“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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