Few if any are able to replace Cazorla

I have had a sporting crush on Maxime Gonalons for five years now. I first started writing about him and how I’d like to see him at Arsenal back in 2012. In the years since, he has stayed loyal to Lyon and at 27 years old is their inspirational captain and leader. Instead of buying Gonalons in 2012, Wenger snapped up a player who is in many ways his opposite, Santi Cazorla.

What I like about Gonalons is that he’s one of the best players in the world passing the ball, he’s big and physical and hard to knock off the ball, and he is quick to recover and win the ball back for his team. He plays in the deep lying midfield role and organizes the Lyon attack and defense from that position, picking out line-breaking passes, sweeping long balls to switch the point of attack, getting out of tight pressure with a deft dribble, and when Lyon lose possession, mopping up.

Cazorla came to Arsenal at a time when Arsenal had just undergone a major change in midfield. Arteta had been brought in to take over for Cesc Fabregas in the main creative role. He was played next to Alex Song in 2011/12 who was supposed to be the deeper of the two midfielders but who actually found a surprising partnership with Robin van Persie and created 11 assists that season. For reasons that will remain under Wenger’s magic cap, Song was sold and Cazorla brought in to take over the creative attacking midfield role, and Arteta was asked to step back into the organizing midfielder position.

Cazorla scored 12 goals and laid on 11 assists that season in the advanced attacking role. The freedom suited him and in his best performance of the season he scored a hat trick against Reading. After, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain said “It’s a pleasure for anyone to get to play with a player like Santi. You can give him the ball in tight situations and you can trust him to get out of them and create things.”

That summer, Arsenal bought Mesut Özil and suddenly, Arsene Wenger had to find a new home for Cazorla. This uncertainty in Arsenal’s midfield abounded for a year and a half. As Arteta started to age, Wenger tried multiple combinations in midfield. Sometimes, Ramsey in the middle, sometimes Cazorla with Arteta. Arteta and Flamini. Until suddenly in January 2015, he hit upon the midfield that worked: Coquelin and Cazorla.

Coquelin isn’t a refined passer, in fact he’s often overlooked by teammates in the build-up, but he’s quick and tough and has a nose for closing down opposition attacks. So much so that former Arsenal great, Thierry Henry called him “the policeman.”

Cazorla’s job was to organize the midfield: find a pass up field first, if given space take it, if closed down break the press. The two of them worked fantastically well together. Their partnership in midfield allowed Özil to flourish and the German had his best season for Arsenal, providing 19 assists as Arsenal climbed to the top of the Premier League and challenged for the title.

But then Cazorla got injured and has essentially remained injured for the best part of the last two seasons. And Wenger has been back to flailing around looking for combinations in midfield that provide the grit needed to defend and the flair needed to attack.

This summer Wenger bought a guy I consider to be sort of like Gonalons in Granit Xhaka. Xhaka has all of Gonalons passing range and if given time and space in Arsenal’s backfield he can play passes that skip straight through an entire defense. But Xhaka has flaws, he can’t really carry the ball forward, and because he lacks dribbling ability, he needs players to help him break a press. And in the defensive phase his recovery pace and positioning often leave him lunging to get back into the game.

This is why Arsenal need a midfielder next to Xhaka who can help organize play in the defensive phase by herding the opposition players, and in the offensive escape pressure with a dribble. Coquelin does the defensive part of that very well. Ramsey provides great movement but can’t break pressure with a dribble and his defending is poor, he’s another Arsenal player who lunges into tackles late. Elneny is another great passer and his movement is outstanding but he struggles with tackling and dribbling. It’s only Cazorla, who is never going to be a great tackler but puts in the work while also moving Arsenal forward in midfield, does all of the movement that Elneny and Ramsey provide to his teammates, and who understand how to press in midfield. Cazorla is the guy!

Some suggest that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the natural replacement for Cazorla. He has played just twice in that position and while the initial stats look good, he is averaging 4.5 dribbles per game, the deeper we dig into those matches the more we see that most of his dribbles were attacking down the wings and not breaking pressure in midfield. Worse, he still has a huge problem with ball retention and averages two dispossessed per match while playing as a nominal center mid, and his interceptions numbers are basically non-existent with just 1.

Ox is also not an adept passer (yet). His short passes are fine but his long passes, which are crucial for a deep midfielder, are just 56%. Gonalons averages 70%. And Ox has yet to connect on an accurate cross when playing in CM, going 0/3. So, while Ox does seem to offer the dribbling ability of Cazorla and that is a tremendous asset, he lacks the precision passing that Cazorla brings to the table. Maybe he can develop his passing? Though, he’s been playing now for eight seasons as a professional footballer, and six seasons under the development of Arsene Wenger who is supposed to be the coaching equivalent of a passing guru. If he was going to pick up tremendous technical passing ability, my guess is he would have already done so.

Another current Arsenal player who many would immediately point to as the guy to take over the Cazorla role is Jack Wilshere. Wilshere is getting plenty of playing time for Bournemouth this season and what is undeniable is that he’s still got his dribbling shoes on. Making 2.5 dribbles per game, Wilshere is right up there with Alexis, Aguero, and Sterling among the top dribblers in the League. Wilshere also offers through balls and creates shots for his teammates. But Wilshere is an awful defender. Don’t @ me with the stuff about how he played DM for England. He filled in the circle where “DM” was supposed to be but he averaged 0.7 tackles per game. Wilshere currently averages less than a tackle a game (0.8) at Bournemouth and is actually more prone to be dribbled past (0.9) than to successfully win the ball back. Cazorla is no great defensive wall but in his prime, playing alongside Coquelin, he averaged more than double the tackles (1.9) what Wilshere averages. Wilshere also doesn’t intercept the ball. In 21 appearances for Bournemouth he has 8 interceptions.

There are players out there who can deliver on all of the skills needed to play in a two-man midfield for Arsenal. But it’s not like these guys are unknown. Thiago Alcantara would be absolutely perfect as a replacement for Cazorla. You are already aware of his attacking threat but he also averages 2.7 tackles per game (with just 0.5 was dribbled) and a career high 4.2 interceptions per game. But how on earth is Arsenal going to convince Alcantara to leave Bayern? Money. Lots of money. Probably a record transfer and record salary.

And with Alcantara, you also have to ask whether Xhaka would be the right player to play with him. Alcantara completes 80% of his long passes, takes a lot of corners for Bayern (and creates 0.4 shots per game off corners), he can tackle, he can intercept, he can dribble. If you buy Alcantara, don’t you then play Coquelin next to him?

The other obvious candidate is Naby Keita. He is a little bit of everything in a center mid. And Wenger tried to sign Keita this summer, going so far as to make a personal call but, as is the case with a long line of young prospects, Keita chose to play somewhere else.

There are a lot of players out there who can dribble, or who are tidy with the ball in midfield, players who can make a decisive final pass, players who can tackle and defend well. But what made Cazorla so special for Arsenal was that he did all of that. There are precious few players in the world who can fill Cazorla’s huge boots. Alcantara is one of them but my guess is that Wenger isn’t going to buy Alcantara. The amount of money needed to bring in a player of that quality and pedigree would be astonishing. Arsenal have the money but to see it actually used would be a surprise.

The good news is that Wenger is looking. His call to Keita is proof that the old boss still knows what he wants. We saw this before with Arsenal’s pursuit of a big center mid like Xhaka. It took three years of rejections before we finally landed a players. And as is the case with Wenger, he is willing to wait and make due until he can get in the quality and type of player he wants.

And yes, I do think Wenger signs a four year deal this summer.

Qq

97 comments

  1. Does the world have no justice? Doesn’t Arsene deserve a smidge of restored pride before retiring?
    Not exactly pointed at anyone, just my overall feeling about the past two months.

  2. The maximum he’ll sign is a one year extension and extend it if he wins premier league next season. Last one shot for the title that has alluded him for last 13 years.

  3. That’s why we give him a contract extension when he has not played up to 20 games for two seasons. It was the same with Rosicky and Arteta. Now it’s Carzola and Mertesacker. Player loyalty to the detriment of the team. No wonder we are such a big laughing stock!!!

    1. It’s a catch 22: Cazorla is nigh irreplaceable and certainly not replaceable for less than £50m+. So, Wenger did the smart thing here and tied him to a deal on the off chance that he has 6 months of good football left in him. It buys us time while we wait to find his replacement. If we can get his replacement.

    2. it wasn’t really a contract extension in the typical sense of a player signing a new deal. arsenal simply had an option installed in santi’s contract to extend him an additional year if they chose. it’s an approach arsenal tends to take with their players over thirty; sign them on a one year contract with an option to extend an additional year. the bad thing is the player doesn’t have a choice. it’s completely arsenal’s prerogative to either extend them or release them after that year.

      it was an issue with rosicky in his last year at arsenal because he knew he wasn’t going to play and wanted to return to prague but arsenal exercised their extension option. reports claim that he was pretty upset by that decision.

  4. 2 year deal.
    Also surprising to see Keita choose a newly promoted team over us.

    The wait and watch thing of Arsene has cost us a few titles already. Looks like it’s become an ego thing now? ‘I’ll do it my way’ types, despite the failures.

    1. “The wait and watch thing of Arsene has cost us a few titles already.”

      There is no proof of this idea, popular though it may be. There’s a parallel in the NBA right now, the Boston Celtics. They know they need something truly special in order to surpass Cleveland or Golden state, so they are biding their time, waiting for that player because they know that above average won’t move the needle enough. Elite players are really difficult to get in any sport, and the problem Arsenal has is elite players want to play for elite teams, so if Alcantara were to be available, we wouldn’t be his only suitors that’s for sure. So, teams like Arsenal that are good but not great sit on their assets until something truly worthwhile comes along, i.e. Ozil, Sanchez, Cech and then hope that we can land them against teams like Madrid and Chelsea who have more money and pulling power. It may be frustrating when nothing happens but it’s a much better policy than to go all in. Staying with basketball, do you know who tried to go all in? The Brooklyn Nets. Extreme example but it shows you what can happen when a team does that and gets it wrong. I don’t think it has to do with ego, just being selective in a difficult market. Yes, Arsenal could do better, no they haven’t been perfect, but yes, there needs to be a longer term process and yes we can afford to be selective in who we buy.

      The Keita thing sounds like speculation but if Keita did decide to stay at RB it’s either because a) he thought he could do better in terms of contract, playing time or team on offer next season and/or b) because he wanted to play right away instead of be second in line behind Cazorla, et al.

      1. Read the article. There are quotes from Keita:

        “I only had contact with Arsene Wenger, who spoke French to me,” Keita said.

        In the end he said that Leipzig sporting director Ralf Rangnick, who previously brought Keita to Salzburg, was the main reason for moving to Germany in a €15 million deal.

        “Ralf has treated me like a son. He came to France in 2014 to sign me for Salzburg and I trust him entirely,” Keita said. “I joined RB because it is an exciting club with great potential. I didn’t want to move to a big Champions League club immediately. It’s still too early.”

        1. that’s exactly what i was thinking when i heard he wanted to go to leipzig. he’s got plenty of time to prove himself at the top level. the good thing is that if he decides to move on, that conversation with arsene wenger is likely to push arsenal to the top of his list. it did with ozil, cech and, if he’d ever decided to leave juventus, buffon. smart play by him and good on wenger to plant the arsenal seed.

        2. Sorry! That sounded rude “READ THE ARTICLE”!!! I meant, “I put a link to an article where Keita says…”

          Sometimes, I’m thoughtless.

          1. No worries Tim, I knew what you meant and should’ve clicked the link before commenting on it. Although, it sounds like in essence NK says what I thought he’d say.

    2. There are a bunch of things going on here.

      First off, there is the fact that Red Bull owns the team he currently plays for and the previous team he played for. Red Bull also employed Ralf Rangnick both at Salzburg and Leipzig, Rangnick is sporting director for both clubs and was the guy who brought Keita to Salzburg and then convinced him to follow him to Leipzig.

      I think the average fan (not saying that’s you) doesn’t understand that these players REALLY listen to their managers, friends, trusted former managers and others that they consider in their inner circle. This is also the reason Arsenal missed out on Origi, Martial, and O. Dembele.

        1. Agents are probably worth a mention because of a case like Schneiderlin. Choice between Arsenal – popular French player destination over the last couple of decades, Wenger, etc – and Spurs – former manager under whom player excelled – and he ends up at United.

  5. Really nice piece Tim, I hope you get comments besides people moaning and groaning over your last line.

    Is there an interceptions and defensive positioning bootcamp where we can send all of our players? Maybe they can learn the finer points of tackling from someone like Lawrence Taylor.

    Also, a player besides Alcantara who could do the trick would be Veratti, though equally unlikely that they would let him go for any price.

    1. if alcantara leaves bayern, it’s to go back to barcelona. as for veratti, he went to psg with ancelotti. when ancelotti left, i thought arsenal should have swooped for him as he wasn’t a regular starter yet. i even mentioned it on this site. there’s just about no chance of arsenal signing him now. he’s become too important.

      1. Agreed, about Verratti being perfect for us (what a player he is! Not sure how good defensively, mind…) and also that there’s approximately zero chance of us getting either him or Thiago, unless we throw insane money at them, not just for the transfer fees but for the wages, which we’re obviously loathe to do in general (and if wages were really all that players cared about, all the best players in the world would have moved to China this year).

        1. He’s so similar to Jack Wilshere. If only our boy had a few more watts in that dim lightbulb of his… football really is a mental game and that’s what Jack just doesn’t seem to get.

  6. Love how you dropped that Wenger staying bit into the end. So sly. RE: a proper Santi replacement, I think it’s interesting that Wenger has gambled on the health of an aging Spanish deep lying playmaker for 3 years now. He believed Arteta and Cazorla would both be important parts of his last 3 teams, and he was wrong, thereby torpedoing all three campaigns, it could be argued.

    1. It could be argued, Jonathan, but the real question is could/should he have foreseen it? And was there a backup plan? For me the answer to the former is: no. Our luck/ineptitude with injuries has, for me, been the preeminent reason for Arsenal’s ultimate failures (and no they don’t tell the whole story). The answer to #2 is also probably no, but it’s also difficult to set up your team around one midfield and then try to conform to another. If Chelsea loses Kante tomorrow, there is no “replacing” him and any midfielder Conte plugs in there will fundamentally alter how his team defends. Same for any unique talent anywhere. Tim chronicles very well the shortcomings of Santi’s potential “replacements” and why it’s not been the same without him.

      1. So a system reconfiguration then; the trouble is that’s much easier said than done. Arseblog has spent ages pushing for a Ramsey-Xhaka combination (basically since we signed Xhaka), and contrary to what my eyes tell me, he seems to have convinced himself that they actually worked quite well together. I didn’t feel they were anything mightily impressive on the blue moon occasion that they’ve played together (which is another problem: one’s always injured this year, the other suspended).

        I think we need a different system entirely to cope without Cazorla. No idea what might work, though.

          1. I disagree, because he’s only good as a nominal “10” in a counter-attacking team like Wales. His game lacks the subtlety, finesse, and close control to flourish as a 10 in a top team where space in the final third will always be at an absolute premium because the opposition will get men behind the ball. Given this (and given the weaknesses in his control/passing, and his positional indiscipline, which apparently make it hard for him to do well as an 8 in a two man midfield, unless his partner is the perfect foil), his only position in an Arsenal type team should be as part of a proper 3 man midfield without a 10, preferably in a team that employs a high press. I could see him really flourishing in a Spurs/Liverpool type team, actually.
            If we can get close to 30 or more million for him (not crazy in the current market and considering he’s British), I think we should sell him this summer and use the money to help buy the midfielder and/or CF we need.

          2. I can’t think of any current succesful team that is playing with a proper ’10’as we do, and i think that is the root of our unbalance. We are making a big sacrifice to acomodate Ozil and given that he only give you half a good season, i don’t think its worthy anymore.

        1. Yeah, Arseblog (and to a lesser degree Tim Stillman, two Arsenal writers I admire) are WAY too invested in Ramsey working at Arsenal. Xhaka and Ramsey weren’t bad; nothing more.

          1. Ramsey will work on a three men midfield. He would be the box to box tireless runner who can chip in with the goals, Xhaka the steady passer with the good long range ball and we are lacking the dribbler who can beat the press with supreme close control of the ball , that was suppose to be Cazorla and i doubt the Ox can replace him properly but he is the best option right now.

      2. Could Wenger have foreseen it?

        Maybe not the first time, but then, it isn’t the first time we’ve lost a player – and ultimately – the title, due to injuries.

        Eduardo.
        Then the year Ramsey had a purple patch.
        Then the next year.
        Then last year.
        Then this year.

        It’s a pattern, not a wooly discipline like divination. So yes, Wenger should have foreseen it – especially when most of us fans expected it and were even resigned to it.

        1. Andres, the problem with Ramsey as a box to box is then he would be the ball carrier/dribbler. He can dribble, but he’s not great at it. The other problem is that he really is too enamored with himself as an attacking force. I do think he will finish his career as a deeper midfielder but right now he’s a bit like prime time Stevie G without as much talent; put him high up the pitch, let him combine with the forwards, take shots and run the channels. That’s what he really wants. This is fine, except when you combine it with Ozil, who also doesn’t want to defend at all, the midfield falls apart. I’ve seen Ramsey put up gaudy tackling statistics and he does have a great motor, but his defensive game lacks structure and discipline. You could argue, well that’s no worse than Xhaka, and that’s true, but at least Xhaka sees himself as (mostly) a defensive player and his issues tend to come from poor decision making rather than an irresistible desire to gallop up the pitch at every opportunity. Presumably some coaching can iron those things out. With Ramsey, I’m thinking, why force him to be something he doesn’t want to be? Let him be a forward. As far as I can tell, his best talents are playing combination football high up the pitch, running the channels and despite his goal drought of late, he gets a lot of shots on target. I’d trust him to bury a shot over a lot of our players, including #11.

          BG, I won’t argue the matter further with you.

          1. 1. It usually helps to have some pace to “run the channels,” and Ramsey has none.
            2. If “the midfield falls apart” when Ozil and Ramsey are in there together, then how is it that Ramsey’s famous “purple patch,” which every fan can tell you is the by far the best he’s played in his entire career, occurred while he was playing as a number 8 nominally behind Ozil (and in general the Arsenal midfield, and team, was functioning well in that period)?
            3. Is it accepted wisdom that the box-to-box player in a midfield 2 has to be a “ball carrier/dribbler”? Certainly this did not use to be the case in England (e.g. Gerrard, Lampard, and going back further, Platt, Robson, etc, were never particularly good dribblers). But maybe the game has moved on. Certainly, WE need someone who can carry the ball if we’re going to persist with the same system and start someone like Xhaka (or for that matter, Coquelin) as DM.
            4. I’m actually not sure Gerrard has more talent than Ramsey. In fact, there was a time when I was convinced Ramsey was miles ahead of Stevie G in terms of talent. But these days Ramsey doesn’t even look as talented as Jordan Henderson for crying out loud. What is true, I think, is that Ramsey’s insistence on seeing himself in the Gerrard/Lampard mold has stunted his career, as he seems totally uninterested in improving, not just his defending, but his passing and composure on the ball. If he had grown up in Spain and his models were Xavi/Iniesta/Cesc types, I’m guessing he’d be a very different (and better) player.

          2. I have some time to take a deep dive into this tonight, so let’s do it. Let’s watch some Ramsey goals, shall we?

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehvscXD1WEM

            He basically scores two types of goals: one, where he arrives in the box and cleans up a cross or a deflected shot/cross, usually from long range; these are midfielders’ goals because he’s part of the second wave of attack. Two, where he’s played in behind the line by a team mate or when he combines as part of the first wave. These are forward’s goals. Examples of that at 0:30, 1:30 and 3:18. Then after the 4:00 mark there is a collection of sheer absurdity; those goals he scored were nuts. Just nuts. Let’s not even consider them for the purposes of this discussion. Let’s focus on how he gets behind the lines. This is as much about anticipation and timing as it is about speed, and Ramsey does it better than most. The last goal on the vid shows his knack for timing a run amidst a score of defenders to be first to Cazorla’s cross. As far as pace, check out the goal on 2:03; he leaves that guy for dead. Maybe he’s lost a step since then but he’s only 26 so I’d think not. I think we tend to view his game as slow because of the way he holds on to the ball, but in terms of acceleration he is no slouch.

            Item two is a good question. To answer it, I compared Aaron Ramsey to himself for every PL season tracked by Squawka, which is since 12/13, and the 13/14 season jumps off the page. He had outliers that season especially in terms of goals, despite modest shot volume. He had over 70% of his shots go on target that season, despite averaging about 40% for the rest of his career. He also put up gaudy tackles/min statistics with over 3.3 tackles per 90. So, basically Aaron Ramsey worked that season alongside Ozil because he was playing spectacular football with high output stats on both sides of the ball, which doesn’t represent his body of work through the rest of his career. In 12/13 he was a defense first busybody midfielder who hardly sniffed the goal despite a decent shot volume, but after his breakthrough 13/14 campaign he definitely transitioned to an offense first player. His tackles per 90 plummeted to 1.6 per game (as did every other defensive metric), he took even more shots than the previous year, but this time he found that his 36% shot accuracy was merely human. His newfound lack of effort defensively was felt acutely particularly when his partner in crime, Ozil, is similarly inclined and when his previous foil/bedrock, Arteta, was no longer there. The answer to your question is that if the Aaron Ramsey of 13/14 were to resurface, I’d stick him right in there with or without Ozil. But the Aaron Ramsey we have now has become a bit of a luxury. The jury is not out on that. It is still out on his career, but he’s burning his prime years as we speak. I think we ought to indulge the best/worst of him and just use him as an inside forward or defensive winger.

            Item 3 is a question about football theory and the evolving role of the deep lying midfielder. These might help:
            https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2013/dec/18/question-holding-midfielders-changing-role
            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/02/10/premier-league-awash-new-kind-midfielder-water-carriers-20/

            The essence is, yes, you need a ball carrier in the modern game. You need as many as you can get. Ramsey has actually improved on his dribbling statistics compared to prior seasons, as proved by a career high dribble success rate in the heady heights of 73% and he’s getting fouled more often than ever too, showing that he’s doing something right on the ball (Eden Hazard is the most fouled player in the league, and its best dribbler). But he’s no high volume dribbler and in a midfield where he’s going to partner Xhaka or ElNeny, average is not good enough. Coquelin is surprisingly an effective dribbler when he chooses to go forward (88%) but doesn’t attempt enough to suggest that this skill can be relied upon. Even that would not be a deal breaker for Ramsey as a midfielder but for the sake of the balance of the team, too many of his deficiencies are shared by his potential partners.

            Four is about the mental aspect of his game. I agree, it’s huge. Probably not as huge as his inability to stay fit, however. I don’t care what kind of midfielder you want to be, you have to play one consistent role and you have to be out there with the same crew game after game. Ramsey has been a bit part player, partly for the reasons mentioned above, and partly from horrible luck or whatever you want to call it. Not even Shad Forsythe could keep him on the pitch. I think he’s learned from his 14/15 campaign and has tried to come back to being more of the player he was before that incredible/unlikely 13/14 but at this point nobody, not even he, knows what his role is in this team, so between that and injuries he doesn’t play at all; all of which sounds awfully familiar to Jack Wilshere. And that’s not the company he wants to be keeping.

          3. One last thing. I know Stevie G is not the most likeable guy, but Ramsey hasn’t even sniffed peak Stevie. The 10 goals and 8 assists Ramsey had in 13/14 would’ve been a pretty average season in Stevie’s prime. If you look past all his baggage and his late career antics, Gerrard was a generational talent, and yes, he did it on both sides of the ball (most of the time).

          4. You say:
            “The answer to your question is that if the Aaron Ramsey of 13/14 were to resurface, I’d stick him right in there with or without Ozil. But the Aaron Ramsey we have now has become a bit of a luxury. The jury is not out on that. It is still out on his career, but he’s burning his prime years as we speak. I think we ought to indulge the best/worst of him and just use him as an inside forward or defensive winger.”

            This strikes me as an especially strange and surprising way of thinking about the current Ramsey situation. You’re basically acknowledging that the Ramsey everyone wants to see is not the one we’re likely to ever get again. But then you say we should indulge the one we have, the one who’s not nearly as effective on offense or defense as that ideal Ramsey, and who makes us defensively vulnerable.
            Here’s an alternative conclusion: find a way to get the good Ramsey back, sooner rather than later, or else drop and sell him.
            And why on Earth, if he’s only 26 (as you point out), couldn’t he go back to playing more of the “defense first” “busybody” football of 2012-13, which was the year (especially late in that season) where he finally started to find some form for Arsenal after his leg injury, laying the foundation for 13-14??? If he were currently doing amazing things on offense that would be one thing, but he’s obviously not. Is it now somehow beneath him to play good defense, make simple passes, etc?? If so, we don’t need him and we should sell.

          5. He can’t go back to 13/14 and he won’t go back to 12/13. He can’t go back to 13/14 because those numbers were not sustainable (especially for a “midfielder”) and he won’t go back to 12/13 because attacking is where his heart is.

            I’ll give you another video. These were his assits and goals for Wales this past summer:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1d1eggn3As

            He basically played as a support striker for Bale and finished the tournament joint top for assists with four. Watch how he uses his close control in tight spaces to find team mates, how he runs onto passes from deep, how he seems to enjoy his football again. He also played his best football since 13/14. I don’t believe in coincidences. I will also ask you this: would you really want him go back to pre-13/14 Ramsey? At that point he was labeled as vaguely promising, nothing more, and large sections of the fan base wanted him gone. More importantly, it’s not that hard to find a young guy with athleticism and decent passing stats who will run around and make tackles (See: Coquelin, Francis). It is very hard to find a young guy with athleticism and decent passing stats who will run around and make tackles but also score and set up goals. That’s the player we all hoped Aaron Ramsey was becoming after 13/14 but it just hasn’t happened for him.

            Over the past 3 seasons, nothing about Ramsey’s stats suggests he’s capable or (more crucially) willing to carry water alongside Mesut Ozil at the base of midfield. When he plays, he spends his time ahead of the ball, trying to score and assist. That’s who he is now. Why fight it? Why not let him develop in that role? Chances are, especially if Wenger leaves, that Ozil not long for Arsenal. When he is gone, Ramsey becomes the pre-eminent candidate to take over that position. I think we may even end up as a better team because of it.

          6. I think you rate him way too highly. Pre-eminent candidate to take over Ozil’s position? I’d rather have Iwobi in there, and probably others as well (or, I’d rather transition away from a pure 10 and have e.g. Iwobi and the Ox playing alongside a holding player).

            No one is suggesting he “goes back” to 2013-14 in the sense of being in that good form on a regular basis. But you yourself are suggesting he can be very effective scoring and creating, and we all know he has an incredible engine (one of his only truly exceptional qualities, which makes him stand out from other talented midfielders), so I don’t see why those things (assuming, as you do, that he actually can be productive offensively on a regular basis) can’t be combined with a bit of the discipline and simplicity and intelligence and team-first mentality (both with and without the ball) of his best moments in both 2012-13 and 2013-14. I remember that in 2012-13 he was still struggling quite a bit and had the weight of the Arsenal fan base on him all the time, but near the end of that season, he was winning over supporters with his incredible work rate and ability to be involved in the play all over the pitch. One minute he was getting into a dangerous scoring position in the box, the next he was making a lungbusting run to track back and halt an opposition counterattack. I’m asking for that guy back, for a start. He made quite a few mistakes with the ball, but he was quick to rectify them by winning the ball back. The next year he didn’t just add goals, he also (due to the confidence that came with the goals, I think), began to look much more composed on the ball, and finesse and creativity began to show, without him being a complete showboat.
            There is absolutely zero reason that that 2012-13-14 amalgamation (i.e. hard work covering lots of ground, simplicity and composure in possession, combined with a significant degree of offensive production) can’t be the norm again. Of course he won’t always be in the goal-scoring form he was in in the fall of 2013, but otherwise, he should be in the prime of his career and have all those qualities he’s shown in the past at his disposal.

            The best you’re able to offer as an excuse for why he shouldn’t be that player is just that “that’s who he is now” (i.e. someone always way ahead of the play, thinking only about offensive contributions in the final third). And the reason for that is, as far as I can tell, entirely psychological. He just doesn’t fancy playing as a box-to-box player. Since when does “he just doesn’t fancy it” constitute a good excuse for a player being indulged to do what they like on the pitch? Answer: when they’re supremely gifted and their contributions on the pitch more often than not justify that indulgence. I accept Ramsey’s been unlucky with injuries, but the clear fact of the matter is he hasn’t been seriously productive for Arsenal in several years (contrast that with Ozil, who I think has done enough to justify the indulgence, though that’s a separate argument, and I accept that others will disagree in that assessment).

            The best you can point to as evidence that Ramsey’s worth the headache of indulging him in an advanced role is 4 games in the summer with Wales. I admit he looked really good in those games (though how good has probably been overblown, as tends to happen), but that was 4 games playing in an entirely different system/team/style, in an end-of-the-season international tournament where much of the quality was mediocre at best. And, I would argue, his performances there had less to do with his position, and more to do with Wales’s counterattacking style, which meant when Wales attacked there tended to be lots of space to exploit as the play was stretched. Ramsey has always flourished when the play is stretched and his superior engine and eagerness to join the attack means he finds space against tired and/or dozing opposition. But Arsenal don’t play this way, and our opponents almost never let the play get stretched against us, except late in games. They either press high with a high line so as to constrict the space in the middle third in which our midfield has to operate, or they sit very deep around their own penalty box. Either way, Ramsey’s unlikely to get the kind of space he enjoyed for Wales playing for us in the PL every week. This is to take nothing away from his performances last summer, just that I don’t think they’re clear proof that he’d be great as a number 10 or “second striker” at Arsenal if given the chance. He has been given the chance at no 10 on a number of occasions, and pretty much never looked the business. (Also, I don’t think he was really playing as a second forward to Bale. He was the third man joining the attack, behind both Bale and Robson-Kanu.)

            One last point about you using video evidence to support your views. It’s become a bit of a cliche to claim that youtube videos are useless because any player can be made to look good in them. I reject this view. I think you can learn a lot from youtube videos of player, if you know what to look for. And in any event, the player at the very least must have the ability to do the things that you see in the video! It’s not like the video record lies. But like most cliches, there’s some truth to this one. The problem is not in what you see, but in what you don’t see. It’s not that the videos are inaccurate, just incomplete. I don’t at all doubt that Ramsey can do the skillful things on the ball, close control, etc, that you point out. I’ve seen it myself many times. The question is can he do it consistently for us? Is he willing to keep his game simple until the confidence flows and the harder stuff starts to come back? In recent years the answer has been no. (On these points, I wrote a long reply to you about Ramsey a couple of posts ago, which you may or may not have read (probably no one did), but in which I try to get at the bottom of what I think holds him back.) If I had lots of time on my hands, I could make a video of all the times he has FAILED to exhibit those qualities, all the times a promising attack of ours has broken down because of his poor decision making, poor first touch, sloppy pass, selfishness, failure to turn as he receives the ball, etc, etc, etc. For instance, your case for him having pace is purely anecdotal, dependent as it is on one example where he outran a guy. Fine, that obviously happened that one time. But I’ve watched him in many, many other situations, where he can’t get past a defender because he clearly doesn’t have the acceleration that some of his teammates have (the Ox, Theo, Alexis, Welbeck, even Jack, Ozil, probably Iwobi and Lucas). I don’t think the claim that he lacks any degree of genuine pace and acceleration (compared to PL players, not compared to you or me!) would be very controversial among the informed Arsenal fan base.

          7. Persistent, aren’t you? I think this is the point at which we say, I’ve made my argument, you’ve made yours, and it’s quite clear we are no closer together than we were when it started. Haha. Well, better luck next time I suppose.

        2. Sure, you can predict that we will have *an* injury to a key player, but to which key player?

          You can have back ups at every position, but when you have a special player the backup is always going to be a let down. The problem is our system is dependent on Cazorla to break the press. Wenger had a player who could do Cazorla’s job (Jack) but he gambled on getting by with his plan B (Xhaka) while keeping Jack happy and getting him more experience. If Wenger really thought this was his last year he would have kept Jack and bought mid career pros instead of young potential stars like Moustafi, Holding, Xhaka.

  7. the problem that santi cazorla’s injury would cause was plain to see by plenty on this site but summarily dismissed by a few others. as always, time has told the truth. i simply couldn’t see how arsenal could compete for the championship without him. it’s crazy that when santi’s in the team, arsenal look as if they could beat any team in europe. ironically, without santi in the team, arsenal look as if they could be beaten by, literally, any team in europe. what other player has such a sensational affect on their team?

    for all of the technical brilliance santi brings, the one thing that’s not mentioned enough is santi’s ability to control the game. when players don’t know what to do with the ball, they pass it to santi because he always knows what to do, sometimes humiliating opponents in the process. for me, the main thing for a dm to do is control the flow/tempo of the game and continually improve the stability of the midfield. arsenal’s midfield has been a mess since santi’s gone down. i think all of the former non-believers of santi have been converted. xhaka is still a young buck; still making runs and challenges that he shouldn’t. with experience, i believe xhaka will understand and take up those smarter positions earlier. likewise, he’ll have the experience and clout to effectively manage the actions of his team mates. we’ll see.

    1. I don’t think it was dismissed by anyone, BUT I remember taking umbrage at the narrative that we might as well give up on the season because of his injury. That’s a nutty way to think regardless of how things have panned out.

      1. i don’t recall anyone saying we should just give up on the season. knowing how much better arsenal played with santi and how much worse they played without him, it was incredibly difficult for me to see how arsenal could sustain a title challenge with him injured long-term.

        1. Well, I do recall. Otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything. I’m not imagining things, though I’m often accused of that; I’m sure I’m a full blown schizophrenic in the minds of some.

      2. Here here. Why can’t we acknowledge that Santi is brilliant, and that his loss has a massive effect on the team, without embracing the reductive narrative that says there’s basically no way for this current squad to play really well without him? That’s just ridiculously simplistic.

      3. Doc, perhaps you are referring to my immediate reaction when the news of Santi’s injury first broke. I said “there goes the season”. It was admittedly a reactive comment which I later clarified was really meant to imply that I didn’t think we could be in the title race anymore. I don’t think anyone suggested that we should give up on the season.

    2. We showed all the familiar flaws (Christmas/New Year fadeaways, blowouts to big teams) when Santi was fully fit, functional and playing regularly. I’m not saying he’s a bad player — he’s an exceptional, two-footed magician of a player who gives us security in possession in deep midfield — but gooners too often tend to engage in Cazorla canonisation.

      As with our forward line, our acquisitions have been baffling. With glut of midfielders, we bought Elneny in January after buying no one but Cech the previous summer. We then bough Xhaka. Our acquisitions seem to lack something (tackling and ferrying in Xhaka), game generalship in Elneny. It’s almost as if we needed one exceptional midfielder with a combination of attributes, rather than a few good ones who are not as multi-dimensional as we’d like. Surprised we didn’t go all for Kante. He bridges the technical gap, somewhat, between Santi and Coquelin.

      That conservatism in acquisition extends to our forward line, where, I would argue, the real fix conundrum is. He plainly loves Giroud withour rating or trusting him fully, doesn’t full trust his big summer purchase, and Welbeck remains a hopeful project, going into his upper 20s.

      I’d love it if go pursued and got Thiago. That’d be £80m, please.

  8. Apropos of nothing above, Tim, a penny for your thoughts re: Serge Gnabry? Having a rather good season at a rather poor team this year. I understand the club’s hands were rather tied as far as keeping him went (many on Twitter simply use that as a stick to beat Wenger with, as if there aren’t several better sticks); just wondering what your thoughts are, whether we should have tried something different to keep him, how he might have worked in the team this season if given opportunities, etc.

      1. I think Gnabry’s departure was a perfect storm, rather than a Theo thing. He’d have had a chance to fill in for Theo if he wasn’t injured at the same time as…Theo. Then we made a massive mistake and loaned him out to Tony Pulis, a man who simply won’t give you game time if you’re either under 25 or not named Ryan Shawcross. Playing 8 league minutes in an entire year is probably where he decided he was out no matter what. And Wenger did try to make him stay but it seems the player’s mind was made up, and he had one year left on his contract. Little choice but to sell, the way I see it. And little connection to Theo either.

    1. I’ve watched him a bunch. He plays as a second striker/wide forward. He’s basically showing what he could do if given a bunch of chances. He may have gotten some chances at Arsenal but with Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere, etc in front of him he made the right choice.

      I don’t see him at the elite level ever.

  9. Why is it so hard for Arsenal to find suitable players? Whoever we sign, almost always he lacks a certain aspect of his game, or he is often shoehorned into a position he is not very accustomed to.

    This applies to strikers (see Bendtner as winger, Gervihno as CF or Podolski as whatever), but mostly to midfielders (see every midfielder playing for Arsenal in the last 6-7 years).

    I mean, is it bad scouting? Lack of a clear vision about the system and strategy, a “he is available, we’ll think later where he’ll play” or just plain old stubbornness by Wenger to prove that he can transform players and show he is still capable of recognizing their true position.

    It really baffles me that it’s been ages since we had a clear view of what kind of a midfield we should be playing. And don’t mention Coqzorla, that was sheer luck and it happened by accident.

    1. it’s wenger. he’s determined to turn lead into gold. arshavin on the wing. fabregas as a 10. theo as a 9. song as a cb. ramsey in an arsenal shirt. at least he got petr cech right.

    2. Look, I’m perfectly happy with criticizing Wenger for much of what you mention (I do it myself), but this whole “Coqzorla was luck” thing is really unfair.
      Would anyone else have kept Coquelin at the club for so long, rather than jettisoning him? Would other managers have given him a chance in the team (even when injuries meant there were few other options) and stuck with Coquelin in January 2015 after a few promising games rather than spending big money on a new DM recruit? Would other managers have seen the potential for Santi as a deep lying playmaker? And don’t tell me Santi deep was forced on Arsene. Yes, there were injuries, but I’m pretty sure he tried out the Coqzorla partnership before he was absolutely forced to, and in any event, he had experimented with Santi playing deeper once or twice before the injury crisis in early 2015–a game in the CL against Galatasaray (or one of the other Turkish clubs) springs to mind. Of course circumstances play a role in Wenger finding “solutions” to his first eleven issues, but the same is true for any good manager (for one thing, there inevitably are times when you have to give certain players a chance without knowing how they’ll respond, and if they play brilliantly, then it makes sense to keep them in the team in place of other players who might be more established or more in your plans previously).
      Arsene has enough weaknesses without us churlishly refusing to give him credit when he does something right.

      1. i understand where you’re coming from but coquelin still being on arsenal’s books was not a brilliant play by wenger. the only reason he was still on the arsenal books is because no one had made more than a loan offer for him. if someone had offered £1.5 million for coquelin, he would have been gone. he was in the last year of his contract on loan. who does that if they want to keep the player? his time at arsenal was done.

        same goes for flamini in the ’07-’08 season. the only reason flamini was still at arsenal is because gilberto was late coming back from copa america. other than that, he would have spent the last year of his contract on loan at birmingham city.

        if arsenal want to keep a player they send on loan, they extend his contract first, not let him go on loan in the final year of the contract. like i said, i agree that necessity begets invention but let’s not create false narratives.

        1. Wenger is the guy who signed both those players when they were young and less-than-nobodies (ok, Flamini was promising at Marseille, but hardly the next big thing), he was the guy who oversaw their training for the several years of their respective contracts, and he was the guy who still had them on his (i.e. Arsenal’s but we know who runs the show) books in the years that they each had their “breakout” seasons. He’s the one that put them in the team and kept them there.
          You can’t possibly know under what precise circumstances Wenger would have let Coquelin go or not, but even if he would have let him go under the “right” circumstances, that doesn’t mean Arsene deserves no credit for seeing his potential, having him at the club, giving him the chance when the need arose, and keeping faith with him when several good performances showed promise. Keep in mind virtually no one in world football saw Coquelin as a potential starter for a top team around the time his contract was running down and Arsene put him in the team.

          The idea that it’s either/or–either Arsene deserves all of the credit and is a genius for Coquelin’s breakthrough, or it was all dumb luck–is the only false narrative being peddled here.

      2. I’m not trying to actively bash Wenger here, but nothing anyone can say can make me believe Coqzorla was a result of some tactical planning. If it wasn’t for Arteta’s injury, Coquelin would have probably been playing at Duisburg now, since he wasn’t even a starter at Charlton (or wherever he was spending his loan days before the end of his contract).
        As I recall, when he heard Arsenal were recalling him he didn’t even want to come, saying he doesn’t want to spend time at the club knowing he won’t play. He was recalled because he was the only healthy midfielder registered at Arsenal FC.
        Perhaps Wenger could have bought another midfielder, but then again perhaps he could have bought another striker when everyone knew we were lacking one and we know how that turned out.

        Look, Wenger had his mastermind moments during his Arsenal reign and finding a way for Coquelin and Cazorla to somehow function together probably was a result of his knowledge of the game, but if Arteta didn’t injure himself, I doubt we would have ever seen Coquelin in an Arsenal shirt again.

        That for me is anything but a result of Arsene Wenger grooming Coquelin for a defensive midfielder role.

      3. Sorry PFo, we’re not going to win the league with Coquelin as our main defensive midfielder, which is what he is. As top-notch defensive midfielders go, he’s simply not that good. So praising Wenger for keeping him at the club isn’t the praise that you think it is. A DM who cant use the ball well in possession is a luxury player. Coq is the yin to Wilshere’s yang, well described by Tim above. Perhaps we should look in cloning them, a Wilcoq, if you like. Next time we go shopping for a DM, we need to buy big or buy ambitious. Not keep the guy we were about to ship out after unsuccessful loan spells in England and on the continent, but for an injury crisis. And oh, about Coq being “given a chance.” He was recalled from loan in the face of a midfield injury crisis. He played better than the others available, Flamini and Arteta, which, at stage of their commendable careers, was no high bar to clear.

        While we talk Thiago, we should also note that both of Bayern’s old men, Xabi and Vidal, are significantly better players than Coquelin. That is the standard we should be aiming at. Conte went out and bought the league’s best defensive midfielder for around £30m, less than what Xhaka and Mustafi cost us.

        Wenger’s problem, besides buying a surfeit of average (Ozil and Sanchez excepted), is that he sticks way too long with that average. And then we are surprised that we really don’t have the quality of squad to sustain our title challenge over the winter.

        1. To add… with Wenger’s recent midfield acquisitions, it’s difficult to see a plan, or planning. Flamini was recruited for the second time because he asked to practice with the squad. Wenger liked what he saw, so BOOM, 3-year contract. It’s hard to believe that someone serious about squad planning goes about the business like that. Didn’t he have someone lined up?

          Why was Elneny bought? Why was Xhaka bought, if you the tell the assambled British media that he can’t tackle?

          Reason No. 267 why we need a change.

          1. I think you’re mischaracterizing my point. How good Coquelin in fact is is a separate topic that I’m happy to discuss (I think he’s probably better than you think he is, but I don’t think we really disagree about his weaknesses and how that hurts our team).

            My point was that the many fans who see Coquelin’s introduction into the team in the last few years, or at least his partnership with Cazorla, as a success, should give credit to Wenger for that success. To suggest it was all dumb luck shows a complete lack of charity towards AW.

            Now, if you want to criticize him for PLAYING AND KEEPING Coquelin, then that’s a completely different point. But we fans can’t have it both ways: we can’t on the one hand say Wenger deserves no credit for the (perhaps limited) success of Coqzorla, and in the next instance blame him for showing faith in Coquelin!

    3. Teampossible,

      I think you might be remembering all the examples where his approach didn’t work out. He has turned lead to gold on more than one occasion, so why not keep trying? Remember Lauren? Kolo? van Persie? Alexis? All these players people said couldn’t play or couldn’t play the position where he put them, and then they thrived. It’s an imperfect science. You win some, you lose some. Wenger has won more than most, without always getting it right.

      1. You are completely right, but lately (the last 6-7 years) make me think that perhaps he lost his touch.

        Besides, and I don’t mean to argue, but I couldn’t count playing Van Persie or Alexis as a striker as some kind of a tactical masterstroke. These are guys that love to score, he just put them at the top of the spear, where in a team like Arsenal, you will probably get a lot of chances to score goals, and if you are an above average attacker, you will probably score plenty of those.
        But Bendtner as a winger? Denilson as a DM? Song as CB?
        If you divide Wenger’s reign in two equal parts, the brilliant and the baffling decisions are slowly beginning to balance themselves and so far the latter ones aren’t showing signs of disappearing.

        1. Well in the last 6-7 years I still count several successes. Two are detailed in this article; he moved Arteta and Cazorla successively into deep midfield roles from formerly attacking ones. Probably a natural transition to some extent but the reason Wenger deserves credit is he could’ve thrown those guys on the scrap heap after they were no longer good at what they used to be good at; instead, he used them differently.

          In the cases of Bendtner, Denilson and Song, the common thread that binds them is that they weren’t very good in any position, not consistently. In Denilson’s case, it’s hard to argue any position would’ve suited him much better. In Bendtner’s, it was a clear case of trying to get him minutes alongside much more talented forwards.

          1. Denilson’s problem was never talent. He was easily one of the most talented young players in Europe. His problem was application.

  10. on to aaron ramsey, simply because i haven’t talked trash about him in a long time. it’s as simple as this. ramsey only looks good when he’s playing along side an experienced defensive mid who intelligent enough to offset the ridiculousness of his play. that’s why he only looked good beside arteta for a half-season and hasn’t looked good since. it’s like the saying goes, form is temporary.

    i said a similar thing about thomas vermaelen at the end of his first season at arsenal. when i declared that he only looks good next to william gallas, everyone said i was nuts and declared that vermaelen was the one that made gallas look good. this is the same gallas that won 3 premier league titles with chelsea, nearly led arsenal to their only league title in the past 13 years, and led his team to the world cup final in 2006. that gallas needed vermaelen to look good? right.

    time always tells. it told with vermaelen and i don’t need to see anymore of welsh jesus to know. that kid is on £100k a week, straight up robbing arsenal fans blind. he should be at a team like west ham.

    1. About that season Ramsey scored lots of goals; that was the same season we got rogered in every big game away from home, so I wonder how good that midfield actually was (or if it’s been romanticized because of Ramsey’s goals). On the other hand, I’m not sure how many of those games Ramsey actually played in considering he was injured for quite a chunk of that season.

      So does anyone know our starting line-ups (or just the midfields) for the away games at City (6-3), Liverpool (5-1) and Chelsea (6-0) that season?

      1. Off the top of my head, definitely started against City, I think he didn’t against Liverpool or Chelsea.

        But I think it’s an excellent point: as good as he was that year (and he was very good at more than just the goals) I think his playing with the freedom that Wenger gave him meant that, against quality/clever teams, we were far too easily exposed. As good as Arteta was, even then he was neither fast nor strong, and he couldn’t really adequately cover for Ramsey constantly pushing forward (and both our fullbacks bombing on, something Wenger’s teams always do). So when it worked and we were on top of a team (which happened quite a bit, even against good teams, to be fair), it looked great, but when we weren’t at our best, we could be exposed, and I think in 2017, with PL clubs even more sophisticated in the way they set up against us than they were a few years ago, it’s unlikely to work well enough consistently enough for us to challenge for the title (for Arteta, read Xhaka).

        1. I think you guys have a point – if I remember right, that was peak “we need a beast DM” and all the noise was about Arteta not being up to it.

  11. When Santi got injured I commented that we have no hope for the title. He is not only technically the most gifted mid fielder in our team but perhaps also in the entire league. Add to that his experience and maturity, and it’s easy to see why he is irreplaceable.

    Thiago Alcantara is a genuine world class talent though I think his fitness record is somewhat spotty. There is no way in hell he is going to come to Arsenal. It would take an obscene amount of money and that’s not how we operate. If he moves, I think he will go back to Barcelona. Their mid-field struggles in big games when Iniesta is injured and while Rakitic is a fine player, I feel Barca will come waving their DNA flag and try to convince Alcantara to move back. If somehow he does come to play in England, chances are he will go to Man City.

    My first choice in finding a midfield partner for Xhaka would be Verratti. He does almost everything Thiago does but he is a better tackler whereas Alcantara is a better reader of the game. I think Verratti’s tackling makes him a better partner for Xhaka who apparently doesn’t know how to tackle. I read somewhere that PSG may be willing to let him go for €70MM . Seems like a fair price to me in this market.

    Truth is we are going to have a tough time attracting any world class talent to come to Arsenal unless we pay through the roof (which we won’t) or the player himself is being pushed out for one reason or the other. Our only hope is uncovering gems before they make a splash on the world stage like we did with Vieira or Cesc. It’s nice to dream about these players coming to Arsenal though.

    1. As several of us keep coming back to Verratti, what about Rabiot?? I know he’s flavor of the month (and seems like a bit of a jerk), but I’ve thought for a long time he could be excellent for us.
      He’s a good example of how we could find a good partner for Xhaka (and be extension, replacement for Santi) without that player being in the same mold (or is it mould? I’m too lazy to look it up) as Cazorla:

      1. Excellent close control and passing, without quite having Santi’s twinkle toes or Xhaka’s passing range
      2. Terrific striding forward with the ball, a la Vieira or Yaya, could be the key to breaking the high press
      3. Would push forward while Xhaka sat deep, but has the physicality to help on the defensive side of things
      4. With him beside Xhaka, we’d finally have the big physical central midfield duo that Arsenal fans and pundits have been jabbering on about since the days of Vieira and Petit.
      5. Obviously PSG won’t want to sell, but he’s made noises about wanting to leave more than once.
      6. Is young and French (though that seems increasingly not to matter with respect to Arsene and Arsenal having a chance with a player).

      Probably almost as unlikely as Alcantara or Verratti, but maybe not quite.

      1. I haven’t seen Rabiot play that much. I thought he was excellent against us in Paris and he was excellent against Barca earlier this month. I remember Tim writing about him as a player he likes quite some time ago, which is actually one of the reasons I was looking out for him when he played against us. So far he has really impressed me but apparently PSG is even less willing to let him go than they are with Verratti.

        1. He’s having a great season and playing like a complete midfielder. The only question is, will this continue? He’s only/already 21, so chances are, yes.

          PSG may have the best midfield in football with the threesome of Rabiot, Veratti and Matuidi. I say we buy the lot.

  12. 1. Great article Tim! For what it’s worth (probably not much), these kinds of articles are probably my favorite.
    2. I wonder if you’re being a bit pessimistic/simplistic in suggesting that there’s so few (you only mention 2-3) players in world football who could replace Santi. Obviously the issue isn’t, can we replace him with someone just as good at all that Santi does (I rate him as one of the very best, and most underrated, midfielders in world football), but rather (a) can we get someone who’s approximately good at all/most of what Santi does, or (b) can we get someone just as good at much of what Santi does (but potentially very different), to the degree that Santi’s “role” in the team is filled, allowing the overall team to function at a level approximating our best when Santi plays (or preferably better!).
    Assuming it’s WAY too early to give up on Xhaka as the future of our midfield, and assuming we stick to the same basic formation (and it’s hardly as if the 3 man midfield I always bang on about would entirely solve our midfield issues), the question then becomes this:
    CAN WE FIND A SUITABLE PARTNER FOR XHAKA THAT WILL ALLOW THEM, AND BY EXTENSION THE REST OF THE TEAM, TO FLOURISH????
    Surely the answer must be yes, and surely there are more than 2-3 players in world football who could fit the bill.
    3. On Xhaka, I think the inability to break a press on the dribble is less crucial (few centre midfielders in the world really do this well), than his defensive weakness, which unfortunately seem to stem from a lack of pace, something he can’t change. I mean, it’s not like, e.g., Xavi or Busquets typically beat a press by dribbling through a crowd of players or striding forward with a burst of pace (obviously not denying that Xavi in his pomp was considerably quicker than Xhaka!). Beating a top quality high press typically requires more than one player to do so consistently anyway, which is why having Coquelin in there is such a liability, since that essentially puts all the pressure on his partner to get the team up the pitch. But I agree that Xhaka’s weakness, some of them potentially permanent, mean he’s not the midfield savior we were all hoping for. I’m just not ready to declare him a mistake or hugely overpriced or even (as some on here have suggested), a player Wenger didn’t even really want(!). He needs the right partner, but if we find that person, he could be brilliant (for me, the obvious comparison is to a young, slightly larger and more physical Xabi Alonso, and that guy has been world class for a decade, also with little or no pace).
    4. I think you’re far too quick to dismiss the Ox as a serious option. I think if we have any chance of finding an internal solution, he’s the one. (I’ll post my reasons why below, time permitting.)
    5. I haven’t seen much of either Gonalons or Keita, so I’m off to find some highlight videos on youtube…

  13. oxlade-chamberlain is a possibility. he’s played well in central midfield when he’s been given the chance there. the problem is he never establishes himself there because, just when he begins to find his feet, he gets injured and that team has to move on. wenger always brings him back on the wing and he finds it difficult to get back into the center of arsenal’s midfield. we’ll see if his luck changes in time.

  14. just read that jonker is leaving arsenal to be the manager at wolfsburg. i don’t know how i feel about that.

  15. I was just watching a Sevilla game, and I remembered that way back when, Arsene Wenger had talked up Samir Nasri as the ‘DM’. This led me to think that the Santi playing deep thing was an accident is nonsense. Wenger’s always wanted the technically excellent midfielder to play there. It’s just that we needed Santi to play closer to goal when he came to us (because we had Arteta deeper) and we also needed more creativity before we bought Ozil (another myth that we didn’t need Ozil)

    So anyway. How about bringing back Nasri? We could pay him more than Sevilla, though it’s less warm a climate, and probably less warm a crowd after the arguments he’s had with Arsenal fans since he left.

    We’re not getting Thiago, and we’re probably not getting Veratti. (I agree with Doc that Wilshere should be the player Veratti is) I still think Xhaka’s flaws are fixable and him and Ramsey can form an effective partnership. But like Wilshere, Ramsey seems to be always injured, and less mentally inclined to keep to his role within the team. (Also agree with Doc that he should be playing as an inside forward. Kind of like our Thomas Muller. But he wants to play through the middle)

    Ox is a real option. But as you point out, he loses the ball too much. And his real dribbling skill lies in his speed after getting away from initial pressure rather than keeping the ball and picking out a pass after inviting the pressure. I can see why he plays on the wings actually.

    Iwobi is another option if we move to a 3 man midfield. He has the technical ability to replace Santi (and indeed trained and played there last season) but he’s young so the additional midfielder would help. But this means Ozil has to play wide or not play. If Ozil is playing wide, I think we need a better left back who can both attack the spaces out wide, and defend well. I like Monreal but he lacks speed.

    I’m just worried that if we go to a 3 man midfield, Alexis up top is going to get isolated and drop too deep, though with Ozil coming inside, and maybe Lucas/Walcott on the right, we should be ok.

    1. Absolutely not to Nasri.

      First, he threw a fit to leave during the time we most needed him and when he would have been handed a plum role running the midfield at Arsenal.
      Second, that fit included downing fucking tools in the Liverpool game. He was dispossessed 9 times in that game and not a single one did he track back or try to win the ball back.
      Third, he talked shit about our club, fans, and manager.

      1. Yeah.. even leaving all the off the field stuff aside, and I’m pretty well convinced Nasri is about as bad a team mate as can be, he isn’t a fit even footballistically (had to use that in a sentence). As good as he looks under Sampaoli, it’s because he’s being used in a unique role with a whole team set up to cater to his talents. It’s the Hatem Ben Arfa syndrome. Clearly too talented to be on a “small” club” but cannot thrive in a “big club” because he needs to be the center of the universe.

        1. Yeah, for all the talk of various Arsenal players not living up to early promise, if you want to see wasted talent, look no further than S. Nasri.

  16. In case I forgot, reading this excellent post and all the comments makes me remember why I enjoy watching the game and watching Arsenal. Thanks, guys. While as a collective we are currently disappointing, there are exciting players in our team who I enjoy watching as individuals, and who I like as characters. As discussed there are also players out there at other clubs who would be a great fit, and who I would grow to love if they came our way. So, all round, plenty of football to look forward to.

  17. A few suggestions based on a very cursory search. (Whoscored and Youtube)

    Kevin Strootman – 27, Roma
    Jorginho – 25, Napoli
    Manu Trigueros – 25, Villareal
    Corentin Tolisso – 22, Lyon
    Jean Michael Seri – 25, Nice
    Thomas Mangani – 29, Angers
    Dani Parejo – 27, Valencia
    Roque Mesa – 27, Las Palmas

    1. First, I ruled out anyone over 25.
      Second, Tolisso is included on my list and his stats look like a bad Jack Wilshere.
      Jorginho doesn’t dribble.
      Trigueros is interesting. Interceptions numbers are low but everything else looks good. He could be a great addition. Nice catch.
      I ruled out Seri because his total dribble numbers were strangely low (though he’s a 90% success rate) and his tackle numbers are poor.

      1. Trigueros actually caught my eye the most. He passed the eye test on youtube too (but who doesn’t) Seri looked really good in his videos, and he seems to be a big part of Nice’s good form. Tolisso apparently plays all over the pitch so maybe that explains some weirdness/shortcoming in his numbers. Moot though, because Lyon never sell to us.

        Yeah, Jorginho. He seems to have good calmness on the ball, but mostly I just included him because he was mentioned as an Arsenal target earlier.

        Why 25 though? I think we could buy someone 27-28 to replace Cazorla because a lot of what he brings is down to experience too.

        Roque Mesa of Las Palmas looked very like a Cazorla in his videos (down to his size too). His Key Passes aren’t great, but he does play in a poor team.

  18. Next season’s squad will be interesting because Rob Holding and Hector Bellerin will both need to be registered in the 25, as would Calum Chambers if he were to return to join the squad.

    Others who would need to be registered are Cohen Bramall* and Jon Toral*.

    As of now, assuming all loanees come back we will have a squad of 34, without additions. Obviously not all will be promoted or recalled, and some will leave. Best guess (before additions)

    GKs: Cech, Ospina/Szczesny*, Martinez*
    Def: Bellerin*, Gabriel, Per, Kos, Mustafi, Holding*, Chambers*, Gibbs*, Monreal
    Mid: Santi, Coq*, Ramsey*, Xhaka, Elneny, Jack*, Ox*, Ozil
    FW: Alexis, Walcott*, Welbeck*, Giroud, Lucas,

    That’s 25 (12 HG if Szczesny instead of Ospina)

    So, what positions are we looking to add in, and who are most likely to leave. Because we’re looking at direct replacements here.

    1. Does any other footballing nation have to deal with this 25 man squad restriction? They only need to comply with the Uefa rules as far as I can tell, with no limitations on the number of players that can be registered. Just another (self imposed) handicap for English clubs.

  19. Santi is Santi. We got to let ‘Santi’ go so we can think 360^ giving ourselves a good good chance of coming up with another marvel. There is no Another-Santi.

  20. Its pretty damning for Wenger that its almost March and nobody (including him) has a clue whats Arsenals best line up. I’m not even sure if the 4-2-3-1 system is the right one considering the players available. So i ask, if everyone was available what would be your starting line up?

  21. Dunno about Trigueros. By his numbers he just looks like a guy who sits deep and plays long balls (3.8 per game, more in UCL). A cultured player, as Spaniards tend to be, but by 25 he’s pretty well the player he’s always going to be and he’s nothing spectacular at this point. I’m guessing he doesn’t intercept much because he plays in a deep position for a team that doesn’t come out to try to win the ball.

    Since he seemed similar to Xhaka I compared their numbers. Xhaka is a more prolific passer (as expected, given he plays for a better passing team) and a better defensive stat stuffer (probably reflecting Arsenal’s more expansive approach without the ball). Trigueros is a better dribbler and is more efficient with shooting chances. For the most part their numbers are similar and he probably doesn’t represent an upgrade on Granit.

    Having said that I do think he would improve the team. Mo El-Neny, though I have nothing against him, has yet to prove he can do anything other than play lots of short passes, sky lots of shots and run around a bit. He doesn’t dribble, he doesn’t win duels (aerial or otherwise) and he doesn’t create or score goals. I would loan him back to Basel next season and buy another central midfielder, even if it’s just someone above average like Trigueros. It wouldn’t solve the midfield problem but it would add a competent player who can perform on both sides of the ball and is used to having to defend.

  22. If this were a perfect world, where footballers just got on with things, I would just play Sanchez there. Yes, Alexis Sanchez. Assuming he understood the importance of the role, I think it’s worth the shot. He’s got the tools and if he understood why he had to do it he would do it. Otherwise, If ozil could tackle, I’d play him there instead.

    1. This is a fascinating idea. It actually makes a ton of sense from an offensive POV. I hate watching him get worked for headers offense, I can only imagine that it would be worse on defense though. Can you imagine how the press would react? The only way it would work is if we got a Greizeman or a Lewandowski.

      I would love to ask Sanchez if he would make the sacrifice and play DM in order to win the CL.

  23. while i’ve enjoyed the conversation, the bottom line is this. despite all of the technical qualities we’ve discussed that various player possess, the most important quality of a good dm is tactical in nature. simply put, to be a good dm, you’ve got to be the smartest guy on the field.

    claude makalele is widely regarded as the best dm ever. in fact, the dm position is often referred to as “the makalele position”. makalele was not known as a brilliant technical player. his brilliant quality was that he did what each game asked. he always made the right decisions on the field. that’s what tactics means. every game is different and it requires you to be able to think, adapt, develop situations, solve problems, and communicate. intelligence and experience are far more significant than any technical skill for a dm.

    whether we’re talking about makalele, rijkaard, deschamps, gilberto, xabi alonso, pirlo, busquets, arteta, or cazorla, being a good dm is all about intelligence and experience. this is their common denominator. the varied technical skills these players possess is simply icing on the cake.

  24. caludivan, you said higher up the thread:

    “We showed all the familiar flaws (Christmas/New Year fadeaways, blowouts to big teams) when Santi was fully fit, functional and playing regularly.”

    when did this happen? the last two season, he’s not been fit around christmas/new years, and the year before that was the first time we saw coqzorla. likewise, i don’t remember coqzorla being blown out by anyone. i know i’m getting older and my memory may fail me sometimes so please remind me of these moments.

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