Who is the perfect French defensive midfield target for Arsenal? Capoue, Gonalons, M’Vila ..?


A most of my regular readers will know I suggested Arteta for the deepest lying holding role at the end of last season. This was based on my conviction that the new defensive role at the anchor was based more on interception and quick accurate passing than tough tackling and power. On more than one occasions since May I have blogged on the same subject defending this view and MA8 in the role. I have fairly consistently been challenged from some quarters on this and I am starting to have a minor re-think. I suspect we can all think of STUBBORN INTRANSIGENT individuals we admire but stubbornness is not a quality I cling to.

So why the reassessment on my part and where does this lead my thoughts on potential changes?

There are several factors:

1)      I am beginning to accept that in anchor role with our style of play, Arteta’s lack of pace is leaving us exposed on too many occasions. Particularly when the fullbacks are far advanced and we are caught on the break.

2)      His lack of strength on occasion and his weakness in the air are becoming slight concerns for me.

3)      As many have observed we have lost his creativity and incisive passing in more advanced areas this season.

4)      As the advanced pivot his pace will be less of a factor

5)      IF as it appears Wenger sees Jack Wilshere as the CAM and prefers Santi Cazorla wide, that leaves the role Jack has played, the more advanced pivot vacant. If that is the case Arteta is arguably a better custodian of this key role than Ramsey or Diaby.

6)      The further possibility, although I am not a subscriber to this theory, that his age may be a factor and playing twice weekly might impact Mikel.

So if we consider these factors, as I have been of late, the logical conclusion is that we might require a stronger, more mobile defensive/anchor player to sit in front of the back four next season. Someone who is more naturally accustomed to this job, and is currently proven in the role at the top level.

So given the apparent huge pot of cash sitting waiting to be spent  one might expect Arsenal to swoop swiftly to recruit a player who can hit the ground running for us in pre-season. Now I am no expert on French football as such but what I do know is that virtually every name I see linked to us for this position is French.  I can do the research as I did with Olivier Giroud but I have to be honest and say I don’t have access to any channels that show Ligue I live. This being the case and to narrow my research I decide to ask my TL, knowing that many of my followers/readers are in France or watch French football:

And here is a snapshot of the results of my phone a friend survey:

Olabisi Manuel ‏@WalleeGunner

Capoue is having a fine season. RT @goonerdave66: Who is the best French holding midfielder Capoue, M’Vila who?

João Victor Padilha ‏@JV_Padilha

@goonerdave66 Capoue by a mile

Shadi ‏@Shadi_afc

@goonerdave66 Cabaye, also Matuidi been so impressive, Sissoko too

Messi Minutes ‏@MessiMinutes

@goonerdave66 Gonalons? Matuidi? Toulalan? All worth considering too. Matuidi or Capoue for me.

Comfortably Numb ‏@Kushagra_India

@Frimponged @goonerdave66 Gonalons better than Capoue??

Austin ‏@Frimponged

@Kushagra_India @goonerdave66 Gonalons would be a better Arsenal-type holding mid imo. Much better passer etc.

Olabisi Manuel ‏@WalleeGunner

@goonerdave66 With M’Villa’s attitude problem I’d take Capoue

The Aussie ‏@BackoTheDoc

@goonerdave66 Gonalons is on fire recently.  I am fond of Capoue too. Prefer him actually. M’Vila no, forget him. France has already.

AnnArsenal ‏@MadRuskiGunner

@goonerdave66 Gonalons

Gervinho’s Forehead ‏@Gerv4Head

@MadRuskiGunner @goonerdave66 Gonalons, seconded

Nasrul Farid Naim ‏@NasrulFarid

@goonerdave66 don’t take a risk with Capoue. My vote still M’Vila


No surprises and only one mention for Matuidi. I have been hearing more and more and seeing on my time line on Twitter that Gonalons and Capoue are the two receiving the most praise and attention. A few however would still stick with M’Vila I guess on the principle that he cannot have become a poor player over night and his price must have dropped. This article will not major on Gonalons but is you wish to discover more on him read 7AMKickoff’s piece

Gonalons has been linked with Arsenal
Gonalons has been linked with Arsenal

So the next stage logically is to have a look how these 3 main French protagonists have performed in the key areas this season and find out a little bit more about them. So I delved into the stats vault at ‘Who Scored’ and the results are interesting to say the least. However I have thrown in a couple of additional players for the comparison exercise. Firstly I thought it relevant to have Arteta in the mix as our incumbent DM and I have also added my own choice from among the ranks of French DMs. This is a player that did not come back in my survey but one I personally rate very highly. He is the MYSTERY MAN at the head of the blog:


Gonalons Capoue M’Vila Arteta Mystery Man
Age 23 24 22 30 23
Height 1.87 1.89 1.86 1.83 1.81
Weight 76 80 80 64 75
League Games 25 23 11(5) 23 26
Goals 3 4 0 4 4
Assists 0 2 1 2 0
Tackles 3.8 2.1 1.5 3.4 4.0
Interceptions 3.1 2.3 1.6 2.8 3.6
Fouls 2 1.6 0.3 2.3 1.8
Aerials Won 1.6 3.2 1.9 1 1.5
Blocks per game 0.3 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.4
Was dribbled 1 0.5 0.7 1 1
Clearances 1.7 5.8 2.7 1.5 2.2
Dribbles 0.5 1 0.3 0.6 0.3
Dispossessed 0.9 1.4 0.6 0.8 0.8
Turnovers 0.7 1 0.4 0.4 1
Passing % 87.9 81.8 85.4 92.6 84.6
Average Passes per game 66.8 65.1 44.9 86.8 50.6
Key Passes 0.2 0.8 0.3 0.9 0.7
Long Balls 7.4 7.4 5.7 6 2.7
Through Balls 0 0.1 0.1 0.2 0
Market Value £8,800,000 £10,500,000 £13,000,000 £9,700,000 £2,600,000 *

* I personally feel this figure is way out

I have also used the Transfer Market website to get an idea about how much the experts think these players might cost Arsenal in the Summer

Fascinating stuff indeed and we would all attach differing levels of importance to the attributes for the defensive midfield role in the above table. However  to narrow it down to those most key to the last man anchor, almost a sweeper, third centre back I have focused on the following as the most critical from my perspective: Tackling, interceptions, aerial ability, blocking and passing and I hope this would be accepted by most.


Gonalons Capoue M’Vila Arteta Mystery Man
Tackles 3.8 (2) 2.1 (4) 1.5 (5) 3.4 (3) 4.0 (1)
Interceptions 3.1 (2) 2.3 (4) 1.6 (5) 2.8 (3) 3.6 (1)
Aerials Won 1.6 (3) 3.2 (1) 1.9 (2) 1 (5) 1.5 (4)
Blocks 0.3 (2=) O.3 (2=) 0.1 (4=) 0.1 (4=) 0.4 (1)
Passing % 87.9 (2) 81.8 (5) 85.4 (3) 92.6 (1) 84.6 (4)
Total Score 11 (1st=) 16 19 14 11 (1st=)


You will note that I have given each individual their rating/position 1-5, and therefore the player with the lowest score should based on this season’s performances to date, be our best bet!

So Maxime Gonalons and my mystery player are both looking strong. Having said that Gonalons is not actually leading or top rated in any one discipline whereas my mystery man leads the way in tackling, interceptions and blocks. It appears to me as if my guy is just edging it on France’s newest international DM.

Tipping the balance back towards Maxime Gonalons perhaps if I tell you that my man has not yet been capped by France at senior level. He has however been capped at U16, U17, U18, U19, U20 and U21  levels. The fact he has not attained his first senior cap is probably due to his playing for an unfashionable club.

Have you guessed who my mystery man is yet? Well I would add further weight to my argument if I told you he does not play in Ligue 1 but in a far stronger league, the English Premier League! Given what we have seen with Gervinho and even Hazard we cannot always guarantee a top Ligue 1 star will adapt swiftly, although there are of course exceptions such as Cabeye.

As I said at outset I do not watch the French top flight often but I do watch the Premier League quite a bit and my mystery man has the best stats of any DM in the English top flight. His club are so aware of his worth that this week, in fact on Monday they have tied him to a new deal that contract him to them until 2017.

Now the question is have the club tied him to a new deal genuinely believing he would stay loyal if a big club cane a knocking or have they done so to ensure a better price knowing that one will?

You have probably guessed by now that the highest rated defensive midfielder is none other than Morgan Schneiderlin of Southampton FC and I suggest most of you did not even know he was French. Ricky Lambert takes the plaudits but it is Schneiderlin who has quietly and efficiently steadied the Saints ship this turbulent first season back in the top flight. The biggest compliment you can pay any truly efficient deep lying midfielder is that you don’t notice the. It is why Michael Carrick is so heavily relied on by Ferguson. He just gets on wit the job, reads the play, snuffs out danger and passes to a team mate.

This clip from Cityonline on the 26th after the Saints announcd the contract signing suns it all up beautifully:

“Reliability and consistency is everything for any side that is trying to fight off the threat of relegation and Schneiderlin has carried the midfield in recent matches.

His stats this season have been very impressive for someone with little experience of top flight football; 26 starts, four goals and seven yellow cards.

He is one of the best in the league at the moment when it comes to sitting in the middle, reading the play and picking off the threat in an opposition attack. In fact he tops the Premier League in both interceptions and tackling. Very impresive for a player just 23-years-old.

His seven yellows do suggest that his discipline could use a little bit of work but he has a bit of a cushion from ten, which is the next level that a suspension will kick in at.

He’s scored two of his goals in the club’s last three games which suggests that he’s slowly working his way into better and more attacking positions.

This is very significant because Southampton need everyone to chip in over the rest of the season, they can’t just rely on the strikers to score the goals, which will get them out of trouble.

Schneiderlin is at a very good club but if he was at a higher profile club, he may be held in higher regard than he currently is but he’s one of the in form Premier League midfielders.”


Saints deal extended but if AFC came knocking?
Saints deal extended but if AFC came knocking?

Here’s what Morgan has to say on Monday:

I am a very happy man. To commit my future to Southampton is a big thing because this club has big ambitions – and I have big ambitions as well. I wouldn’t have signed this contract if the club didn’t have a big project. When I spoke to the chairman and the manager, I knew they wanted to do something very good at this club and I want to be a part of that. My main focus now is to do a great job on the pitch so we achieve all of the ambitions that we have.”

And the Manager’s response:

Mauricio Pochettino was delighted with the news. “During my short time with Southampton, Morgan has shown what a capable player he is and has demonstrated his potential to become one of the Premier League’s most complete midfielders,” the Southampton manager said. “His work rate and determination make him an integral part of how we play, and so I am pleased he has been rewarded with a new long-term deal.”

Now I am a Gooner through and through, and a London boy but I have for may years lived near Southampton. Many of my friends are Saints season ticket holders and trust me for them MS is the first name on the team sheet. Schneiderlin undoubtedly owes much to Southampton FC but I truly wonder what would happen if a big club tested the club and the layers resolve with a good cash offer. As I have made clear I am not an expert in French football but I do know this. Performing well as a DM in a team struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League is tougher than playing the same role in Ligue I.

Anyway food for thought and a purchase that would leave considerable cash and wages for the additional firepower and a centre back we need. I think he is the perfect player to sit in front of the back four and he would need no time to adjust. His price on Transfer Markey I am guessing has not been updated since new deal signed and My assumptions is a bid closer to £10 million would be required.

The French Defensive Midfielder for me
The French Defensive Midfielder for me


Like what you read? Agree/disagree? Leave a comment below or follow me or comment on this blog on Twitter – http://twitter.com/goonerdave66



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  1. £2.6m for Schneiderlin?! He’s been Saints’ most consistent performer this season and the club know exactly how good he is, hence the new contract til 2017. He deserves recognition for his performances as he’s been outstanding for Southampton, and probably isn’t too far away from a place in the France squad.
    Good luck getting a deal out of Cortese for him, can’t see him being sold.

  2. Ludicrous to suggest Schneiderlin would only cost £2.6 million – you’d be looking upwards of £10million-£15million, but I highly doubt we’d even consider an offer. Just signed a new long term contract and has all the hallmarks of being a captain at St Mary’s in the near future. Good luck in your search, but stay away from Schneiderlin….

  3. Excellent article and very intersting comparisons. My choice is also clouded with a lack of knowledge for French football but from what I hear Capoue is the most highly rated amongst the French League options. Schneiderlin sounds an excellent alternative but like most he has slipped under my radar. DM is definitely an area Wenger needs to strengthen in, lets hope he does

  4. I feel this should be mailed directly to Wenger’s inbox! This piece have been able to answer some of the bordering questions playing on my mind. Capuoe for me will only be Wenger’s preference if he sees him as a back up central defender, which makes Ganalon the best candidate imo , until the mystery man came up. I won’t be surprised seeing Morgan in th white & red come next season .

  5. A good research! Pls, if U also consider variables like- how we concede our goals, speed of a player & cards recieved, U’l get a better solution. Our midfielders are always out muscled, arial balls defence shouldnt be left for de back 4 alone. If capoue’s agility is better than that of Diaby, then capoue is the best option. Although MS is good as-well. Dis is de type of work we clamour!!!

  6. I have been watching Schneiderlin since early this season, was impressed with his stats/performance matching that of Mikel. I am happy for his consistency.

    But my vote go for Capoue. He is a ‘rock’ at the back, a aggressive player who has head between his shoulder and a player who read the game well and marshals his mates at the back

    What Arsenal needs more than a talented and proven DM, is a player who can lead at the back. (Patrick Vieira style). Check this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyeA0nCzUEU

    1. Thanks. I have had confirmed what I suspected. Capoue looks superb in France. In 6 minute video he was not pressured on the ball once

  7. Nice blog, thanks for the article, but why do we overlook Coquelin? He has been impressive whenever he played, he should be given regular chances.

  8. A very good read, as always. And of course statistics to prove the fine lines. It was however easy for me to guess the mystery man as I am regular viewer of your timeline. And MS ahead of Khedira for me as well, thx Dave.

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