavin, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Eboue or Denilson with Cesc. Ramsey can be brought in if Cesc is not available.

Current – With Rosicky and Nasri injured, my choice midfield trio is Cesc, Song and Diaby (followed closely by Eboue if Diaby is off injured). This would offer stability both to attack and defence. One reason why Wenger is still looking at another attacking player is because he must know that relying on Diaby and Rosicky to be completely injury-free throughout the season is too much of a gamble, given their histories. It would only take another midfield injury to leave us looking really thin, especially during the peak period where games can be as close as 2 day apart.

Cesc is our captain and his best position remains in midfield, not up front like he was deployed in a few games last season. Song is our best defensive midfielder so my guess is the two will definitely be Wenger’s choice and I think the third player who will start at Everton at opening weekend would be Denilson. Who would be your choice?

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