Arsenal have had an inconsistent set of midfielders over recent seasons, which need immediate resolution for the club to get back to its glory days
The first nine years of Arsene Wenger’s association with Arsenal was much success, with regular trophies, title challenges, free-flowing football and plenty of goals increased in multifold the club’s fan base. It is the formative years, since moving to the Emirates Stadium when this honeymoon period came to a close and so began the ‘trophyless era’ which put Arsene Wenger under tremendous pressure.
This pressure has since created number of Arsenal teams that at the beginning of every season since the 2007-08 one seemed like world beaters, only to be beaten at the own backyard by clubs which were once terrified at the prospect of playing the Gunners.
Once the ‘Invincibles’ began their departures, Wenger consistently has formed teams capable of playing exceptional football, irrespective of the opponents they faced. A bright, young crop of players was assembled by the Frenchman, be it attackers or defenders, Wenger always found a way through in the busiest of markets or through Arsenal’s youth system.
The only problem area he has since not been able to solve is the midfield conundrum; not because of his inability to spot the right talent, but for the fact that he’s been unable to keep hold of them tightly for the long-term future of the club.
Arsene Wenger time and again has seen his side’s title challenge fall apart, while in recent seasons, it has surely been due to a lack of an archetypal ‘Wenger’ midfielder. A Wenger midfielder is the kind that can dictate play from deep, provide an attacking viewpoint, follow defensive duties and get out of tight paces that teams often deploy to stifle movements and attack.
The ones closest to this type of midfielder would be Santi Cazorla, while others like Cesc Fabregas, Abou Diaby or Tomas Rosicky are the ones that either got away or fell play to the injury curse.
In recent seasons when Cazorla played this role, the team suffered and fell apart dramatically. A simple search on how Arsenal performed with the Spaniard in the team and how they did without him speaks volumes. The aforementioned Fabregas, Diaby, Rosicky are other players who, despite their immense talent could not provide the long-term solution Wenger was looking for, either for departures or psychologically damning injuries.
Apart from the qualities needed, the main characteristic that this midfielder needs is to take the game by the scruff of the neck and dictate proceedings. Wenger needs to acknowledge the fact that these midfielders could be game changers and the immediate need is to rectify the problem area. These players certainly could be the solution.
Jean Michel Seri (OGC Nice)
Seri was touted Arsenal’s number one midfield target last summer and had a reported €36 million clause in his contract at Nice. Wenger delayed any approach for the player, given Santi Cazorla’s injury setbacks and Xhaka’s unconvincing performances. Seri is the typical box to box midfielder Arsenal have craved for and missed Cazorla for.
His stats for Nice in Ligue 1 were impressive too, with 7 goals and 9 assists in a season that was by far his best. Arsenal fans who had followed Seri updates over the long tumultuous summer would have breathed a sigh of relief when his move to Barcelona fell through. Arsenal’s lack of players who could zip their way past opponents and in tight spaces in the centre of the park often leaves them exposed, something that Cazorla was adept at.
Seri would fit perfectly into Arsene Wenger’s system and like Xhaka, he possesses a wide range of passing ability and swings in a good long ball. The big difference between him and Xhaka is his mobility and ability to stop attacks. Seri’s tally from midfield with goals and assists too would have proved worthy to Arsenal this season, as the goals are a bit dry compared to what the team are used to producing.
Seri’s asking price seems to have gone lower from the €36 million asking price Nice had set last summer. But if Arsenal are to make a swoop, it needs to be fast because, apart from other major English clubs, PSG seem to be close to completing a deal for the Ivory Coast international.
Steven N’zonzi (Sevilla)
A midfielder who did not exactly shine on English shores during his stint with Blackburn Rovers earlier in his career, has gone on to become a star in the Spanish La Liga. Steven Nzonzi would be remembered for his impressive form for Sevilla which won back to back Europa League titles where the Frenchman set the tone in midfield.
He is a typical defensive midfielder in the mould of Francis Coquelin from an Arsenal reference point, but much more consistent than the Arsenal man. Defensive midfield has been one area which the Gunners never really have solved since the departure of Alex Song.
Francis Coquelin stepped out of the shadows momentarily, but since the mid-point of last season has disappeared from the starting line up, with very less hope of a revival on the cards. But the time he played in the first team, it felt like Arsene Wenger had successfully converted another trick from his hat. Nzonzi, would be the ideal replacement for the complacent Coquelin and would represent a great addition.
The 28-year old has been at loggerheads with Sevilla this season, and the Andalusian side have signalled they might be ready to sell, given a good offer comes their way. Fans and pundits alike have been crying for Wenger to add some real steel into the midfield to protect the defence and keep a tight grip on games.
The January window could represent yet another chance to sign a quality midfield re-enforcement considering the fight for the top four is getting hotter and Arsenal would be desperate to get back into Champions League places. There is no fee mooted yet, but an offer of €25 million would tempt Sevilla into opening talks about a move.
Fabinho (AS Monaco)
If Monaco surprised many by winning Ligue 1 and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, then Fabinho was one of the reasons they went that far. The Brazilian’s natural position lies at right back, but he went on to star in the middle of the park along with Tiémoué Bakayoko, as Monaco were rampant on all fronts.
As a midfielder, Fabinho proved way more than his worth and steadied the Monaco ship with some eye-catching performances, both in a holding role as well in a box to box role. Another key component in his game is his versatility, as he could play as well at right back, to great effect. Given Arsenal’s lack of effective cover options to Hector Bellerin on the right side of the defence, Fabinho would be the ideal choice and could provide the much-needed vision and anchor in midfield.
There were a lot of clubs, notably Manchester United, whom he was close to joining, only for Monaco to reject the idea and make him stay put. Given Monaco’s struggle in the league as well their Champions League exit, Fabinho would likely be open to a new challenge during mid-season.
There has been no suggestion as to how much Monaco would demand for their versatile Brazilian, but a fee of €40 million should be enough to tempt the club into considering.
Arsenal would flourish in midfield taking either of those aforementioned names to the Emirates. The competition in the market would be intense and if Arsenal are to act towards luring them, they need to do it fast.
Arsene Wenger has been somewhat reluctant in adding the required type of midfielder, and additionally trusting the options he has at his disposal. Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have had their moment, but are far away from convincing anyone that they are the future of Arsenal’s midfield