I remember Arsene Wenger’s first Premier League title. The one back in the 1997/98 season when Arsenal recovered from a 9 points deficit to pip Manchester United to the league title. Dennis Bergkamp was doing wonders up front, scoring spectacular goals from left, right and center. The key to that success however, was the midfield engine right behind him.
It was no coincidence that 4 players played a minimum of 31 league games that season in midfield. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour were perhaps fortunate with injuries that season and their understanding on the pitch bore marks of familiarity. It is definitely easier to play when you line up with the same set of players week in week out. Everyone knew the position and role on the pitch, most importantly they also knew how to compensate when one of them is out of position. These kind of understanding can only come from consistently playing alongside each other.
I do think that this will be the key to Arsenal’s success in the upcoming season. Yes, the defence is crucial and we have yet to identified the number one choice to partner Vermaelen in the centre of defence and the goalkeeping situation also needs some sorting. But if the midfield functions as a unit and work for each other, then even the defence receives another wall of security in front of them.
Looking from the Barnet game, Wenger will most likely deploy the same formation as last season. It is a system not too dissimilar to how Spain lined up in the recently concluded World Cup. The key difference is that while Spain uses 2 defensive midfielders in Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso, Wenger prefers to have only 1 defensive midfielder. That position is more or less secured by Alex Song. He really broke through with his solid performances last season and his absence towards the tail end of the season, showed just how important he is to the side.
In Arsenal’s case the other defensive midfield spot is filled by a player that is instructed to be more of a box-to-box midfielder. Denilson, Aaron Ramsey and Abou Diaby has filled that spot with some degree of distinction but as seen in some of the big matches, we were woefully exploited during counter attacks. Either those 3 play with more discipline to ensure that our defence is protected or someone like Emmanuel Frimpong or even Havard Nordtveit could fill the other midfield slot and leave the attacking to Cesc Fabregas and whoever is picked for the 3 forward positions.
This is of course the best case scenario. The need for a little bit of consistency in midfield and not only in terms of performance, is needed by Arsenal. While it would be harsh on other players who will warm the bench quite frequently, that is the price of a championship/cup winning team. Even then, these players would also need to be cautious in their tackling and not pay the price of being suspended for games by being reckless.
Tonight would be another indication of the direction of which Wenger wants this team to go this season. It’s only the second warm-up friendly, time is still on Wenger’s side to find the best man for the job.
Till tomorrow, thanks for reading.