How many OK midfielders do Arsenal need? A lot, apparently. Mikel Arteta is another one in a long list of not-too-special central midfielders Arsenal have on their roster. The biggest problem? He’s also their most important player at times.
Without a “real” defensive midfielder, Arteta has been forced into that role. Undoubtedly the best of the panic buys by Arsene Wenger in 2011, Arteta cost £10 million to bring from Everton. During his first season for the team he nearly managed to ruin Manchester City’s title chances, and played quite well in the playmaker role he’s familiar with.
Last season, things changed. With Arsenal once again finding themselves without a defensive midfielder, Arteta was moved back into the anchorman role, which he has fulfilled quite well considering he isn’t the best of tacklers or too aggressive. But Arteta is intelligent enough to make up for his physical shortcomings, becoming an irreplacable feature in Wenger’s lineup, even if he isn’t playing in the position he should.
The friendly match against Napoli, ending in a 2-2 draw, was a perfect example of how this current Arsenal team can’t really do it without Arteta pushing them from behind, as the lack of discipline from Wilshere and Ramsey when the two are paired together resulted in too much space for the Italian players to go 2-0 up from. As Sam Limbert put it, Arteta is crucial to the club’s chances of doing anything next season:
It was no coincidence Napoli looked most dangerous before Arteta arrived to anchor the midfield. The prospect of Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere together in midfield is an exciting one; however, the pair still need to work on their understanding. Too often, both were up alongside Tomas Rosicky, leaving plenty of space in front of the Arsenal back four for Napoli to run into. This space was exploited well for the second goal for the Italians. Until Didier Drogba came on, Galatasaray didn’t challenge the back four too often because of the presence of Arteta.
And this is yet another reason why Arsenal are heading into another season of underachievement when you compare it to Wenger’s teams from 10 years ago, but as the more recent campaigns have taught us, they’re right where they should be. A team without a real “stopper” in the midfield is destined to struggle against quality midfield units, as we saw against Bayern Munich. Arteta is the best Arsenal have, and that’s simply not good enough, if Wenger truly does believe that this squad, without a major marquee signing everyone seems to be waiting for, can challenge for a league title.
Experiments have been made, but one preseason isn’t enough to change players completely. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has been used in many positions during Arsenal’s preseason matches, even as a defensive midfielder. The result? Mixed, but it’s hard to believe that he’ll be the answer to the team’s deficiencies in that area. Maybe Matthias Ginter, who Arsenal are rumored to be chasing, can become their “salvation”, and release Arteta from a burden that stops him from doing what he’s best at.