Arsenal’s Problems in the Middle of the Park and Some Fixes
Arsenal’s 0-0 draw against Southampton highlighted a few glaring concerns regarding the Gunners going forward. The first of which is finishing. On another night Arsenal might have scored 3 or 4 considering the high volume of quality chances they produced, particularly in the second half.
Mesut Özil alone created 10 chances by himself but no one could beat an in form Fraser Forster. The lack of finishing is honestly the least of the concerns. Keep producing that number of chances and the goals will come in bunches.
Theo Walcott is another concern for Arsene Wenger. Besides spurning perhaps Arsenal’s best chance of the night, a chance he really should be hitting first time into the corner, he looks as though he’s hiding out there, that’s he scared to take responsibility and be involved. In his entire time on the pitch, he attempted just 3 passes and completed two. For a player of his caliber, on the kind of wages he makes, he simply has to give Arsenal more than that. Despite those two considerable concerns, the biggest issue comes in Arsenal’s lackluster midfield.
What was painfully apparent yesterday, especially in the opening 45 minutes, is Arsenal’s complete lack of ability to dictate games with a Ramsey-Flamini axis in central midfield. Now, before I disparage his contributions lately, it should be noted that prior to the last 3 or so games, Flamini did a more than admirable job covering for an injured Francis Coquelin.
However, Flamini is the main issue with Arsenal’s current midfield set up. First, the Frenchmen’s lack of ability, particularly physical ability as he’s gotten older, means that Aaron Ramsey cannot venture up-field to make the late runs into the box that make him so dangerous. Instead, he had to sit deeper to try to build play and ensure that Arsenal don’t get caught out.
Furthermore, Flamini is incapable of building and dictating on his own. In a positional sense, when Arsenal build he more or less sits along with the back four, offering virtually nothing going forward and creating a disjointed separation between the attack, Ramsey alone in midfield, and the back line.
In the first half on Tuesday, Ramsey basically played with the front line, so it was incumbent on centerback’s Laurent Koscileny and Gabriel to break the lines. That simply wont do, no team wants their CB’s trying to dictate play. Furthermore, it creates dangerous situations when Koscielny and Gabriel force a pass, turn over possession, and the backline is left with the front three, Ramsey, Ozil, Monreal, and Bellerin all caught out.
For the second half, Ramsey dropped much deeper to pick up the ball and Arsenal were a lot more successful. Still, when Ramsey drops deep, it stymies his ability to make those late arriving runs that often end in goals.
It’s been noted that Arsenal are sevely missing the slick passing and quick feet of Santi Cazorla, and they are. Cazorla has the unique ability to break the lines in a number of ways but simply focusing on Cazorla without Flamini is missing the point. Cazorla played almost exclusively with Coquelin in midfield and the two games he did play with Flamini were the draw to Norwich and the loss of Zagreb.
While partnering with Flamini, Cazorla was unable to effectively dictate as well. Against Southampton, Flamini did not feature in any of Arsenal’s top 18 passing combos. For a central midfielder, that is quite an indictment. Now there are elements and extenuating circumstances to consider.
The Coq-Zorla partnership had Alexis for pretty much it’s entirety this season and also had an extra ball playing midfielder wide right, with Aarom Ramsey. The Flam-Sey axis has gone without Aleixs for most of it’s run, had Walcott wide left offering little to no support, and has not had an extra midfielder to tuck in and offer support on the right.
So, taking everything into account, what are some possible solutions to Arsenal’s midfield issues. Well, first and foremost is the full return of Coquelin. It appears Le Coq will return full top to the lineup from hear on out, as yesterday was just a case of two games in four days proving too much for him after two months out.
Coqulein’s athletic ability should provide Ramsey more freedom to make the runs he wants to make and his increased passing ability as opposed to Flamini will offer more in build up. In that sense, the midfield will sort of correct itself.
Another possible solution could involve new boy Elneny and pushing Ramsey wide right again. Could a Coq-Neny axis, with Ramsey on the right tucking in, and possibly Theo Walcott at center forward prove fruitful? Arsenal looked very dangerous with Theo up top earlier in the year and returning him to his favored position could be a way to jump-start his lackluster form.
Having Coquelin, Ramsey, and Elneny all the field at once to build for the frontline seems like a dream compared to Ramsey – Flamini. Arsenal have the solutions to their midfield issues within the squad and quite frankly the Gunners crated a myriad of chances without a whole lot of build up play against Southampton. The midfield will come good and the Gunners will fire again. Hopefully, for all our sake, it happens soon enough for Arsenal to go on a run to the top of the table.