Do they do enough to consolidate Arsenal’s back line?
There’s no excuse for 49 goals conceded in the Premier League alone. But a combination of an unsettled back four and a midfield prone to wandering away from their defensive duties had left Arsenal with little hope on silverware on four fronts.
Alex Song, the most likely candidate to fill the defensive midfield role, has taken up a new role further up the field. His steadiness and reliability as the deepest player in midfield are all but gone, and the Song of the 2008/09 season seems a distant memory. He has his upsides to his game, combining exceptionally well with Robin van Persie on many occasions last season, but his strength is clearly in his defensive game. Whether it’s a preference or proneness to advance ahead of his natural station, he leaves the Arsenal back line exposed to quick counters and defence-splitting passes.
To compensate for Alex Song’s new-found desire to act as the creator in Arsenal’s midfield, Mikel Arteta has had to adapt his game to help out a leaky defence. Sure, he’s excelling in his deep-lying role, but there are others, notably Song, who can be the destroyer Arsenal need in midfield.
Mikel Arteta is comfortably one of Arsenal’s most valued players on the pitch. The team have only won once in the Premier League with the Spaniard out of the line up – a must-win game at the Hawthorns on the last day of the season, but his calmness adds something to the midfield that perhaps even Song can’t provide. It’s the years of experience and need to be disciplined that weighs in towards Arteta’s unshakeable influence in the team. Does he help to plug the gap? Not quite but almost.
There are plenty of fans who see the need for a player like Yann M’Vila in the Arsenal team. He too is capable of playing a little more advanced up the field, but his desire to hold his position in the centre circle is what Arsenal are desperately lacking.
It’s not to say that he’s a better player than Alex Song or even Mikel Arteta, but players like M’Vila add a speciality that is missing from Arsenal, one that is unlikely to be added in the near future by the current squad.
Alex Song has been guilty of conceding possession late in games, specifically in the home tie against Norwich where the visitors capitalised on Song’s mistake to level the game at 3-3.
It can be infuriating and it’s difficult to understand how a player who offered that solidity in recent years can be so casual. Song, like perhaps a number of the regular starters in midfield, lacks the defensive discipline and awareness to shut out a game.
Arteta doesn’t have the strength of a natural holding midfielder, Ramsey can dwell on the ball, and Song, again, is very casual with possession.
It’s a problem that won’t simply go away by training the defence to look out for themselves. Yes, the Arsenal forwards are instructed to flood forward in attack, but the defence operates with a very high line. It’s a strategy that has left defenders horribly exposed and viewed in a light that may not be true to their real abilities on the pitch.
Unfortunately, it’s also a defensive strategy that needs to be in place in order for the team to successfully play to Arsene Wenger’s orders. Real Madrid and Barcelona play with a high line, while both have at least one player who keeps an eye on the gap between the midfield and defence.
It’s a little unclear whether Arsene Wenger has instructed Alex Song to take on this new-found role, but the alarming regularity of it suggests that Wenger had indeed found another role for the midfielder. It perhaps also explains why the club were linked with a number of defensive midfielders this summer.
But for now at least, the team are not doing enough to protect their back line. Yes, we could see Francis Coquelin transform into the destroyer in midfield the team needs. And there’s also a sense that Wenger does intend to use the youngster more in that role over the coming season. But is he ready? Hardly. Good performances and quick dashes out of trouble are not enough. Coquelin has the potential to be a valued member of the squad, but that won’t be right now.