Arsenal midfield conundrum: Enforcer or facilitator?

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and Crvena Zvezda at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on prior to the UEFA Europa League group H match between Arsenal FC and Crvena Zvezda at Emirates Stadium on November 2, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images) /
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It’s fairly clear that Arsenal need to bolster their midfield options if they are to progress. But do they need a facilitating type midfielder or an enforcing type midfielder?

There are many holes in this current version of the Arsenal team. From the lack of a commanding centre-half to the need for a direct, pacy, potent winger, there are issues that have not been addressed for many, many years. And those shortcomings are still restricting the progress, the development, and, ultimately, the success of this team.

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However, perhaps none are as detrimental and damaging as the problems that occur in central midfield. The weaknesses that Arsenal have in those areas of the pitch came to the fore against Manchester City last weekend, as they were unable to wrestle any semblance of control, struggling to establish a foothold for themselves.

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Investment is needed. Whether it will come or not, is another question. But it is needed, that much cannot be doubted. The question, then, is in what form. Because there is such a wild variety of central midfielders, each with their own nuance and detail, each complementing different styles of play, each settling into different systems to greater effect, Arsene Wenger cannot just sign any old midfielder. He must sign the right type.

For me, there are two major weaknesses to the Arsenal midfield. The first comes through the absence of Santi Cazorla, which has been a painfully slow and arduous process, as detailed in this Guardian piece. Cazorla is a facilitator: His willingness to receive the ball under pressure, his touch, his distribution. And the rhythm and pattern of the Gunners’ passing have been lacking with Cazorla missing. A replacement, or even successor, is needed, and there doesn’t seem to be an internal solution.

There is, however, another absence from the Arsenal midfield, and it is one that has long reigned over the team.

The need for an enforcing presence in the middle of the park has not been satisfied ever since Gilberto Silva was slowly fazed out of the team over a decade ago. Wenger has plugged in many different players, trying to find a solution. But with Granit Xhaka currently proving that he lacks the necessary athleticism and mobility to play a role that, without the necessary protection, requires a covering of vast spaces, that solution is still yet to be found.

The transfer market seems the best way, then. If Wenger is willing to pursue options, and that is a big if, then adding an element of steel, structure and energy in front of the defence will revolutionise this team. It will provide them with a defensive cover, with a more disciplined shape, and will allow Arsenal to control games with a much greater assurance and security.

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Which of these two types of midfielders is needed, however, I am not sure. It could well be the case that both are required. I certainly do not expect Wenger to throw money at the problem. That has never been his way. But investment must come. Even he must see that.