A look back at Arsenal’s 2011/2012 season continues with a look at the midfield trio we’ve deployed throughout the season and the changes in the front 3. Articles on the defence and mid-way point in the season are on the site as well.
There were plenty of changes in the midfield with the departure of Fabregas and Nasri along with Wilshere’s season ending injury, the return of Ramsey and the new-guy in the form of Mikel Arteta. We also saw Tomas Rosicky make a welcome return to form after years in the wilderness and the evolution of Alex Song from defensive midfielder to deep-lying playmaker to clueless egoist to deep-lying playmaker again. Wenger began the season with a 1-2 in midfield, Song as the anchorman, the 2 varied, which was aimed to fill the Cesc-shaped hole in our creative play. Much like the 3 strikers, this was soon dropped to a much more fluid trio, each with their own duties and zones. At the spine of the trio lay two of the seasons most talked about players; Song and Arteta.
As this article shows, Song’s defensive stats have decreased year on year and his attacking stats increasing, reaching his pinnacle this year with 35 chances created, 11 assists and 2 goals. He has become a deep-lying playmaker and a valuable one at that. As opposition defences sit deep against us, squeezing the space in their own third, it’s vital to have someone sitting back in free space who can sometimes pick out a world-class pass. More often than not though, it’s a speculative hollywood pass to no one with only 24 accurate through balls from 90 attempts. He has one of the highest through-balls/game ratio with 0.7 and the lowest final-third passing accuracy of our attacking players with 31%. A terrific asset to the squad but he must stop trying to live up to his ‘Songinho’ nick-name. His progression is the main reason that signing a true-defensive midfielder is a must. Coquelin has been very impressive and will have a great future ahead of him, but he is not ready yet. Frimpong’s injuries mean that he needs another year on-loan to gain the right experience required to play as a defensive-midfielder.
Arteta has been a revelation in the midfield. The fact we only managed to win one game without him this season is testament to how reliant our midfield has become upon him. His metronomic ability to control the tempo helped us maintain pressure on opposition and link up the defence and midfield when going forward. Defensively, considering this was his first season playing this far back in the midfield, he had a good return and I thought after yesterday’s fuss over Michael Carrick’s international retirement I would compare the two. They both have the same ability to control a game and make everyone around them better, while going entirely unnoticed themselves, although Carrick’s defensive ability is much better than Arteta’s.
[table id=68 /]
Even against Xabi Alonso, one of the world’s greatest in that position, Arteta holds his own. Alonso makes 1.8 key passes per game, Arteta 2.1. Alonso’s passing accuracy was 88% and Arteta’s was 90%. While Alonso trumps Arteta on assists with 9 to 2, Arteta has 6 goals and Alonso 1 (Stats courtesy of WhoScored.com). With his experience and cool-head, Arteta has become a vital part of the squad and was excellent at protecting the back-four as he rarely got dragged out of position or stayed up front like Song has at times.
In terms of our other deeper midfielders there’s little to look at. Diaby is the most notable name and unfortunately I feel this season was his last chance. Too many injuries culminating from the Smith and Essien challenges mean that we can’t afford to keep paying him whatever it is a week when we’re trying to compete with the likes of Juventus and Man City for our own captain.
In what has been referred to as ‘the Cesc role’ this season as his shadow continues to cast over it, we have seen two very different players. Aaron Ramsey started the season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders. A 21 he was going to have to play his first full season after a broken leg, all while trying to replace one of the greatest midfielders to have worn the cannon on their chest. Throw in fatigue mid-way through the season, a dip in form and the death of his national manager who had made him captain, it was a season to forget for the young Welshman, but one that hopefully he can use to grow stronger. There are obvious things he needs to work on, his timing of runs into the box, his finishing with a chance conversion rate of 6% (his clear-cut chance conversion of 14% was the lowest on the team) and his tendency to dally on the ball, having been dispossessed 88 times, second-highest of the squad. There are promising signs though; he won the ball the most out of any Arsenal player in the attacking third and was often the furthest forward pressing the opposition defence, his passing accuracy in the final third was 79%, one of the highest of our attacking players, and he created 55 chances, second only to Van Persie. Hopefully a quiet summer away from the spotlight will do him the world of good and he can return next season to live up to his potential.
As Ramsey faded away, Tomas Rosicky made a welcome return. After years of mediocrity, we finally saw the ‘Little Mozart’ we had signed from Dortmund, zipping about the pitch and causing havoc for defences, picking out Van Persie with a mixture of deft passes and sweeping cross-field balls with the outside of his boot and encouraging all those around him.
[table id=69 /]
Rosicky himself stated he needs to make up for lost time so hopefully we can see him kick on next year and be a vital part of our midfield like he has been during the run-in this season.
I thought the midfield section would probably be the best to take a look at how our pressing has compared to the champions in attacking areas of the pitch. Our best performances often come when the team works as a unit, pressing together to win back possession and taking advantage of the opponents disadvantage by attacking quickly. This season we have won possession in the midfield third 850 times and City 958. In the attacking third it’s 99 for us and 126 for City. Interceptions were close with the Gunners making 639 and City 648, but what’s obvious is that more work needs to be done in this area. Pressing isn’t the odd few players running about after the ball like a schoolyard game, it requires the team to remain compact, squeeze the space and the opposition will be easier to pressure. Much like the fact we lead the way on goals from defensive errors with 13, this definitely needs to be worked on over the summer.
Next Page: Analysis of the Front Three positions: van Persie, Gervinho, Walcott and Oxlade covered. Click here to read on…