The summer transfer window has come and gone and the sensational reactions are all over the place. Due to a lack of action in the window, Arsenal fans are freaking out all over the internet. After buying only Petr Cech, many fans and pundits alike have declared the Gunners’ window a complete failure, proclaimed that the season is already over, and are calling for Arsene Wenger to be sacked. Shocking, isn’t it?
Despite what some people may tell you, Arsenal’s transfer window was not a complete failure. They upgraded on their biggest weakness going from the good but not great David Ospina to the world class Petr Cech. That said, they still did make a mistake with their inactivity in the window, but it’s not in the position that the media would have you believe. While there has been much talk over Arsenal not buying a striker, even more so after Danny Welbeck’s surgery, in the end, no top strikers were available to be bought. As much as Arsene Wenger may have wanted a Karim Benzema type, there weren’t any on the market. The position that Arsenal could and should have upgraded at was defensive midfielder.
Defensive midfield has been a need for a long time at Arsenal. It’s not as pressing as it was a year ago due to the emergence of Francis Coquelin, but it’s still a position that they can upgrade. This isn’t to say Coquelin is a bad player, he isn’t and his individual performances over the last nine months have been outstanding. But he is a limited player and those limits hurt the team balance.
The biggest problem with Coquelin in the Arsenal team is his limited ability on the ball. That means that his natural partner is the sensational Spaniard, Santi Cazorla. While he is a very good player, pairing Cazorla with the Frenchman means that Aaron Ramsey is either shunted to right wing or left out all together.
Ideally, the Welshman would be paired with a defensive midfielder, but his style of play and Coquelin’s don’t mesh. Ramsey runs all over the pitch and loves to make runs beyond the last defender, but that leaves the defensive midfielder exposed. The Frenchman isn’t comfortable enough with the ball at his feet to be left alone time and time again like he is with Ramsey. Their inability to mesh together is the root a few problems with the team balance.
Since Arsene Wenger knows the value of having Ramsey in the team, he is reluctant to drop the Welshman and often plays him at right wing. Having a playmaker wide can cause all kinds of problems in the team balance. This article goes more into the ill effects of wide playmakers, but last season Arsenal had a 78% win percentage with two true wingers as opposed to a 34% win percentage with a wide playmaker, like Ramsey or Cazorla. With Ramsey on the right, Alexis on the left, and Giroud up top, Arsenal lack a player that is going to make runs in behind and stretch the defence. Giroud just doesn’t have the pace to threaten the back line, Ramsey’s runs aren’t as effective when coming from wide, and, for all his pace, Alexis wants the ball to feet and tends to avoid running in behind. With Ramsey wide, they have to rely on Hector Bellerin for width on the right. As we saw in the West Ham game, if Bellerin is unavailable, Mathieu Debuchy doesn’t have the pace to do the job of the young Spaniard, and the team becomes too narrow. The lack of width and pace created by this imbalance causes the Gunners to be too predictable. When their beautiful passing football through the middle isn’t coming off, Arsenal are much easier to stop than they should be.
While new problems may arise later, many of the current problems in the side could be solved by having a defensive midfielder that is more adept at controlling games. Where there weren’t any available options at striker, there were plenty of defensive midfielders that moved this summer. The defensive midfield situation isn’t as bad as it has been in past years for Arsenal. Coquelin can still do an adequate job for them, but some of the problems they’ve experienced lately with the team balance could have been solved by simply buying a new defensive midfielder in the mold of a Mikel Arteta type.