Stockpiling Arsenal midfielders

The recruitment continues apace, with Debuchy coming in as our first-choice right-back. In the website photoshoot he’s got his arms on his hips (psychologists will tell you he’s ready and in control – that’s a good sign for us. He may also be showing off his armful of tats, two of which seem to be dates in Roman numerals. Not his birthday, I checked. Perhaps his children’s. Is this interesting? No? Sorry).

Last summer, at about this time, and a lot later, we tore our hair out trying to second guess what Wenger was up to (answer: not a whole lot), but there’s no angst this summer. Two signings in, both filling obvious gaps. And it feels like there’ll be more – two or three, I’d guess.

Is that the kiss of death? I don’t think so. But if it is, I’ll delete this post and pretend it never happened.

Defence is obviously an area that needs attention, as illustrated by Arseblog the other day. But it looks like we’re in for another midfielder too. Whether it’s Khedira or not – and it feels like there’s some smoke and mirrors going on there – it’d not surprise me to see us strengthen there.

This makes sense to me. But if we do, would anyone make way? To be honest, I’d not have been massively surprised to see Arteta moving on this summer, but he’s featured so heavily in all the Puma marketing, and told us he’s happy as Larry, that I can’t see that happening. Diaby? Maybe, if someone would have his large wages. Flamini? Maybe.

Does it matter though? If Wenger is keen to stockpile midfielders it’s easy to see why. We mostly always play with five in the middle, and suffered our usual Arsenal-esque midfield injury pestilence last season. Diaby didn’t play at all, The Ox was injured a lot, Ramsey got skittled over at Christmas, Walcott not long after. Ozil did his hamstring, Wilshere only started 19 league games. Rosicky might well be the Peter Pan of football but he’s clearly an impact player these days.

We relied too heavily on some players – Arteta, Ozil and Cazorla spring to mind – as a result and what’s the next best thing to solving our injury woes? Buying more midfield players, that’s what. Could this approach work with a 25-man squad limit? It might be tricky, but it’s not impossible.

Let’s have a look. In defence we ideally need two of every position – that’s ten. We still need to recruit two of those, three if Vermaelen goes.

That leaves fifteen players (sixteen if you take a gamble with three centre-backs). Rosicky, Arteta, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Flamini, Diaby, Podolski, Giroud, Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez are obvious ‘keepers’ to me, though Diaby’s position could be in peril.

If we kept Diaby that would leave two more spaces. One for a new defensive midfielder leaving one to be hoovered up by other hopefuls currently on the squad list: Zelalem, Sanogo, Gnabry and Campbell.

If we were to buy another striker, I think it’s curtains this season for Sanogo and Campbell. But I can see Wenger keeping Sanogo as the blunt sword he’s been so far (he’ll get better once he grows into his paws).

So what does this all mean, I hear you ask?

I’d say, if I was to stick my neck out, that I have no absolutely no idea at all.

Update

And I’d clean forgotten about the U-21 players not counting on the 25-man list. So we’re fine: we can stockpile midfielders and probably buy another striker too. You know where to go for cold, hard, real sense on this matter – @Orbinho

Titime to move on / midfield goals

Wallowing in the glory of Henry’s movie-moment comeback was not meant to last all week, but for me it has. The YouTube video I breathlessly uploaded at about midnight on Monday has now had about 37,000 hits (and Analytics tell me 90.3% of those who watched it were male, with 9.7% female – how do they know this I wonder – though my brother did confidently predict that he had watched it “about 28,000 times” so maybe there’s some truth in that). It certainly captured the moment.

But now we’re back to the mundane grind of trying to reach fourth, win the European Cup and bag the FA Cup. On the whole coming fourth thing, I had this blinding-light Eureka moment a few days ago. I swear, it’s genius*. Here it is:

Fourth, we know, is an achievement. It’s got kudos attached, it earns oodles of dough, the players want it to stay and players want it to come. But it’s not a trophy. It doesn’t get listed in the programme masthead and it won’t go into the Rothmans Yearbook. So why not assign it a trophy? Let’s call it the UEFA Champions League Fourth Place Qualifying Cup (CLFQC if that’s too much of a mouthful, though I’m not sure I’m helping my argument here) and the winners can all go on an open bus tour, put it in the cabinet and whack it on the masthead. Job’s a goodun, eh? We’d have had loads of trophies in recent years had this idea been taken up and we could bury the whole ‘six years without…’ thing once and for all.

*It’s not genius, I know.

Of course, we face the fight of our lives to get there first. The main thing troubling me on that note is not the lack of full-backs, which fingers crossed will be imminently easing, but the drying-up of goals. Since beating Wigan 4-0 on 3rd December (the last time incidentally that we did have a recognised full-back – so maybe I should be more worried about it), we have scored just one goal in four of our six league games, none in one and two in the other (Yossi’s late winner at Villa).

Now, it’s very possible that the lack of goals is directly linked to the lack of full-backs, but in these instances we need other areas of the team to step up to the plate. This is where the midfield comes into the equation, and to my mind there haven’t been enough goals from that area. Sure, in those six games Gervinho and Benayoun did both score, but I think the point, if you take the season as a whole, still stands.

Our midfield has scored 21 goals all season – the same as Robin van Persie. That’s eleven players (Gervinho, Walcott, Arteta, Rosicky, Song, Arshavin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Frimpong, Benayoun and Coquelin) who have started games in the midfield. It’s too much to ask some of those players to rattle goals in, but Arshavin, Gervinho and Walcott in particular have chipped in just seven league goals (ten in total).

Of course, how Wenger cajoles more goals out of his midfielders and wingers is the million dollar question, but if he’s happy to stick with van Persie (and Henry for six weeks) rather than twisting and buying a new striker, then he’s going to have to do just that.

Now, when’s Jack back?

Abou’s cruise

Arsenal 4-1 Portsmouth

Who’d have foreseen that our start to the season, as well as being faultless, would feature the steady rat-tat-tat of goals, almost all of which have come from defenders and midfielders?

It doesn’t seem to matter how or why this is the case: there’s no pressure on our strikers to hit the mark if the rest of the side has left ten magic parcels in the opposition’s net. This is especially true if our strikers are assisting goals themselves (as van Persie and Eduardo did on Saturday).

Ordinarily, I’d have been there with the other 60,431 souls at the Grove, waving my acrylic scarf, but alas I wasn’t, instead keeping tabs on the match via text updates and Tweetie from my sedentary spot in south London. Naturally, I followed that up with Match of the Day, an institution I love despite an overdose of white-shirted Alans.

Now, having not been there, I can only comment on the heavily edited few minutes on MOTD, but it was interesting and gratifying to see Diaby take the plaudits (Song and Fabregas were already basking themselves in previous acclaim).

Interesting, in part, because I was intrigued to know whether reports of Diaby having treadmilled his way through the summer in an attempt to step up had any substance, and gratifying because I’ve always wanted him to do well. Sadly, he’s the Stewart Robson of the modern era – promising but suffering from one frustrating injury after the other – and despite having been at the club 3.5 years, he’s still not managed to nail a place down for more than a few games at a time.

It’s not just him though – I don’t know exactly what Wenger has put in our midfielders’ tea leaves, but he seems to have done something, given the competitiveness of their early season performances.

The games are now coming thick and fast, with no rest for the wicked and little time for bruised bodies to recover. It seems pretty amazing that after one league game, Wenger rested Clichy, Sagna, Song and Bendtner, but he did and it’s a good indication of the challenges that lie ahead. Celtic on Wednesday is far from a gimme given what is at stake, and then there’s Utd away on Saturday.

I’m confident that we can do well in both games, but I’d be that little bit more comfortable if Fabregas – as crucial as ever to our fluidity and creativity – can recover from his hamstring scare. Having Nasri, Rosicky and Walcott out is bad enough – add Fabregas to that list and it’s that bit harder.

Here’s hoping the usual cocktail of Strepsils and magic sponges can heal him.

And finally, it’s the last full week before the transfer window closes. Will the result of Wednesday’s £10m qualifier have a bearing on what Wenger does with his chequebook, or is he just waiting till the end to drive prices down? Or is going to abstain entirely?

New defender – tick. Now to the midfield…

Remarkably, it’s less than a month until our first pre-season match, against Barnet on 18th July.

It’s gone fast – partly because we’ve had the U21s, partly because of the Confounded Cup but principally due to the fact that Wenger has made a statement of intent with an early summer signing.

Now, if you’re paying £10m or thereabouts for a defender – the most we have ever spent on someone in the back line – it’s safe to assume that, as many other bloggers have already, that barring an injury or a calamitous piece of judgment from Wenger, Vermaelen has been signed with a view to being a permanent fixture.

So with Senderos also having returned, it’s easy to see why the rumours are currently strong that we’ll be offloading one of our other central defenders. With Gallas, Toure, Vermaelen, Senderos, Djourou and Silvestre in the same position, it doesn’t take a genius to see that one, and probably two of those players will leave. Four central defenders is ample.

So we all expect some activity there.

Somewhere else we’ve been expecting activity is in central midfield, which might go some way to explaining why Diaby has apparently eschewed his summer holiday in favour of beefing himself up in the gym.

Diaby is not stupid: he can see that his chances will be diminished next season if he doesn’t step up a level. On the evidence shown so far, the ‘new Patrick Vieira’ is not even as good as the currently ageing one – not that there aren’t flashes of brilliance there. His goal at Anfield in the Champions League quarter-final in 2008, his league goal at Villa last season; at his best he can be fabulous. But he does need better concentration, he needs to stay fit for longer and he needs to up his workrate, so it’s pleasing (if the story is true) to see that he wants to push on.

The same goes for the others in central midfield: Denilson (a massive 51 appearances last season), Song (48) and even Ramsey (22) will feel threatened by any newcomer just as their colleagues in the back line probably are now. Fabregas’ inclusion is a given – but none of the others can be so confident.

So are we likely to see one of the above leave too? If we signed a big name central midfielder who will slot straight into the side then it wouldn’t surprise me, and the most obvious candidate to go is Diaby himself. Denilson has enjoyed Wenger’s favour all season, Song improved massively and Ramsey is still very, very young.

So as I said, all power to Diaby for wanting to do something positive.

Anything else this evening?

Well, Melo is flattered by Arsenal’s interest. I wouldn’t get too giddy by this – it’s the eyelash-fluttering stage of the relationship. Wenger might not even spot him across the crowded dancefloor, but even if he did, we’re probably a long way off a first date.