Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Freddie Ljunberg, Robert Pires… iconic central midfielders of yester-year. A look at those names leaves one in awe. These players are household names, whether you’re an Arsenal supporter or not.
These players have graced the game whilst in the central midfield role and showed Arsenal (and the rest of England) what it meant to be a true centre mid.
Today, however, Arsenal finds itself struggling in this position. Yes, they have famous names in the centre of the park, but the players lack consistency, passion, and often, aggression.
Many a football fan will remember the now infamous rivalry between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira. The fights that ensued nearly every time the two met on the pitch.
The closest Arsenal has been to this in recent years was when Jack Wilshere shoulder charged Samir Nasri off the ball against Manchester City.
Apart from that, the passion and aggression that Arsenal was once known for has disappeared.
The current midfield
The Arsenal Centre Mid position is often filled with players who naturally played in a more attacking role or on the flanks.
The two best Arsenal holding midfielders right now, ignoring injury, would be Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin.
The two players began their Arsenal careers playing elsewhere. With Cazorla being more adept as an attacking midfielder and Coquelin being utilised as a left mid.
This still doesn’t mention the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. All of who have all been dropped into the holding roles when the inevitable injury crisis hits every November/December.
Only in the past year-or-so has Arsene Wenger brought in players who are natural holding midfielders. This being Granit Xhaka and Mohammed Elneny, who now seems to be a bench warmer.
There has been a clear lack in the midfield position as Wenger constantly rotates and changes the central pairing in attempt to find a pair that works well together.
Yes, Cazorla and Coquelin would be the ideal partnership. But Santi isn’t young anymore. With his current return date from injury left up in the air, Wenger must rely on his summer signing – Xhaka.
Don’t misinterpret me. Xhaka is highly talented and he can ping a pass. Nearly as good as Cazorla, but technically, Xhaka does not even compare to Cazorla.
Not only that, but Xhaka is rash in most tackles and is clearly an avid supporter of being on the receiving end of red cards (8 red cards since April 2014 – ESPN).
The partnership every ‘Gooner’ wishes to see is without a doubt Cazorla and Coquelin.
Coquelin is a passionate player. A player that is head-and-shoulders above most other defensive midfielders in terms of tackling ability. Where Cazorla naturally being adept to the CAM role. Can change the direction of play in a heartbeat, and ping a pass onto a Pound coin from 60 yards away.
Unfortunately, as noted, Cazorla is aging, and finds himself in being left with a mere 6 months left in contract with the North London club.
The return of Wilshere
The note of central midfield being a point of failure for Arsenal, might not be as true as the article leads you to believe. It is however, not the strongest point on the field for the Gunners.
There is no consistency. The central pair could swap and change countless times over the span of a season.
The biggest thing to look forward to, however, is the return of Jack Wilshere for the 2017/18 season. He has shown his class, grit and determination whilst being on loan at Bournemouth.
The idea of his loan was to regain match fitness. To be able to string games together, while performing at the level that the whole of England wishes to see.
Jack Wilshere is a player very much like Santi Cazorla. He’s small, agile, has real ‘tekkers’ and most of all, he shows as much passion and aggression on the field as any of the greats.
His loan spell has been markedly successful, and although not being in the mix with goals and assists.
Bournemouth manager, Eddie Howe, has noted that his presence in the camp, has allowed the team to compete with the bigger teams, rather than be relegation candidates as many thought at the beginning of the season.
The Arsenal central midfield is one which has stark potential, but needs time, time to cement itself as a powerhouse again, to gain consistency and time on the ball. Maybe in a season or two, Xhaka/Wilshere & Coquelin/who knows who, could be the next central midfield pair to make serious inroads to a real Arsenal title challenge.
All we can do, is wait, in baited breath, to see what happens.