Zech Medley: The solution to our defensive woes?
Arsenal’s tour of the United States was entertaining. We saw attacking football, positive performances from Mesut Ozil but most importantly we got to see what the academy graduates are capable of. While it was extremely encouraging how the likes of Willock, Burton and Saka impressed on the tour, it was disappointing that Zech Medley, the towering centre-back was not given more opportunities to show what he’s capable of. Despite the imminent signing of William Saliba, Arsenal look likely to go into the season short in defence and given the situation, it would make a lot of sense to place some faith in one of our own that is Medley.
AN IMPOSING PRESENCE
At first glance, Medley looks like an imposing centre-half. Standing at 1.95 metres tall, Medley is far taller than any of our current defenders. In fact, the closest to him in height is Rob Holding who is 1.86 metres. Increasing the physical presence Arsenal have in defence would certainly be useful. Since Per Mertesacker’s decline and retirement, Arsenal have been tormented by tall strikers. Quintessential target-men like Peter Crouch and Glenn Murray have managed to cause chaos among the Arsenal defenders time and again and this isn’t likely to change.
Most teams know that bringing physicality to the game is the easiest way to instil nervousness and fear among both Arsenal players and at times even the fans. Medley could be the one to bring height and physicality to our defence. While height is not the determining characteristic of a good defender, it certainly does help, especially in the Premier League.
COMPLEMENTARY DEFENSIVE PAIRING
Arsenal’s current group of defenders are far too similar to each other which means that Emery has struggled to find a defensive partnership that works. Added to this is the constant switching between a back-four and back-three which has prevented the defenders from finding any real chemistry. Medley could be useful in this scenario as he is different from the aggressive, front-footed defenders currently in the first team. A very composed presence on the ball, Medley is more meticulous in his tackling and rarely goes to ground.
His reserved defensive style would be perfect to mitigate the risk of the tendency of Sokratis and Mustafi to dive into rash tackles. His ball-playing abilities are also quite adequate which would enable him to contribute to the buildup as Emery expects from his defenders. It is likely that he may commit a few errors given his inexperience but he could become a very important player in the side.
A ZERO-RISK SOLUTION
Arsenal‘s current defensive roster does not make good reading. Club captain Koscielny is unlikely to ever play for Arsenal after the fiasco about his transfer. Doubts remain over Calum Chambers’ ability as a centre-back. Nacho Monreal is not the player he was two seasons ago and looks worrying as well. Sokratis is comparatively better but remains error-prone while the less said about Mustafi the better. This leaves only Rob Holding as a player who Arsenal fans can agree could become a world-class defender in the near future. Arsenal have nothing to lose in giving Medley a go in defence.
The Englishman has looked impressive whenever given the opportunity and genuinely could not make our defence worse than it currently is. If he doesn’t work out, he can be sold for a good price given his experience at the top level but should he develop into a potentially Premier League level defender, Arsenal will have three defenders in Holding, Saliba, should he sign, and Medley who could be stalwarts for a good 10 years at the top level. Why not take a punt on our own Hale-End graduate?
Since this article first appeared, Arsenal haven’t embraced the chance to promote Zech Medley as a regular member of the first team squad. The potential was there and a number of media outlets were also pointing to the youngster as a consistent bench warmer across the 2019/20 campaign at the very least.
Timing is everything and Medley sustained an injury early in the season which has restricted his appearances in the Under 23 side. The 19-year-old has, therefore, had to sit by and watch while the likes of Harry Clarke and Konstantinos Mavropanos have enjoyed plenty of game time in what has been a productive season so far for the Gunners’ reserve squad. In fact, that Under 23 side has lost just once this season – defeat coming against Chelsea by three goals to one on Friday October 18.
While Zech Medley continues his recovery, Arsenal have enjoyed a solid, if unspectacular start to the 2019/20 Premier League campaign. Following the trip to Sheffield United, Unai Emery’s men sat in fifth position in the table, just two points off those Champions League places.
Many unbiased predictions suggest that the Gunners can finally get back into the top four and they are currently fourth favourites to achieve that goal. With Alexandre Lacazette injured, much of the goalscoring responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang but how are Arsenal faring at the back?
Following that trip to Bramall Lane, Arsenal had conceded 12 times in nine EPL matches: That’s more than any side in the top three and, at the same stage, 14th place Manchester United had conceded just nine times in the same number of games.
The bare stats suggest that there may still be an issue in defence and a possibility that players such as Zech Medley have targets to aim at. For now, the aim is to regain full fitness and to get back in the Under 23 side. Arsenal are still in the EFL Cup while the FA Cup returns in the New Year so there may be game-time opportunities in the weeks and months that lie ahead.
Arsenal will continue to have a large number of games this season given their participation in four tournaments. This, paired with the aspect of travelling to the remotest places in Europe as a part of the Europa League campaign means that injuries and fatigue are likely. Arsenal will need as much depth in the side as is possible and if Emery is to stick to his back-three, will require numbers in defensive positions. Medley currently has the ability to play a useful role in the team and the capability to become a top-class defender. Injury has derailed his progress for the time being but the manager has time to include the teenager in his plans and help Zech Medley to establish himself in the squad before 2019/20 comes to its conclusion.