Arsenal supporters collectively I suspect were particularly worried to hear of Mikel Arteta’s calf strain a few weeks back. After all we don’t win unless he plays do we? More angry rants on social media criticizing Wenger for not buying a DM, a term I hate but most love to use. Two weeks on the same Gooners are scratching their collective heads because the player most use as a scapegoat/punchbag has taken to the role with aplomb. Yes folks the much to the surprise of some Aaron Ramsey has operated as our deepest lying midfielder in the past 2 games with little difficulty.
How can this be fans cry, he is a CAM not a DM? Well folks that is easy because in my view, the reason why Arsenal don’t need a traditional DM as so many feel we do is because that role is required in a 4132/4411 or a 442 formation but not a 4231 as Arsenal currently play. Secondly the role originally emerged to mark/take out the oppositions N0.10, another role which of course most teams also don’t play. In short most of the guys that tell me we can’t play 442 as it does not work in the 21st Century are the same guys telling me we need a DM. Arsenal play with a double pivot, usually Wilshere and Arteta, or initially Diaby and Arteta. Both have defensive responsibilities but both can also join the attack. However one will acknowledge the main role of playing the anchor is theirs and will always be the deeper of the 2 when we have lost possession of the ball.
Many of you will recall I have argued this case before back in June when I suggested Arteta could take on the role of the anchor and I explained my logic in some detail back then. Rather than cover all the same ground here are a few excerpts as a reminder:-
…. I wish to spend a bit of time considering the duties and rise to prominence of the role in 21st century football. Perhaps look at the qualities and skill set required to perform in this position in the EPL of 2012. I hope to impose some rational thinking and in the process maybe clear up what in my view are misconceptions.
….I have an issue with the very term ‘defensive midfielder’ and what it means.
….. What is for today is to look at the role and the attributes required, and crucially to look at it in our formation, or perhaps a variation on it? To understand this we need to look at how the modern game had evolved this century, because the very term defensive suggests tough tackling and whilst that may have been the role in the past it is not now.
For me this role is better described as the ‘anchor’ role and of course many might call it the ‘Makelele’ role as the job became synonymous with French international Claude Makelele early this century. I would tend to agree with them as it is this role initially with Real Madrid and then at Chelsea that made both teams so successful, but was it a defensive role? Yes as the anchor midfield man there is a huge defensive responsibility but it the team that has an accomplished individual in the role that has the licence to attack with confidence and freedom.
……The dual impact of Makelele and a manager in Mourinho who understood the role was breathtaking. Arsenal fans were still celebrating the unbeaten season before they realised that Chelsea had won back to back titles and the Makelele role was key. But why was this role for Makelele having more of an impact than perhaps the Gilberto or Flamini role at Arsenal? The reason lies in the development of tactics and the new formations being used and the move away perhaps from the traditional 442.
…….The new formations, 433, 451 or 4231 as we use now at Arsenal were a key factor in developing the ‘DM’ role as it is today, because they have lead to the decline in the use of traditional second forwards, the classic ‘Number 10.’ We’re seeing less of players in the Zinedine Zidane, Dennis Bergkamp mould, and more like Ronaldo or Messi, who have free roles but more often than not start from wide areas. This is critical when assessing the anchor midfield role because with the absence of a creator for the deep lying midfielder to stop, the emphasis on this player being a tough tackling destroyer is lessened.
……..The second fundamental change, for which Arsenal and Wenger can take huge credit, at least in this country is the style of attacking football. For us and more and more of the top sides it is about high tempo, short, quick passing and probing in the final third. So this has lead to a change in the dynamics and balance between the last ditch tackle and the interception. Now English fans, more than most love a strong challenge but these days it is far more often about reading the game or a passage of play and making an interception. If as a defender or a deep midfielder you can intercept the pass to the player you are marking rather than tackling him, you are not risking giving away a free-kick in a dangerous area and a booking. Of course the secondary benefit of the intelligent player making an interception instead of a tackle is that you have possession of the football and may be in a position to launch a swift counter attack. It was this that Claude Makelele did so much better than others at Madrid and then at Chelsea.
……..So in modern day Premiership the holding/anchor/defensive midfielder needs not necessarily to be a tough tackler but to be an intelligent reader of the game and the flow and passages of play. He needs to be in a position to closely observe not only the movement of the ball, but crucially also the movement of opposition players. It is this payer who Arsenal need as their deepest player and it is he who will make interceptions at not last gasp tackles.
……..The next key attribute for the player in this deep role in the game today is that he MUST be a quality passer of the football, as giving away possession deep in your own half can be dangerous. The passing game therefore of this player needs to be bereft of error so short simple passes are often the order of the day. So this player will frequently be playing short innocuous balls and they will frequently be sideways of backwards and this is fine as long as his side retains the possession.
Sir Alex Ferguson summarised it rather well:
“The idea behind the 4-5-1 is that you can control the midfield and keep possession of the ball – that’s always your aim when you use that formation. I believe the team that has possession of the ball has more opportunities to win the match. As for the 4-4-2, there is more emphasis in that formation placed on playing the ball forward…playing 4-5-1 requires a lot of patience.”
Of course because this player has to play as I have described and he is sometimes under appreciated by fans of other teams but seldom by his own supporters. In United and Ferguson’s case the player in question who reads the game, smells the danger and keeps the ball moving swiftly simply in front of the back four is Michael Carrick. Now would you describe Carrick as a defensive midfielder because he is certainly not a tough tackler? Perhaps you would not but I would describe him as the anchor midfielder. Capable of a long searching pass, but more frequently giving it simple to Scholes or Giggs ahead or Nani, Young or Valencia wide , or even to an advancing full back. This is the modern day Makelele style individual and this is the type of player Arsenal are looking to potentially buy. Again if you won’t accept my take on this perhaps you might listen to the player who currently just might be the best exponent in Europe, when he talked about Carrick before the last World Cup
“If they are on top of their game and if Carrick plays, because for me he is a top player, then England will have a chance. If Carrick plays for the national team the way that he does for Manchester United, then it would be very good news for England. I think that he could easily fit in the Spanish system because I really like the way he plays. He reads the game so well, he is always ahead of what is going to happen and he is always in the right position. When he gets the ball, he plays it easy and he is available to his team-mates all the time. For me, he has the profile to play for Barcelona or any of the Spanish teams. He would also be very complimentary to Stevie.”
This is Xabi Alonso suggesting Carrick would provide a perfect platform for his old team mate Stevie Gerrard. Capello ignored the advice and used Gareth Barry and it appears Hodgson has done the same. In the whole of 2011/12 Carrick in 27 Premier League starts only committed 20 fouls and this is due to his reading of the attacking play and his not needing to resort to difficult tackles.
…….So let’s pull this analysis together and bring it back to Arsenal. Carrick is already 31 and perfectly suited to this anchor role in the present game. A few years back had you asked him when at Spurs and first at Old Trafford I am fairly certain he would have described himself as a creative midfielder or box to box, but not now.
……..I would virtually guarantee that we all saw Arteta as a direct short-term replacement, with Premiership experience who could step into Cesc’s boots for a season or so, whilst Ramsey and Wilshere continued to mature. However with Jack’s long-term injury Mikel has found himself playing deeper than he ever did at Everton and I think he has quite enjoyed it? Certainly he has been the rock in our midfield and without him we have floundered. Why because he is the only one in the absence of Wilshere and a young Coquelin with the discipline for the role.
……. So think of the new DM role I have described. You need maturity, discipline, intelligence and a reading of the game. The reading of the game which leads to the ability to make interceptions instead of tackles. This has to be combined with a precise passing game encompassing the short and simple and the longer out pass when required. The player I am describing is Mikel Arteta and in 2012/12 he finished the season with the highest pass completion of any player in the EPL at 91%.
So there you have the thrust of my argument back in June as to why I felt Arteta was ideally suited to the anchor role and it would appear that in pre-season and from August Wenger agreed. Most of you will also know that I am a huge admirer and defender of our shiny haired Spaniard and I have written subsequent blogs praising his work in front of the back 4. However I do also watch the games and indeed listen to fellow Gooners both in the comments, in the pub and on twitter. It is here that I have accepted the one attribute Arteta may just lack for this crucial role and that is pace. Yes he reads the game and the play so well but equally there have been times when his 31 year old legs just will not quite get him our of trouble. I still feel his is the main man and as vice-captain when fit he has the shirt.
This of course brings us on to the surprise development of Ramsey’s seemingly taking to the anchor role. I think most are surprised and some will say it was only West Ham and Brighton, but should we be surprised? When listing the attributes as I did previously did Ramsey come to mind for the role in June? Honestly of course not. I may not have associated discipline and simple effective passing with Aaron, more the recklessness and the Hollywood ball to be frank. Would I have described him as intelligent and a reader of the game? I would have said yes I know he has those attributes but he needs to mature. Do I rate him as a footballer? Yes I do but I have struggled to see where he could fit when competing with Jack, Santi and Abou.
I guess the key word in all this is maturity. Arteta has it through years of experience but my guess if that Aaron is a fast learner. I am continually on record arguing that this role does not require huge strength or tough tackling but in fairness Ramsey is a tenacious sort of a chap.
So what does the man himself think? Here below are his thoughts as relayed to Arsenal Player:
“I think I’ve played well in the last two games. That’s pleasing for me and hopefully I can keep myself in the team and carry on. Hopefully I get picked for the next game.”
“I had a meeting with the boss the other week and he explained to me what’s required for this role. I think I’ve done that in the last couple of games and I feel good in myself.”
“I’ve been getting stuck in and winning the ball back, been involved a lot more and got a lot of touches of the ball so hopefully I can continue the form I’m in at the moment.
“You always have to be wary of the hole you’re leaving behind you, but there are occasions when I can get into the box and one of the other midfielders sits.”
Well it does sound as if Wenger has faith in Ramsey to play this role and importantly that the player himself is content. Some of his quick incisive passing to get Arsenal back on the attack over the past 2 matches has been impressive. What we also know about the likes of Ramsey is that he always gives of his all in whatever role his has been given. Even when, as has often been the case he is played our wide in an unfamiliar role I would guess he dislikes.
Ramsey wants to be in the engine room but I suspect must realize that with Diaby and Rosicky fit again and Wilshere and Cazorla incumbent his opportunities further advanced might be slim. Arteta is not getting younger and whilst I feel he has a few very good years ahead of him we may just have found the player with whom our Vice Skipper can share responsibilities. The key may well be whether he can maintain the discipline and resist the tempation to try his fancy flicks of over ambitious long balls, which frequently gift posesion to our opponents. Time will tell but Aaron Ramsey has made an accomplished and promising start in the anchor role and I for one am mighty pleased for him.
So next up the not so mighty Liverpool but smarting from their cup exit this will be a sterner test for Ramsey. I feel he will get the nod to play as Arteta not likely to be ready so perhaps we will have a stronger impression of his capacity for the position at 9.45pm on Wedsnesday. I am confident the hammering of West Ham has begun a winning streak in the EPL and with more home games to come will be betting on a 3-1 win to put daylight between us an LFC with Ladbrokes at 14-1, with Giroud to open scoring at 13-2.
Until next time thanks for reading.
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