Arsenal’s defensive midfield conundrum

October 31, 2013

I’ve seen fervent debate recently of Flamini vs Arteta and although some of it has been way over the top to both sides, some of it is interesting debate and I wanted to throw in my two-pence.

This past Saturday I met someone on the way to Selhurst Park who, in my opinion, summed up our situation perfectly. He said:

“Last year Arteta did a fine job but Flamini has come in and shown what a proper DM can bring to our side both defensively and in terms of getting the best out of others.”

Arteta has done admirably in the defensive role of our team, a position he has had to learn on the fly thereby curbing his attacking nature for the good of the team. I love his attitude when in the side and in most games he has performed well in that role. His reading of the game has helped combat his lack of pace. His passing allowed him to dictate games from deep.  All of this has worked effectively. The question though is has it worked as well as it could?

My observation is that in tougher games we tend to struggle and specifically Arteta seems to struggle at times. This isn’t to say he is in effective against all big teams but specifically against those who will overload and attack the team rather than try and either park the bus or conjest the middle. Often this included the usual suspects but there were occasionally teams near the bottom who hurt us specifically on the counter attack.  This exposed Arteta’s lack of pace as at times he failed to cover the space left by our full backs.  This is just one of the aspects where our game suffers and where I first want to look at a comparison with Flamini.

In our system we rely on the full backs to bomb forward and provide attacking width.  That obviously leaves large spaces which the DM must cover. Flamini does this fantastically well, reading plays early but also using his energy and drive to get there quickly.  The Dortmund game is a perfect example for me. Arteta did well in the middle breaking up plays and intercepting passes. However, Dortmund clearly set up to defend and wait for the perfect time to counter attack from a wide position.. We got sucked in with both full backs upfield. As some of their attackes developed  you could see that at times Arteta didn’t anticipate this and was sucked in thus limiting his ability to  track back. These are crucial moments where Flamini’s extra bit of defensive could have been decisive.

The next aspect to discuss is the way a player like Flamini helps us to get the most out of the other players, in particular Aaron Ramsey. Last year we went through our run with a double pivot of two deep lying players. Of course Rambo went forward but it wasn’t that often. He added the energy to protect our back four which was great but we were basically having two guys do one man’s job. We won many games 1-0 and although this was good, it at times limited us going forward This year we’ve let Ramsey off the leash a bit and the result is a supremely confident player who getting the goals.

By adding Flamini to the mix we were able to combine our impressive attacking array with defensive nous. The result was the perfect blend of strength both offensively and fefensively. Flamini was proving that one man can protect a defence alone. Remember Norwich at home? 1-0 up cruising and then Flamini went off. Suddenly a gaping space opened up in front of our back four. Flamini’s importance is shown at its most by his absence. Then came the second example vs Dortmund.

A regular argument for Arteta being selected ahead of Flamini is the passing stats and ability. However, with the talent around them, neither needs to do much more than keep it simple and tidy, finding our creative players. Flamini’s stats are actually very good and he learnt his trade at Arsenal, so passing effectively isn’t one of his problems. In fact against the better sides Arteta is often accused of playing it safe anyway. With Ramsey, Cazorla, Özil, and Wilshere in front of him, he can do little wrong simply by opting for a simple 5 yard pass to one of them. A DM has to have the first priority of clogging up the middle of the pitch and protecting our back line.

This is not meant to be an attempt to criticise Arteta. I love the guy’s passion and appreciate his ability to keep the ball and pass it. I just feel that unfortunately for him there are better players around him who must play when it matters. I’ve already explained Flamini’s importance. Wenger also has Wilshere and Ramsey to choose from to play alongside either DM selection. Arteta and Flamini can play together but Jack and Rambo add more to the overall game, driving us forward quicker and with tempo that is such an important facet to our game, either should get the nod over Arteta.  Arteta is a great leader and an integral part of our squad. He certainly has big a part to play, whether it be closing out games, or if we need a bit more solidity because the midfield is wide open, or simply if people need a rest. He is the wrong side of 30 so maybe its good for him and us that all the responsibility is no longer so fixed on him.

It is a shame that Arteta may see his game time diminish as he has been such a good servant to Arsenal since he signed a few years ago, but Arsenal need to get to the next level now. We need a squad we can rely and Arteta will be an important part of that, even if he isn’t going to be part of our strongest XI.  Flamini might may not be the long-term option in midfield also but he’s proving the more effective option. Wenger may look to a younger, stronger, long-term option next summer but in the few months he’s been back, Flamini has shown us that there is no substitute for a proper defensive midfielder.

But as I right this, we now know that Flamini is out for a fortnight with a groin pull. The good thing about having Arteta (who is back after serving his one match ban) is that it’s nice to have the options. And while Flamini should get right back in when he is healthy, I am fully backing Arteta to give his all and be integral to the club versus the likes of Liverpool, Dortmund and United.

So who would you have as your first name on the squad sheet?


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DaAdminGooner

Founder, editor, writer, designer of YouAreMyArsenal.com. When he’s not following the Arsenal,he’s busy coaching various age groups the right way to play the beautiful game

I am neurotic. Well, Arsenal tends to do that to you and due to this maddening love affair I have with this team across the sea, I rise and fall like everyday (given our current state some times more than 5 times a day.) I love this team and hope it comes through even slightly with this blog.

If I am not here blogging away, I am either working or writing coaching sessions. All in all, I’m loving it. UTA!

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