Analysing Arsenal’s midfield woes
Once famed across the world for the brilliant technicians they played in their midfield, Arsenal’s current midfield, particularly the way it has been set up by Unai Emery, is a cause of concern due to the frequency in which they get overrun even in games against mid table sides.
On paper, Arsenal’s midfield looks strong. Lucas Torreira is a tenacious ball winning midfielder with average distribution. Granit Xhaka, despite all his flaws, is a player who can dictate and impose himself and make his presence felt in games. Matteo Guendouzi, 20, is considered one of the best young footballers on the planet. As of now, he looks like a jack of all trades kinda player. In Joe Willock, another youngster, Arsenal have a player who can lead them into what has been called the PnP( Pace and Power era). Dani Ceballos, on loan from Real Madrid, can be described as a hybrid of a no8 and a no10, with excellent close control and ball carrying abilities. In the much maligned Mesut Ozil, Arsenal have one of the greatest playmakers and No 10 not just this generation, but of all time. Even Ainsley Maitland Niles, who plays on the right side of the pitch mostly prefers to play in central midfield. Despite all the variety Arsenal have in their midfield ranks, it is pretty evident that athleticism is something the current crop lack( Joe Willock and Matteo Guendouzi are still young).
Last season Arsenal had the luxury of having Aaron Ramsey in their squad. Despite not being a regular part of Unai Emery’s first months, Ramsey played a stellar role in their revival after a mid season slump. The injury he suffered in the first half of the Europa League quarter final against Napoli (Arsenal went to Naples with a 2-0 lead and Ramsey was not fully fit) derailed Arsenal’s season and their Champions League hopes. Unai Emery could have just opted to not start Ramsey in the game, which later ended up having a disastrous effect on the season as Arsenal ended up finishing below Champions League spots despite having very winnable fixtures.
But Arsenal played some of the best football when Granit Xhaka was paired up with Lucas Torreira in case of a back four or with Ramsey in case of a back three. Either way it worked considerably well. Arsenal’s 4-2 win over Tottenham, Europa league victories over Napoli and Valencia suggested Emery had brought some much needed tenacity in Arsenal’s central midfield.
However the way Arsenal have been overpowered in midfield suggests things have drastically dropped off.
Despite the obvious quality of the midfield on paper, Arsenal have been outpaced, outmuscled and overpowered in midfield even against below par opposition. The lack of athleticism, especially in the PnP era, has hurt Arsenal a lot this season. Granit Xhaka lacks mobility, Torreira and Ceballos lack athleticism. None of Arsenal’s midfielders come in the top 20 for tackles won, interceptions, key passes or chances created suggesting Arsenal’s midfield is struggling to both create and defend.
Playing Granit Xhaka or Matteo Guendouzi at the base of the midfield and Lucas Torreira high up the pitch seems to be inexcusable. Lucas Torreira operates best at the base of the midfield with his terrific ball winning ability and decent passing. Xhaka and Guendouzi are better off as no 8 a little higher than Torreira. Despite the lack of athleticism, this midfield is good enough for Arsenal to exercise control in most of the games. Even the role reversal has not worked by any means suggesting Arsenal should get back to using Torreira at the base and one of Xhaka and Guendouzi and Xhaka higher as a no8. Willock and Ceballos are good enough to play as a no8 too.
- Passing rate refers to the passes made by a team in one minute
- PPDA is passes per defensive action
- OPPDA Opposition passes per defensive action
- Challenge intensity is the number of challenges and duels in one minute
The above set of stats depict the state of Arsenal’s midfield. Being 6th worst in defensive duel success and least in aerial duel success also point out to the squad’s lack of athleticism in the centre of the park. Hence signing an athletic midfielder is essential to improve Arsenal’s midfield. The only one they have closest to being such a midfielder is Joe Willock but it is too early to thrust such huge responsibility on his young soldiers.