Going into the 2014 summer transfer window, it seemed like the Arsenal squad had two glaring holes. The two glaring holes were at striker and defensive midfielder. Arsene Wenger addressed his need for a striker with the signings of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez. The club did not address the weakness at defensive midfield over the course of the window.
Defensive midfield has been a problem for Arsenal for a few windows now. Numbers-wise, Arsenal are fine with Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, and even Francis Coquelin, although I’m not sure the latter will get a whole lot of game time. The problem is the lack of overall quality in that position. No-one in that trio is a top quality defensive midfielder, not to mention that they are not getting any younger with Arteta age 32 and Flamini age 30. Former Everton man, Mikel Arteta, is, when fit, the first choice defensive midfielder. That’s not good enough when the rest of the top four have defensive midfielders like Nemanja Matic, Steven Gerrard, and Fernandinho.
Arteta will never be mistaken for a midfield powerhouse, like say Nemanja Matic. The Spaniard is a small technical player who relies on his defensive positioning and his talent with the ball at his feet. This is shown since Arteta has the highest pass completion percentage of the four players and makes the most interceptions per 90 minutes. Despite being very good on the ball, the La Masia product usually stays close to the half way line and does not make many penetrative passes. The 32 year old made the fewest key passes per 90 minutes of the four and was the only one with less than one key pass per 90 minutes. While his positioning is good, Arteta isn’t great defensively and can be caught out that way. He made more defensive errors than Matic and Fernandinho and made fewer clearances than Matic and Gerrard.
The biggest problem for Arteta is his waning athleticism. Everyone knows the problems Arsenal had in big games last season. Obviously there were lots of problems in those games including the tactics; but, the Spaniard was exposed in those games as well. Arsenal would get caught on the counter and the 32 year old often couldn’t keep up with the pacey counter-attacks of the other top teams. It was apparent that he was a weak link in the Arsenal XI and teams exploited that. One specific example was the 3-0 drubbing handed out by Arteta’s former team Everton. Roberto Martinez targeted Arsenal’s number eight, as well as Nacho Monreal. The Everton attack gave the two Spaniards a torrid time and ripped Arsene Wenger’s side to shreds.
One of the main things people took away from 2013/2014 as a weakness for Arsenal was their lack of a top quality defensive midfielder. Instead of going out and buying an upgrade, Arsenal have decided to stick with what they have. Arsenal did have a strong transfer window replacing the players they lost and adding up front. But choosing not to upgrade at defensive midfield could prove to be a very costly decision.