This piece had been rolling around in my empty head for a while now but it was one of those that needed some research to prove a theory or hunch. It has been nagging at me on and off and every time I see or hear the argument or debate about the Cazorla/Coquelin axis depriving Arsenal of a goal threat from central midfield. Primarily this contention is born out of the belief that Aaron Ramsey’s goal exploits in 2013/14 are or should be the norm and we miss that from our central midfield.
A common enough observation is that Santi simply does not get forward and score enough because he sits deep with Coquelin. It was not like that in the ‘glory’ days of Arteta and Ramsey when our Welsh talisman was arriving late into the book and scoring for fun, including of course the Cup Final winner. Oh how we miss that from the team or do we?
We don’t have him with us presently unfortunately due to injury but I have written previously about his role on the right and the freedom it gives him to arrive in the box to provide a goal threat still. I compared him at the time to Freddie Ljungberg in his pomp, continually arriving in central areas whilst playing on the right of midfield. Now whilst the present day formation utilised is not quite the same as the team Freddie graced I would suggest the main attacking and goal threat should be coming from the front 4, namely the main striker, second striker/no.10 and the wide players not the 2 central midfielders. If I am right the argument and contention perhaps should be that Ozil should be scoring more and not Santi.
Some will tell me as they always do that football has changed so much in the past decade but has it really? Are the fundamentals not actually the same whether we line up as 4411/442 as we did in 2001-5 as with or 4231 today?
If I am right and Premiership has not changed dramatically then perhaps it is rose tinted memory or simple amnesia that causes so many to suggest that the box to box central midfielder is critical to success and that it was always so! In as much to satisfy my own curiosity and to check my own failing memory I checked back to the real ‘glory’ days or 2001/2 and 2003/4 without forgetting the season Wenger announced himself on the scene spectacularly in 1997/98. Would these great seasons prove or disprove the theory that the box to box goalscorer was crucial?
Well for a start one of the greatest ever box to box goalgetters in David Platt was to lose his place in 97/98 which does not auger well for the theory. The established central midfield partnership who took Arsenal and indeed France to glory was Petit and Viera. Both played 32 games in the Premiership scoring a grand total of 2 goals each. No the gaol that propelled the Gunners to the title game from the wide speedster Overmars, the No.10 Bergkamp and the strikers Wright or Anelka. That is not to say Paddy was not a true box to box powerhouse which of course he was but Arsenal were not reliant of his goals then.
Perhaps by the second double season of 01/02 the situation had changed? Well no actually Vieira played in 38 of the 38 matches at scored 2. His partner varied but Parlour, van Bronkhorst and Edu shared duties and I a combined 62 games scored a huge total of 2 goals between them. Again it was the wide players and strikers who provided all the teams firepower with Henry, 24, Ljungberg 12, Wiltord, 10 and Bergkamp and Pires 9 apiece. The central midfield allowed Arsenal to control and dominate but there role was to shield and service those ahead of them primarily.
And in the Invincibles campaign Vieira, Gilberto and Edu in a combined 91 appearances notched 7 Premiership goals. Paddy was undoubted the finest box to box central midfielder of his generation and perhaps in the history of the league and he top scored with 3 that season. Indeed the season was a true enigma due to the shear consistency and brilliance of Theirry Henry who proved 30 league goals with only his compadre Bobby Pires making double figures with 14.
Labouring the point I know but it is a valid point none the less. Arsenal’s great and trophy wining Wenger sides have always had a controlling central midfield partnership. We have certainly had more combative partnerships that Cazorla and Coquelin which is another debate but the primary function of the pairing is assuredly control and distribution and not goal getting. That is not to say that we would not like to Santi to score more but it is no longer his role. In 12/13 he played at CAM and scored 12 Premiership goals in 38 games so we know he has that in his locker.
At that time Cazorla played in the role/position that Ozil occupies today so it is indeed the German maestro, now in a rich vein of form that we need to be looking to add goals to his assists and I am sure that is inevitable. Also in the 12/13 campaign Podolski and Walcott occupied the wide positions in the main and both contributed double figures in the Premiership campaign. So in essence we do need Ramsey’s goals again if he can rediscover his scoring touch but we need then from his position on the right. If it is not Aaron then it must be Ox, Welbeck or Campbell to add to the goal tally and let’s leave Coq and Santi to give us the control and possession and provide the springboard for the others and not concern ourselves too much with the need for a box to box goal getting central midfielder.
Too conclude it is worth illustrating the difference of a working disciplined partnership at the core of the midfield. In 2013/14 with a free scoring Ramsey and a passing deeper partner Arteta, Arsenal finished fourth scoring 68 and conceding 41. After 11 Premier League matches in 2015/16 we have scored 21 and conceded just 8. If we extrapolate this over the season it would equate to the Gunners scoring 72 and conceding only 27. A Goal difference of +27 can never and has never won a Premier League. Positional security, discipline and a goal difference of 45 MOST CERTAINLY CAN.
We are on track with a settled CM partnership to score 72 and conceded 27 – In 2003/4 we scored 73 and conceded 26!
Santi and Coq keep doing what you are doing and let those ahead worry about the goals.
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