Sep 012012

The transfer window has shut, and as many suspected, we were largely inactive in the final few days, managing only to shift Bendtner and Park out on loan, trimming players from the wage bill who did not feature in our plans for the season ahead. Since then, there has been quite the reaction, with many dismayed at the lack of arrivals, particularly following the departure of Alex Song. I’ll address this in a moment, because I’ve suspected for a while that Song’s replacement is not who you would expect, but first I want to remove a misconception that I’ve seen floating around, repeated by many.

Statistical warping

If you have been on Twitter over the last 24 hours, you may have seen the line ‘three in, thirteen out‘ bandied around. This is, no matter how you look at it, factually incorrect, indicating that we have ten less players than last season. The thirteen not only include players that were never going to make it at Arsenal, but players who were previously out on loan. For example, Bendtner was out last season as well as this – if you count loans in your ‘ins and outs’, then he is actually both. Alternatively, if you don’t, then he is neither. Similarly, Carlos Vela was out on loan last year and has now been sold. And if you are going to count the return of Benayoun to Chelsea, then you also have to include the return of Arshavin.

My point is simply that those 3-13 numbers are nothing more than a statistical lie. The reality is that we have lost two players who had anything to do with our first team squad, both of them key starters (Van Persie and Song), plus the bit-part loanee Benayoun. In return, we have gained three first team starters (Podolski, Giroud, Cazorla) and gained back a bit-part squad member in Arshavin. Whatever way you look at it, whether you include loans or not, we have a first team squad one member bigger than before.

Of course, the quality and the balance is the real question, and I will address that later in the week. Before then, I want to tackle the issue of Alex Song’s departure.

The midfield restructure

For a number of years, Wenger favoured a sole holding midfielder, tasked almost exclusively with shielding the back four and moving the ball forward to the playmakers in front of him. Gilberto is probably the most successful exponent of the role, with his ability to find the key destructive positions perfectly matched with his short passing accuracy, enabling him to locate the deadly talents that made up the forward line of the Invincibles.

When he made the switch to 4-3-3, he remained true to the concept of having a single ‘defensive’ midfielder, with the rest of the three man core being a two-pronged creative hub, sharing the responsibility of getting the wide men into dangerous positions and supporting the central striker on the goalscoring front. It would be fair to say that the new tactical layout has had mixed success, with us demonstrating a particular vulnerability to the counter attack, perhaps not surprising when five players (the front three plus the two creative central midfielders) do not have defensive responsibilities as a high priority.

Sometime in the last 18 months, Wenger decided to change approach. More and more we’ve seen the midfield triangle reversed – instead of one holder and two attacking players, two have sat with one further forward. This has two major effects:

a) It allows the two sitting midfielders to create more. While both still have defensive responsibilities, the sharing of these means that either or both can venture forward and look to add more to the creative side of the game. Alex Song has actually been one of the main beneficiaries here – with Arteta pairing him in the sitting role last season, he was allowed more creative freedom, leading to his impressive assists tally.

b) It adds more pressure to the man at the point of the midfield triangle. While the sitting pair gain support from their partner, the man further forward becomes the hub through which the team play and can become isolated if they aren’t up to it. This was a problem last season, with no-one able to dictate the play as we would want. Many were tried, but no-one really rose to the admittedly difficult task, which lead to the sitting two moving further forward to support their teammate, which in turn led to a big gap between defence and midfield, and to the overexposure of the back four. In my opinion, our defensive issues actually stemmed from a lot further up the field.

All change in the midfield

This season, I think Wenger found his man – the player able to control the match from the front of the triangle, and cope with the pressure and responsibility that comes with that. That man is Santi Cazorla. Many believe him to be Cesc’s replacement, and while I can see the reasoning behind this, I’m not sure it is all that simple. By deploying Cazorla in the key position behind the front three, we can play with two sitting midfielders without lacking in creativity.

In turn, having two sitting midfielders alleviates the need for either of them to be a ‘true’ defensive player. Instead, both have the remit of good positional play, shielding the back four where necessary, but also they need a creative side to their play, most importantly a quick creative ability. What I mean by that is that they need to be able to take the ball from the defence and move it quickly forward, able to feed Cazorla or the wide players with razor-sharp passing. And once you make that the definition of the role, is Song the right man?

I don’t want you to think that I am rewriting history – Alex Song is a very good player and is certainly capable of playing that role. But we have other players equally able to sit with discipline and create at speed – Arteta is the obvious one, but Wilshere is the man I believe the role suits best. Rosicky also turns and moves forward quickly, and it is also Diaby’s best position for as long as he remains fit.

My perfect midfield trio is Arteta and Wilshere sitting behind Cazorla, and I don’t think Song could displace any of them as first choice. I think Wenger has taken a look at the squad, at how many players can play in that pair (where Song would be deployed) and considered that a player who is causing a few problems is not worth keeping when a decent offer comes in.

I don’t actually think Song will be missed – as I said, I think we have plenty of players for the sitting pair positions. My concern is further forward – when Cazorla doesn’t play, we have the same options as last season in the more advanced role – Ramsey, Chamberlain and Arshavin, assuming he sticks around. It is a lot to ask of the former pair to take on the responsibility currently on Cazorla’s shoulders, and I wouldn’t want to push Wilshere into the role just yet either. It is why the pursuit of Sahin made sense – sharing the advanced role with Cazorla would mean we are well covered in all areas.

That, of course, didn’t happen, but I still think we’ve got more numbers in there than people realise. And with Cazorla the new jewel in our crown, our midfield finally has the shape that I believe Wenger has been seeking. Now we just need them to click.

  61 Responses to “Cazorla for Song is the completion of a midfield restructure”

  1. Agreed. The players we have bought are quality and I think they will click

    • Song is better than Diaby. Song is better than Arteta. If you take into account injury history, he is better than wilshere too. Song is a major loss because of his ability to play at centreback if necessary. More importantly Song was improving every season. You can not say the same for Diaby or Ramsey. We should have brought in M’Villa, we didn’t and will pay dearly starting today at Liverpool.

      • agreed

      • You cannot say Ramsey is improving? I don’t see the logic behind that one.

        As I stated in the post, the midfield restructure means we don’t need an out and out defensive midfielder like M’Vila. I’m not denying Song’s talent, but when someone who has plenty of competition for his place starts acting up, you can see why a decent offer gets accepted.

      • I think Diaby played really well in the liverpool win. He is settling into the team and growing with each game. I certainly hope he’ll last the season. He’ll improve tremendously if he does.

      • Must feel pretty stupid right now having seen Arsenal win 2-0…

  2. Spot on, well observed and spoken with passion.

    We have regenerated the side and will also have the pleasure of watching quality English youngsters develop.

    It’s what supporting this club has always been about.

  3. Good article. You are right about the signings. Even though it is derided by many, the references to “like a new signing” do apply also to Diaby and Wilshere (Frimpong also?) who between them played about 30 minutes competitive football last season. Add in Jenkinson’s apparent improvement (let us see if it continues) and we are more than one person up on this time last year.

    • They are, and it is good to have them back, although I’m always nervous about celebrating the return of injured players as it can be tempting to then ignore that we’re likely to have some new ones – everyone does, every year.

      • I do think that Wiltshere will be like a new signing, when he is absolutely 100% fit. That won’t be in October, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he needs a full season to be back fit.

        • You should be concerned that it has taken Willshire so long to recover and there still appears to be some speculation if the October return date is accurate. Remember now, he was scheduled to return last October! You will miss Song because he is a two way player. Not quite the box to box MF player BUT he broke up plays in the middle of the park and had the ability to pick out RVP in the box, time and time again. Which leads to be the real loss and that’s RVP. Impossible to replace. His 4 goals in 2 1/4 games is what you will miss. Man United are a very lucky team to add this talent to another proven goal scorer, Rooney.

      • I do think that Wilshere will be like a new signing, when he is absolutely 100% fit. That won’t be in October, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he needs a full season to be back fit.

        • Unfortunately I agree. That injury appears to be worse than originally thought. A shame really, as he is a real talent, The fear is that he won’t return the same player.

  4. Finally an assessment that isn’t just moaning about the lack of signings. I think team chemistry is something that matters as well and this team is still building that. if he had brought in three new players, even two, then that chemistry building has to start over. I sometimes think that some of these so called Gooners are so busy watching the headlines and not looking at the bigger picture.

    Just look at spurs, they made a lot of moves on deadline day and will be struggling to get on the same page until the next transfer window and by that time the race to the top will be beyond them. And look at Liverpool and their inability to sign anyone because of poor transfers past. if Arsenal was in that position from previous bad signings, then people would call for AW’s head.

    Great article….COYG!

    • Liverpool are always an example of how things can be worse…..

      As for chemistry – absolutely. It may take some time for things to click but while they do, it is imperative we defend well. And that is the area that is settled, which is good.

      • I may be just gutted by the lack of talen we’ve just expereienced, so let me be the utterly negative here: this is the only way we as Arsenal fans can feel good about themselves: by looking further down the ladder and saying ‘at least we’re not Liverpool/Spurs/stoke’. It shows where our ambition has gone.

  5. Finally an assessment that isn’t just moaning about the lack of signings. I think team chemistry is something that matters as well and this team is still building that. if he had brought in three new players, even two, then that chemistry building has to start over. I sometimes think that some of these so called Gooners are so busy watching the headlines and not looking at the bigger picture.

    Just look at spurs, they made a lot of moves on deadline day and will be struggling to get on the same page until the next transfer window and by that time the race to the top will be beyond them. And look at Liverpool and their inability to sign anyone because of poor transfers past. if Arsenal was in that position from previous bad signings, then people would call for AW’s head. But they are doing that anyway. Some people will never satisfied, I wonder if they really are true supporters.

    Great article….COYG!

  6. A very interesting thought process. Having read every news that comes out on Arsenal for the past three years, I have to say that we have a lot of supporters and a lot of supporters who prefer to think all doom and gloom and for them every year seems not to be a success but just a scrape through :). As if getting third or fourth is scrape through!! :)

    A very good article. Even I was worried when Alex Song move news came. But somehow I felt it was for the better of the team. I am happy with what we have and the only missing I feel our team has is an out and out bully like Yaya Toure or Dembele who has the size too :). Otherwise we have a great team :).

    I still feel that even more than us fans, Arsene is the biggest fan of the club. Just like a mother hen wont allow its chicks to go lost with the idea that bigger success might come, he considers Arsenal’s success as balancing the books with as much success that can come with the quality he has at his disposal. Else dont you think any manager who just wants to appease fans would blindly buy players come what may for short term success? Arsene wont be in management for another 15 years. Maybe another 5 maximum. If he buys 5 great players for 100-120 million and put them on 5 year contracts he can appease the fans till he leaves .. which is not the way he has gone forward because he knows probably 5 years down the line, the club would become too high in debt. Not the legacy any manager would want to leave!
    Andy Caroll as third choice backup in Liverpool squad purchased for a price of 35 million would not be what any Arsenal fan would want! We just want our team to put their heart out and come back with the results that matter..

    • I agree that Wenger loves the club beyond the remit of most managers – anyone who thinks he is content to tick along and finish fourth just hasn’t watched him in action.

      Physicality is one potential weakness this season, yes. I’ll be interested to see how we manage.

      • Regarding your concern about physicality I think we have answered it at Stoke match. Diaby brilliantly coped with Crouch threat, and Arteta interrupted counter attacks very well. But of course if we replace Diaby with Wilshere, we sacrifice physicality in the team but gain more creativity.

        The lack of cover to Santi is sometimes exaggerated coz we need place for Chambo and Ramsey to develop. They could learn a thing or two from Santi.

    • Very great article chakk. Ur truly a gooner wth focus & great sight. Lets we tru gooners support da le proff. He is great manager of century wth great acumen. Mngt is all about smart calculations. Lets Luk beyond our noses.

  7. Excellent analysis and a great post on the midfield!

    My concern is the defensive side, where Sagna is top class but Gibbs is still not up there (definite improvement based on last 2 games), I thought top LB or a support RB would be brought in.

    Seriously though, very good analysis, which is rare these days where blogs keep asking for ppl’s heads and are so damn negative and criticizing everything.

    • I guess Wenger is going with the four full backs – Gibbs and Santos for the left (the former for tighter games, the latter against the bus) and Sagna and Jenkinson on the right.

      I would love Gibbs to stay fit for an extended period this season – I really think he could become an excellent left back given enough games.


      • I was at Anfield and from behind the goal I had a really good opportunity to assess our FBs.
        Gibbs was absolutely outstanding: Liverpool seemed to see Johnson as their main attacking threat; Gibbs tied him up so thoroughly that he hardly got a cross in. Remember Gibbs was seen as a certain future star when he first played.
        Jenkinson is coming on very fast; he gave the ball away in a dangerous position early on but otherwise was very solid (when he ‘gave the ball away’ with a long crossfield pass to nowhere it was Vermaelen’s error because he confidently left it for a non-existent Gibbs). Otherwise Jenkinson was very sound, he was up against a tricky customer in Sterling and handled him pretty well. He’s not yet as good defensively as Sagna but who is?

  8. I understand what you are getting at but I disagree with some of your analysis on the midfield. First of all, I have fitness concerns over the remaining midfielders that I never had with Song. Coquelin, Diaby, and Arteta don’t really convince that they will play 38 games in a season. A couple of those players have a history of hamstring issues. I generally feel that Wilshire shouldn’t even be considered because he has been out for so long.

    The second point I would add, is that our team looks like it’s heading back to those annoying days when we relied to heaving on one attacking midfielder to create chances. A lot of people might complain that Song was over ambitious but he was fourth in the league with assists. Arteta prefers to keep it simple, which is fine but, it’s very annoying when he ignores a playing going in behind an opposing defense. Diaby looks like he only creates chances for himself.

    I agree with you that not signing more players isn’t the end of the world. I think we will do fine in any case.

  9. Very interesting post — refreshing and makes a lot of sense in theory. Just hope that this new Arsenal team/squad will click (very) soon. September has so many challenging matches in store…

  10. There is no doubt in my mind that we have the players when we get our full squad back and we will learn a lot from tonights match at Anfield.

  11. Nice post… The best I’v seen so far.. At last some1 who knows what he’s talking abt.

  12. Good piece!

    I think Wenger will hand Wilshere the advanced role. I don’t want to tempt fate – I just want him back and fit – but I’ve always suspected this was the plan since watching him come through the u18s and hearing Wenger’s comments. He just has those quick feet and burst of acceleration, as well as his vision, to be a great around the box player, so I would have full faith in him. Giving him defensive responsibilities was part of the learning curve. I don’t know, but him taking the no 10 shirt I hope is an indication!! Also worth mentioning that Cazorla has played quite a few games in the deeper role (along with every other position it seems lol). I think with Cazorla, hopefully jack and the ever classy rosicky we have some ok options for the point man.

    • I definitely agree that Wilshere will end up in the advanced role in time – I just wonder when that will be. I think this season is too early, given his young age and injury recovery, and I can see him ‘earning his chops’ in the more disciplined role behind Cazorla. In time though, he could well turn into the perfect player for that role. I just hope he is afforded that time.

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  14. Good article, the only thing i would disagree with is that we arellacling cover for cazorla. I think rosicky is more than capable and i think ramsey will have an impressive campaign this year. The only problem i had with ramsey was that he played too often without rest last year and everyone sensed the desperation in his play last season. Anyways i completely agree with you in that when wilshere is healthy, i don’t see song displacing jack or arteta. Heres to a great game at anfield!

    • Yeah, Ramsey was fried physically and mentally last season, and had too much pressure put on him too soon. I actually really like him as a player, both for his ability and his fabled ‘mental strength’, which I think he has in spades.

      I’m hoping a gentler season will see him thrive.

  15. What have we learnt from playing young players? You have to allow them time for their bodies to adjust to the rigours n pressure of playing professional sport week-on-week. With the demand to make quicker improvements than their senior colleagues it is likely they will experience more injuries.

    It must not be skills on the ball, youngsters must also have an understanding of their limitations. Strengths n Weaknesses, how to avoid certain injuries maybe by taking a little more time to warm-up.

  16. Is Carzola a replacement for Song or Cesc?

  17. I agree entirely and it’s an excellent post. It also explains why Arsenal lost out on Sahin because Arsene probably only offered him a place on the bench whereas Liverpool can offer a starting position. At Liverpool he’s competing with Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson whereas at Arsenal he’d be competing with Santi Cazorla.

  18. The main concoction is in the Chemistry of all players!
    That will be the definitive in Arsenal’s Season this time round.
    “A Blend & The Chemistry of Players!”
    Looking foward to see the Liverpool game later beamed ‘LIVE’ beamed on our teles in SINGAPORE!

  19. An excellent and well reasoned article.

    Whilst I do rate Diaby, I think his speed of passing and the speed of decision-making actually slow down the attacks.

  20. Completely agree with the assessment above, but would add the fact that Darren Dein (agent) has been responsible for most of our big names leaving. I think with Song leaving Dein’s influence on the club has been removed. This is a big factor in getting rid of Song. We now have a stable dressing room.

    • …and this is the only point to be made about Song ‘s departure. If you watched Barca tonight it is clear he is better than all we have in midfield.

  21. I disagree with the thought that song wont be missed. I would have liked to see a song-frimpong or song-coquelin midfield. That would give the attacking 4 a great piece as they would attack more without worrying much abt defending. Then add carz,chamb,pold n olivier ahead of them. What else would arsenal need? Song will be missd when we meet teams like swansea and newcastle who creates alot in midfield.

  22. Excellent article! Finally someone who has explained a point that I have been making in response to articles about the “DM” role on many Arsenal fan websites: the role of the midfielders in a 4-3-3 is different than it is in a 4-4-2. All three in the 4-3-3 have to be able to go forward at some point (and have defensive responsibilities!) or it is too easy for the opposition to defend and/or counterattack.

    While I agree that Cazorla, Arteta and Wilshere comprise the best midfield that Arsenal could field in this formation, my concern is about depth. Diaby, as he showed against Stoke, can play an important role against certain teams, but he doesn’t appear to have good vision for the pass and tends to run into double- and triple-teams and get dispossessed too often to be much of a factor offensively. Ramsey has shown an aggravating similar tendency to dwell on the ball too long as well since returning from his injury. Rosicky has run hot and cold since arriving at Arsenal and is a huge injury risk. Coquelin has shown flashes of potential, but is largely untested against top opposition. The same is true of Frimpong, although there is more steel and bite in his game and less offensive quality. Which leads me to Oxlaide-Chamberlain.

    With Arsenal competing in four competitions and so many injury-plagued players in the midfield, Oxlaide-Chamberlain could end up playing a vital role in the midfield for Arsenal as the season progresses. If Cazorla or Wilshere need a rest against clubs that Diaby is not suited for playing against, Oxlaide-Chamberlain could step into one of the two “reserved” midfield roles with Wilshere or Arteta moving forward. Why put “The Ox” in that role? Because he is a very willing defender and has the speed to get back quickly when he ventures forward. Because he is pretty good with the ball at his feet, has good vision and passes quickly and reasonably well. And, most of all, because he possesses the ability to spring forward swiftly and unexpectedly out of the midfield to threaten an opposing defense, opening things up for the attack if the opposition responds or punishing them if they don’t (see the game against Cologne). Also, Oxlaide-Chamberlain isn’t a small guy who can easily be muscled off the ball and he has a little bit of a combative streak. While maybe not a player who would be first choice every game or against some opponents, I can see him playing a very important role in this position when other players need a rest and some may be ineffective.

    Still, while I have no doubt that Podolski, Giroud and Cazorla will ultimately settle in and be good players, Arsene Wenger is taking a big gamble. He is gambling that many of his injury-prone players will stay healthy and that those who are returning from injury will not only stay healthy, but return to their pre-injury form. And, more importantly, he is gambling that his young, barely-tested players (Coquelin, Jenkinson, Yennaris, Miquel, Frimpong and “The Ox”) will step up their games and step up big time. That doesn’t mean that these things won’t happen. But, it is a big gamble to be taking with Arsenal’s season.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      I agree with a lot of this, and tend to judge squad depth by the second XI, which I’ll do later in the week. If too many of them are injury prone or not good enough, then you’ll struggle no matter how strong the first XI.

      But I see a lot of reasons for optimism, particularly in the defence, which is settled, and midfield, where we have a lot of options. I’m feeling good about the season.

  23. An award winning article. Let win 2day at antdfield.

  24. Great piece
    Here’s hoping your right although the 3 13 point you make is indicative of the “churn” in our playing staff that seems higher than ever over the last few seasons.
    Barring severe injuries I think we have enough to challenge this year, I genuinely believe AW does too.
    More of the alchemist and less of the economist from here on in Arsene

    • My point about the 3-13 is that it is a barefaced lie. If we have 13 outgoings, then we actually have 6 coming in (Bendtner, Arshavin and Vela all ending their loans), and if you don’t include loans, we don’t have anything like 13 going out.

  25. Spot on bro, we have a group of intelligent players, except two who must be replaced for their lack of intelligence on the ball (ie Theo and Gervinho), they are too predictable and unimaginative and therefore do not help the team much, despite all their effort.

  26. What about the physical presence? With Mikel and Jack being the two sitting midfielders and Santi playing behind the upfront three, we have no one higher than 5’9 in midfield. Really doubt if we have enough technique and movement to control the midfield as we wish. And Diaby? I hate to say this but he cannot be the cornerstone for any team with his outstanding injury history, and unfortunately, it’s the same thing with Thomas.
    Losing Song is not the end of the world, but replacing him with no one is incomprehensible. Now we put all our stakes on a player who played less 30 games for us during the last three seasons and a player who hasn’t played on the pitch for one and half years, this season is gonna be experimental again.
    The point is, we cannot keep our best players by finishing three, what will happen this season if we cannot make any improvement? Finger crossed.

  27. Wat a wonderful article,positive & encouraging…anyway a good game but i think Arsene should work more on attitude of players 2b able to fight comeback’s & also remain at Arsenal 4 ever like Messie,Giggs,Scholes,Gerrald etc!…

  28. Rvp had a long lay off and came off good. I believe diaby will come good this season. Jack will need time and will probably play in cups. All in all a great performance

  29. Giroud movement to certain goal scoring positions is what makes him just horrible to watch anyone could do what he does arshavin theo chamakh better learn quick Rvp’s goals dimmed our joy today but comfortable win, hope on january get a thunderbolt striker in for theo and arshavin injuries always happen who is the question and when wish wilsher rosicky sagna quick recovery

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