There is huge debate amongst Arsenal fans about the potential signing of a new central midfielder to add to the 11 or 12 we already have for the first team squad for next season. It is laughable that our fans accuse Manchester City and Chelsea of spending money on new players, without due consideration to the squad balance or size. Before we consider the merits of strengthening or otherwise, perhaps it is worth giving it some context. To do this we should look at squad numbers and the financial implications to a degree.
Chelsea central midfielders used 2011/12 – Essien, Mikel, Lampard, Ramires, Romeu, Meireles, Mata, McEachran (now on loan)
Manchester City central midfielders used 2011/12 – Barry, De Jong, Toure, Milner, Pizzaro, Nasri, Silva
Arsenal central midfielders used in 2011/12 – Song, Frimpong, Coquelin, Arteta, Ramsey, Rosicky, Diaby, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Benayoun, Wilshere to return.
I would hazard a guess that at present our midfield wage bill is far higher than that of Chelsea and yet many seem keen to add rising French star M’Vila to the playing staff and the weekly wage bill.
The argument is of course that we should always be looking to improve our squad and I do not have an issue with that as such, but are you all actually ready for the harsh realities of this move?
So let’s be clear on this. We play with 3 central midfielders at present and Wenger has shown no inclination to revert to a conventional 442. This being the case the absolute maximum we should require would be the 7 utilised by Manchester City. Any more would be disruptive to the harmony of the squad and foolhardy as we move in the era of financial fair play and at a time when we all want our top stars paid more than the current structure allows.
Okay so we should follow this through, assuming we add the French international defensive midfielder as is being touted by press. Benayoun will not be signed on a permanent basis, so that is easy but I assume you all agree that Wilshere, Song, Arteta and Rosicky are certainties? There is also no way that Wenger will exclude Abou Diaby and we must recall that when fit him and M’Vila were starting together for Les Bleus. That takes us to 6 high quality midfielders should M’Vila sign. If we are playing safe we can exclude Oxlade-Chamberlain and call him a winger, although I am not convinced Wenger will see it that way. However I am making the decision easy for you and here is it. You will now need to sell 2 of Frimpong, Coquelin and Ramsey. While you are at it you can tell Lansbury, Aneke and Ozyakup they have no chance of making the squad either.
I do not have any issue with this and for me that decision is easy. Coquelin must stay so we should start looking for buyers for Ramsey and Frimpong. In all honesty I am not sure it is as easy as this because with Podolski, Gervinho, Theo and Ryo sharing wing duties there is every chance Oxlade-Chamberlain will be deployed in an advanced playmaking role. If this is the case we may have to release Coquelin as well, but that’s cool as we are signing a French Superstar of 21 years of age for £15 to £20 Million pounds. A French Superstar who had has 2 fabulous seasons at a mid table French club in a league inferior to ours. The same league in which our own Gervinho scored and assisted for fun last season whist winning the same afore mentioned inferior league. Well that’s a good sign because the Ivorian has done the same for us. Oh sorry no he hasn’t yet has he?
I am sure his stats, which of course do not tell the whole story, are superb though. Wow this season he has played virtually every game for the mighty Rennes, dragging them to a lofty 7th in Ligue 1. A total of 36 outings, with 2 assists and a solitary goal. But of course why should he have assists or goals you might venture as he is a ‘Defensive Midfielder’
Well unless Wenger does revert to the 442 of 2004 with Gilberto or 2008 with Flamini we don’t play with the style of defensive midfielder some think we are desperate for. We pay 4,2,3,1 and this entails 2 deeper lying intelligent midfielders, each knowing that if one is to join the attack the other will sit. This is why the players comfortably incumbent in those roles, Song and Arteta do have wholly different type of stats to the French Superstar. Please bear in mind that these guys are already experienced in Europe’s most unforgiving league. They too have both played ironically 36 games for their club this season. Arteta has 7 goals and 2 assists and Song 2 goals and 10 assists. This all assumes that you think it likely that Wilshere will be utilised in the attacking central role.
This is not just me being over sentimental and too loyal to the existing squad, although I am, but I am just presenting the facts as I see them. We are not on FIFA or playing Fantasy Manager 2012. This is real life and Wenger’s decisions are crucial to the futures of some seriously talented players who we have on the books. If we bring in M’Vila the reality is that we cannot keep 9 or 10 professionals competing and sharing 3 roles next season. Many seem to want him and feel he will strengthen our squad. Maybe he will although I am not sure where the evidence is to support this, but be careful what you wish for. At the very least it will mean no game for Ramsey, Frimpong and Coquelin, but it may mean they need to be sold or indeed they may look for transfers. Certainly Francis Coquelin is exceptionally highly thought of in France and has already hinted he would look to leave last summer without assurances of game time.
However I am not an expert on French football and statistics as I mentioned are not always the whole story so rather than rely on YouTube or twitter I felt it best to ask a couple of respected observers of European football and in particular of Ligue 1
I posed a question or two to Andy Brassell, acclaimed independent European football writer for Football Ramble as well as the Author of award winning ‘All or Nothing: A Year in the Life of the Champions League’
Q: Would M’Vila be a positive addition for Arsenal and what formation to Rennes play?
A: M’Vila would be a huge plus, yes. Very disciplined & unselfish. Rennes play 4231, & he’s one of the 2, so easy to adapt.
Q: Would he be an improvement on one of Arteta or Song now?
A: As I said, he would – significantly. Will be heinously expensive for whoever buys him, but worth it.
In a similar vein I approached Tom Williams, European football reporter for Agence France-Presse specialising in French football:
Q: So Tom would M’Vila impove Arsenal’s midfield now and what formation do Rennes play?
A: Rennes play 4-2-3-1. M’Vila is a similar player to Song. Reads game well, strong tackler, but probably a better passer.
Q: But would he improve us now? £15/20m seems a lot when we have Coquelin also v highly thought of in France
A: With all due respect to Coquelin, M’Vila is a first-choice France international. I think he’d improve most sides.
Q: Sorry to bombard you but did he not get his chance when Diaby injured for Les Bleus?
A: He was playing alongside Diaby for France. Key thing with M’Vila is potential. He’s 21 and could become one of best in world.
So in conclusion should be buy him or not? Two respected experts on French football seem to suggest he would improve us, but Tom William’s final point is a slight worry. He hints that we would be buying a player with the potential to be one of the best. Andy Brassell also claims he will be extremely expensive, which I guess might rule us out.
These guys watch him more than I do and I assume most of my readers but my reservations remain about squad size and the need to cull from the existing group, who are showing huge togetherness. It is a huge positive that he would slot seamlessly into our formation and be used to playing it and I respect the opinions of those who watch him week in week out. However do these guys watch Song and Arteta weekly to make a comparison and even if they do is it valid when our league is far stronger? I heard a Dutch football expert on the radio yesterday being asked about the story of Kevin Strootman moving from PSV to Old Trafford this summer. This is a player being labelled the new van Bommel in Holland, who has broken into the Dutch squad since the World Cup. The expert suggested he would need 2 more years at a second tier European club such as Tottenham or Valencia before he would be ready for a Manchester United. Whilst laughing at the Tottenham line we must ask ourselves however good M’Vila may be in the future can he do it from August 16th 2012 in the EPL, better than those we have? If not is Wenger prepared to sell or sideline players who have been with us for years for potential?
I will leave you with one last sobering thought from Andy Brassell;
Q: Safe to say then that you feel he M’Vila would replace one of Song or Arteta then assuming Wilshere must play?
A: My guess is Arteta. Song has good range of passing & M’Vila there would liberate him. Still don’t think Yann will come, mind you.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a comment good or bad, on the site or of course on twitter @goonerdave66