Siao Mates Sep 11

There’s a gaping hole in the Arsenal that desperately needs to be plugged


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Mikel Arteta is the right appointment to bring Arsenal back to the top of English football.


That belief was only reinforced after last season, following the Gunners’ unexpected triumph in the FA Cup.


After all, only someone truly special would have been able to galvanise the dysfunctional group of players that Arteta inherited into a FA Cup-winning side – possibly the most miraculous transformation the world has ever seen since water was turned into wine.


WATCH: Behind the scenes of Arsenal's FA Cup victory


And so, Arsenal fans, for the first time in a long while, finally believe in their team again. There is a real unity and focus among the players, a semblance of a proper plan being put in place by Arteta, and a growing expectation that this season could be the one which sees Arsenal lift the proverbial top four trophy once more.


Recognising the importance and huge potential of Arteta, the management at Arsenal have since wisely promoted the Spaniard from ‘head coach’ of the club to ‘first-team manager’ – a hark back to the good ol’ days where Arsene Wenger ruled the roost at the Emirates Stadium.


In short, everything looks rosy for Arteta at Arsenal, and I’m sure he must be feeling pretty contented to be where he is now.


Well, that is until he has to pick his central midfielders for the coming season.


Because when your 38-year-old manager, who retired four years ago, is the club’s best central midfielder at the moment, you know something is deeply flawed within the team.


WATCH: Arteta previews the 2020-2021 campaign


At the time of writing, Arsenal’s central midfielders are Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira.


Xhaka, while a good passer of the ball, is so one-footed he could easily replace Gurmit Singh as the lead actor of the local 2001 film, One Leg Kicking. All opposition players need to do to nullify the Swiss international’s admittedly dangerous long passes from deep is to show him onto his weaker foot.


And while Ceballos does possess two functioning feet and a silky first touch, he, like many of my columns, has the tendency to go in circles without actually getting anywhere.


WATCH: Ceballos is delighted to rejoin Arsenal on loan


Meanwhile, Torreira looks like he’ll be out the door soon enough, Willock is young and far too raw to perform consistently, Elneny has the passing range of a particularly shy crab, and Guendouzi is still busy picking up the toys he threw out of his pram last season.


The main collective problem, however, with these midfielders, is that they severely lack creativity and goalscoring threat. Excluding Elneny, who was out on loan, the rest of the midfielders were only able to contribute to 11 Premier League goals (3 scored, 8 assists) last campaign.


This goes a long way to explaining why Arsenal only recorded a paltry 56 goals in the EPL last season, and highlights why exactly there is a need to beef up the quality in that area of the squad.


Of course, one could point to Liverpool and argue that the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson, and Fabinho are not the creative or goalscoring type of midfielders either. But they make up for it with relentless energy and athleticism in the middle of the pitch, which allows their full-backs to rampage forward to create for their deadly front-three.


Arsenal, unfortunately, do not have the players to implement that sort of system. And so, the onus falls onto captain and goalscorer-in-chief Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to both create and score for the team – this, on top of also having to track back to help his left-back out in defence.


That surely is too much to ask of 31-year-old Aubameyang for an entire season, talented and fit though he may be. What he needs is creativity behind him, so he can focus on the thing he does best: score.


And for those of you who are screaming “Mesut Ozil” at your screen right now, please, stop. That ship has long sailed. Bar falsely accusing him of theft and filing a police report against him, the club has tried almost everything they can to get rid of him. 


I mean, come on. Take the hint already.


The one area where I’m really confident in this season, though, is in defence, and how often do you hear an Arsenal fan say that?


For once, we look like we are able to field proper, functioning defenders in our backline, rather than penguins wearing clown shoes masquerading as players. The likes of William Saliba and new signing Gabriel Magalhaes are welcome additions to the centre of our defence, while Rob Holding – if he is able to remain fit – is only going to get better.


WATCH: Gabriel Magalhaes trains with Arsenal ahead of new season


Granted, Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz are still around, as is Sead Kolasinac and Sokratis. Nonetheless, the latter two are expected to leave the club imminently, while the former two are like spicy mala soup in that they are actually tolerable in small doses, although too much of them will cause you to burn in places where the sun don’t shine.


Our full-back situation is as healthy as can be, with both Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin looking more and more solid defensively with each passing game. Ainsley Maitland-Niles has also proven himself to be more than just a convenient way for writers to increase their article word count, having performed commendably in the semis and final of the FA Cup last season. And I suppose Cedric Soares, while not being everyone’s cup of tea – including mine – is an adept backup.


And at the opposing ends of the pitch, both Bernd Leno and Alexandre Lacazette can be counted on to do their jobs reliably, if not admirably.


Club record signing Nicolas Pepe, with a season of English football under his belt, has shown signs that he is ready to set the EPL light this season, while the likes of Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli (when he is fit) are exciting young attacking prospects who will provide depth and hopefully develop even further under Arteta.


Then there is Willian, the 32-year-old signed on a free from Chelsea. Experienced, versatile, and a proven winner, the Brazilian is an astute signing who I believe will be able to help Arsenal win an extra 10 points or so this season.


WATCH: Willian's first training session with Arsenal


So really, it’s a pretty decent squad that Arsenal boast, apart from the gaping hole that is their centre midfield. Unless Arteta is planning on utilising a revolutionary ‘Donut’ formation this season, it is imperative that the club goes out and buy him the central midfielder he so desperately needs.


And if they do manage that, then you can expect Arteta’s Arsenal to give our closest rivals a real run for their money.


So, you better watch out because we’re coming for you, Wolves and Leicester City!




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