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Arsenal need an interceptor, not an enforcer

Song

Arsenal’s indifferent form this season which has contributed to three loses already has been attributed to a lack of a defensive midfield enforcer; someone who looks to tackle the ball in restart play.

With Flamini and Gilberto gone, Denilson and Song occupy their places. However watching the Arsenal youngsters defeat Wigan in the Carling Cup without a recognised defensive midfielder, it raised the question once more; do Arsenal still require one and too what specification?

The typical defensive midfielder is required to protect the back four, by tackling and distribute the ball to start attacks and allow the attacking players to play with more freedom. The role has evolved a bit more as they must now have a low centre of gravity and must be able to pass the ball however the main evolution has been to the protect and cover for the counter; reading the game and getting to the ball first the most important part of the job. When they do get the ball be also adept at passing the ball out otherwise it can put the team in danger.

Manchester United last year won the league and the European Cup by not playing a midfield enforcer, utilising Scholes and Carrick in the middle. Carrick is definitely a defensive midfielder and has the creative talents to play higher but his defining attribute is the ability to read the game and tactically position himself to stop attacks. Scholes does less running now and prefers to dictate play from a deeper position.

In the first half of the Carling Cup against Wigan Mark Randall played as the defensive midfielder albeit with a bit more creativity, looking to protect the defense and allow the midfield to attack with more freedom. However in the second half the Aaron Ramsey switched with the Englishman as the main defensive midfielder though when he attacked, Randall dropped back.

What two similarities the players have is that they don’t have a strong tackle but are intelligent and are two players who are committed. The discipline to stay back if one goes forward and a prepare themselves mentally to do the ‘dirty’ work. They are not defensive midfielders and tactically still off the pace but committed themselves to the cause nethertheless against a team which in the league, one would have argued playing a tackler to be paramount in beating the Latics. Also being small they may have lacked presence but compensated by being in the right place at the right time.

Denilson is currently the holder of the defensive midfield position and stated his role before the 3-1 win over Everton:

“Yes, this season, yes. I am playing the role that Flamini and Gilberto had last season. That`s very important for the team and the manager has said that I need to think about the opposition more, rather than just looking for the ball all the time” he says, adding “I need to improve marking and look at the man who is running”

“I think it is important to score goals if you play midfield” as he continues “I need to score goals or make the final pass for the strikers as often as I can. I don`t always play behind Cesc though, sometimes I can go forward, he can stay back. We swap and can change. I think it works well for us.”

Fabregas in fact in recent games has played higher than he has ever had for Arsenal. A reason being could be a source of frustration, trying too hard for the team or that Arsenal have lacked a bit of creativity and cutting edge up front as Hleb’s ability to take people out of the game because of his superior dribbling and make space for others, assisting the assister has been missing. Denilson in affect has been exposed and his tactical ability been taken advantage of at times.

Maybe they can both follow the example of Randall and Ramsey or Scholes and Carrick playing with more shared responsibilities and more commitment. They are both lacking the positional play but if they commit themselves and look to get to the ball first then all is possible. The Gerrard and Lampard combination defensively was one of England’s best because of Gerrard’s commitment and attitude though positionaly he was worse than Lampard.

If one predominantly defensive player is the way forward then Denilson may have to sacrifice his play more and become more focused, not just tackling wise but getting himself into position, putting his attacking instincts to the backburner.

What makes Lampard a great player is that people don’t recognise his positional play which makes the balance of the team stronger and harder to break down. Personally I feel Fabregas needs to defend more to get this balance. The goals conceded against Tottenham show this vulnerability and looking at the stats, Denilson has now also dropped out of the tackles success rate top 5 and below fabregas in the passing rate.

So what about Song? He is naturally a defensive midfielder but maybe lacks a bit of urgency and commitment. His defensive play is better and is adept at passing with a bigger presence but like Denilson needs to develop a team attitude and not be concerned with individual glory. Same could be said about Diaby. In fact Flamini ticked all the right boxes with his all action display and he was before that a central midfielder though worked on his game to become first choice.

We looked at United’s partnerships but what about the other big clubs? Liverpool can have Xabi Alonso and Mascherano in defensive midfield. Maschereano is the typical enforcer but his big draw to him is his reading of the game.

A tackler will be nothing if he can’t read the game and Denilson may never be a one but he will always need to read the game.

Man United won the title without an enforcer, playing Carrick and Scholes in front of the defence who can be described as interceptors instead but have the ability to tackle. Mascherano one of the only few players in the Premiership with the ability to do both.

If this is the case then how comes Arsenal haven’t won a title since Vieira left I hear you ask? This is a tricky one to put down to, maybe we were overall not good enough but we still had Gilberto and nearly won with Flamini last season. Regarding the Invincibles they had two players that could shield the defence in Gilberto and Vieira which allowed the attacking players to attack with such danger and express themselves. The same tactic gave United the title last year.

There was never a real need for an enforcer, but someone with discipline and a strong tactical and positional side of the game supported by quality attacking players which Arsenal have (though better movement may be required).

Being pro-active and controlling games is not only about being able to do unpredictable things with the ball, but also being able to vary your game plan, stop the opponent achieving theirs, and having as many players as possible capable of making and exploiting spaces.

The argument of whether Denilson and Song are good enough should be reserved for another day but the two are still learning; if Song continuing the way he played against Wigan and Chelsea he could be the answer.

So what Arsenal really need is not an enforcer but a interceptor. What do you think? Do you agree or is a tackler a requirement in the modern game?

Article By A.Hassan – Read more pieces like this over at The Arsenal Column.

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Utk
Utk
12 years ago

“What makes Lampard a great player is that people don’t recognise his positional play which makes the balance of the team stronger and harder to break down. ” Hassan ur joking right i have been specifically observing Lampard for the last 20 -25 chelsea games and what ur saying is completely wrong. Lampard is actually not a central mid fielder he is an attacking midfield player he rarely helps the team defensively and is the first one to support the striker he playes the same role as Gerrard is now playing for Liverpool that of an attacking midfielder supported by… Read more »

AIC
AIC
12 years ago

apparently veloso’s up for grabs at a nice price, he’s a quality defensive minded player who can play both cb and dm. To be fair though denilson has done an awesome job – take a look at his stats. He gets about the pitch more than he used to. Only thing i feel is a downer with him is he’s not strong or pacy enough on the ball at times.

A Hassan
12 years ago

I too have been observing Lampard for the past few seasons and he is more of a supporting player. Lampard is a classical central midfielder who likes to link up play from deeper and break forward late into the box. Gerrard on the other hand is more attacking and prefers to receive the ball in the centre and make things happen in the final third. The graphic here in this article will help understand this better. http://arsenalcolumn.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/the-misunderstanding-of-gerrard-and-lampard/ Actually England have the best record with them in the centre. You can have a ball winner but when there is a lack… Read more »

andy
andy
12 years ago

we need that enforcer
i can see where u comin but look at the games we have lost to ok they dont have the talent we have but they have a physicalness that we dont have and we cant keep using the fact they are being too rough this is football the reason we havent won anythin since vieira because he was a intimidating presence in the tunnel the amount of players who mentioned it thats who we need the enforcer who will protect are back four and leave fabregas to do what he does best

Ogre
Ogre
12 years ago

Psychologically a better athlete playing a destructive defensive midfield role would help us more than a couple midgets who lose more 50-50 balls than they win. I think Wenger popularized the athletic and technical CM/DM, although Keane was already the prototype in England when Vieira and Petite arrived. Since then everyone has their Vieira knock-off. My guess is that now he is experimenting with a new idea in order to get ahead of the pack once again. Most of us don’t think it’s working, but there are still too many variables that contribute to why we lose to Hull to… Read more »

Ogre
Ogre
12 years ago

Perhaps to clarify. Watching Wigan in the last 20 minutes yesterday I was impressed with how athletic they were all over the pitch. It seemed that couldn’t match them in the center of the park. Even Koumas was lively, and he’s no ROberto Carlos in the athleticism dept. But I think Wenger is planning to develop a total football with Cesc at the hub that can pass and move around even the most athletic midfield opposition. It ain’t working, partly b/c Cesc is in poor form. Is he is poor form b/c his partner is not athletic enough?! How the… Read more »

A Hassan
12 years ago

OK an interceptor can tackle if u understand my point but it is better for one to be positionally astute. That is what gets them there in the first place otherwise Diaby would be playing (which maybe we should try). If this is the case then how comes Arsenal haven’t won a title since Vieira left I hear you ask? This is a tricky one to put down to, maybe we were overall not good enough but we still had Gilberto and nearly won with Flamini last season. Regarding the Invincibles they had two players that could shield the defence… Read more »

ClockEndofTimes
ClockEndofTimes
12 years ago

Anyone know if we have a sell-on clause on Diarra? Would buy him back in a heart beat. Media reports indicate a deal with MancCity is as good as done. If so, would be nice little earner if we have got a sell on clause…

Letting him and Flamini both leave was absolute folly…

•[g][u][n][n][a]•™

dont worry this problem will be solved i feel soon, coquelin’s the man to do the job. the best DM ive seen in a long time at his age. definetley going to be a world beater. mark my words. next season will be his season. this season i think we can survive.

ClockEndofTimes
ClockEndofTimes
12 years ago

coquelin is not going to get into the XI next season when he hasn’t featured much (at all?) in the Carling Cup and won’t be involved in the League, FA or CL campaign. arsene will persist with Denilson, Song probably Diaby ahead of him… seems very highly rated, but he will need time. we need to get a player who already has professional first team experience and preferably CL or at least UEFA Cup and is a member of their respective national team. Best option would probably be Tymoschuk, but apparently he’s off to Munich to combine with the one… Read more »

Gunner Jillu
Gunner Jillu
12 years ago

no marks for stating the obvious. Every1 knows Flamini has left a hole and 3 players have played next to Fabregas already this season, Eboue, Song and Denilson

Nil
Nil
12 years ago

Our problems in midfield have as much to do with our wings as anything else. Flamini came into a midfield with Rosicky, Hleb and Fabregas. Denilson/Song have had to come in with Fabregas off form, and Theo, Nasri and/or Eboue on the wings. -Theo for all his talent is a huge defensive liability for the midfield(both Sagna and Gallas had to take yellows against ManU in trying to make up for Theo’s defensive mistakes) -Nasri is new to the team, the PL and playing in an unfamiliar position. He doesn’t really know how to track runs as evident by Bosingwa’s… Read more »

Dattijo Aliyu
12 years ago

I think we need an enforcer in the midfield in the mould of viera. Denilson and song are not ideal players for that role.Arsene, we have enough of your experiment which will not carry us to any silvereware. the earlier you go for mature players the better, what happen to eboue should be a lesson to you

A Hassan
12 years ago

Nil: agree and my fourth to last paragraph is trying to say that and indeed on my blog too. There is too much emphasis on the tackler and even the defence but the quality of wingers is definitely not as good yet but can get better.

ClockEndofTimes
ClockEndofTimes
12 years ago

Good point on Hleb (and Rosicky when fit). They were all around great midfielders and they tracked back and helped with the defensive duties as well as being able to carry the ball from their own box into the opponents half even under heavy pressure (especially Hleb!).

@Gunner Jillu – the point although obvious was to other commentator who claimed that Coquelin was going to solve the midfield problem next season. Unlikely with young players ahead of him

chris
chris
12 years ago

although this isn’t relevant to this discussion..why did we need to resort to putting our right back at left midfield when there is such a shortage..yet we have a young winger in troare playing well for pompey on loan?

peter robert casey
12 years ago

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Gunner Jillu
Gunner Jillu
12 years ago

ClockEndofTimes
My comment was aimed at the article, it says nothing that the football fans dont aleady know.

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