CDM: Do Arsenal Have The Answer?
Today I welcome Billy Dunmore (@EducatedGooner) Follow Billy!, as a guest blogger to North London Is Red. Billy is a North London Gooner and has been writing since November 2012. He is a self-proclaimed ‘blog-whore’ who roams the cyber streets in search of blogging pimps to host his articles and I’m delighted to have him on NLIR again. Take it away Billy…..
I can’t quite remember when people started talking about the need for a central defensive midfielder at Arsenal, but there is one thing I am sure of: everybody’s talking about it now. So, as every sensible person with a good business brain does, I’ve decided to throw my hat into an already ram-packed ring of strong-viewed Gooners, thus further crowding an already overcrowded market. Clever, no? Well, you may not think so and up until recently, neither did I. However, I thought that it’s better to put your own view out there, than to just simply sit back and soak all the rest in, whilst batting your eyelids furiously. After all, that is the nature of the modern-day, intrepid bloggers that dominate cyberland from behind their keyboard fortresses, armed with nothing more than opinions and hot, often caffeine-filled, beverages. *Sips Coffee* So, here goes…
I wanted to try and take alternative route to putting forward my argument, which in itself is SO original, right? Bloody viscous circles… So, instead of listing a number of obvious, reported options, telling you where they were born, how long it took them before they potty-trained, how much they cost, how ‘injury prone’ they are and what their favourite colour is, I’m going to tell you why I think we could do with someone in that gaping hole that has reared it’s glaringly obvious and very ugly head too many a time this season. I’m also going to touch upon how we can retain or manipulate the Chi balance in midfield to suit a CDM coming into the team. I might just spring upon you a somewhat surprising candidate for the future, too.
“There are no defensive midfield players at the moment … We try to find the defensive balance collectively. We have fewer players who are purely defenders but some are physically strong in defending like Diaby, some are tactically strong like Arteta.”
The quote above may confuse you. It may annoy you. It may even drive you to cracking out the old quill n’ ink and writing Mr. Wenger a very strong-worded letter on fire-proof paper (just to be on the safe side). I wouldn’t blame you. However, I hope that some of you stop and think. Not stop and think: “Ah, come on it’s Wenger, who knows what cryptic message is hidden in that quote…” No. I hope people rather stop and really think. Wenger said this not to long before our game against Chelsea in late September, 2012. Would our manager who just began a new season really highlight the fact that we don’t have an out-and-out CDM without justifying it in a manner that could be construed as ‘fair enough’ or ‘part of the (current) plan’?
I don’t think so. That is why I have two reactions to the statement and explanation Wenger gives above. Naturally, at first I feel a “little bit” annoyed, because he is in the bluntest of terms: covering his arse (no pun intended). But then I also understand why he is covering his arse (pun now very much intended). Although, whether he is doing so out of necessity, or whether he is doing so because he initially thought it may work, is anyone’s guess. Either way, I hope that Wenger has identified the area as weak and will make some sort of addition in the summer.
Too often I have seen Arsenal over-committing players in attack, because we have a team predominantly made up of attacking minded players. Even our CBs sometimes stray into waters they should simply not be sailing on. But when it is, for example our whole midfield and attack, a void is left behind them. Sometimes, as long as the numbers match up, this can be seen as manageable. But, other times it is unforgivable. How many times do we see Arsenal faffing around a little too much on the edge of the opposition’s box? Frustrating isn’t it?
Well, as we know, it becomes even more frustrating when there is a miss-placed pass or a player gets tackled and suddenly the opposition rush forward, leaving us with a hole in front of our two CBs and gaps out wide where our marauding FBs should be. In a flash, we see ten minutes of 80% percent possession in their half, turn into an opposition attack, outnumbering us four to two. Like I said: unforgivable. Other times, we may be slightly luckier and have our FBs back in position, only to find that they are being doubled up on as a result of our wingers being caught high up the pitch. Our individual errors count is exceptionally high and they usually lead to goals, whether it’s directly or indirectly. The ‘directly’ category is mostly defenders making mistakes. But the ‘indirectly’ category probably goes something along the lines of what I mentioned earlier in the paragraph.
There is a solution. As many other teams show, there is most definitely a way to deal with the over-exposure of a defence… Yep, you guessed it; the solution is those three little words: Centre Defensive Midfielder. It’s having at least one player in the middle of the park who does not go forward, who knows his job and doesn’t risk the team’s defensive security for his own personal lust for glory. We’ve had enough of those. This would be a player that has a defensive mentality on the pitch, NOT an attacking one and NOT the best of both, otherwise this player would be a box-to-box midfielder and would still possess the urge to surge behind enemy lines.
In fact, I’ve written up the ten Arsenal CDM commandments (apologies for the Bergkamp references, but I know no other God):
- Thou shalt have no other Gods before DB10
- Thou shalt make unto thee a very scary image
- Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy DB10 in vain
- Remember the middle of the park, to keep it from being holy
- Honour thy Centre Backs and thy Full backs
- Thou shalt not maraud forward
- Thou shalt not betray your defensive responsibilities
- Thou shalt steal the ball… A lot
- Thou shalt not bare false witness against thy teammate in the changing room
- Thou shalt most definitely covet the ball
A system change will most definitely be needed in order to accommodate any incoming CDM. In recent games, we have found a seemingly perfect balance in midfield which is very promising. However, if we want to ensure that this balance isn’t disrupted against better teams than the likes of Reading, then some clever jiggling is in order. I don’t want to delve into pages of detail about how we can change the system to best suit a CDM coming in, because I can’t predict what other positions we may bring in during the summer.
But here’s a single, lonely paragraph on it:
There is one base formation that really stands out for me as a winning formula that would suit having a CDM in the team. That formation is a 4-1-3-2. Why I think this formation would be so effective is because it still suits Arsenal’s style, it still has that midfield three and thus retains the balance we have now found in that area of the pitch. You may think: “Well yes, but there’s no width anymore!” To which I say: Yes there is. Like I mentioned earlier, the great thing about having a CDM is that they can cover our infamously attacking FBs. See where I’m going with this? So, because we have a CDM, we can use our FBs as tools for creating width by each one taking it in turn to move upfield in attack. As one of the FBs does this, the CDM sits back and shifts ever-so-slightly to the appropriate side (but not fully into the defensive FB position) in anticipation of having to cover their teammate. Whilst the attacking FB occupies one flank, one of the two attacking players, more likely the more nippy of the two (probably Theo or Santi for example), occupies the other flank. This now gives us an attacking 4-5-1 (or 4-4-2/4-4-1 if a midfielder pushes wide instead of an attacker), where as this season we’ve often been caught in attack with a 2-4-4/3-4-3. I believe that the versatility of players in our squad and the likely versatility of any additions we make in summer will suit this formation, whilst the formation suits the inclusion of a CDM.
So, that just leaves me with the slightly surprising candidate who, in the future, could well fit into the CDM role that I, and many of you, crave. The player I have in mind is Nico Yennaris, who I saw play at the Emirates recently for the NextGen side. Nico has done an excellent job captaining the U21s and our NextGen Series squad this year and usually occupies the slightly deeper role in midfield. Nico isn’t overly showy or skillful from what I’ve seen, but what he does have is the ability to break up play to great effect. He has a fair bit of pace about him and he uses that to get around the pitch very niftily (including catching attacking opposition players and covering his teammates).
Despite not being the tallest, Nico is strong enough to deal with players much bigger than he is. As we know, in modern-day football CDM don’t have to necessarily be what some refer so eloquently to as a “big f*cker”. In fact smaller CDMs like Luis Gustavo for example, can be very effective at what they do as the game is getting faster. It’s becoming less about pure strength and big tackles and more about pace and reading of the game (something Nico has in abundance). Another thing that makes Nico useful as a CDM (especially in the system I put forward previously) is that he can also play in the FB positions, thus making him perfect for covering FBs who go walkabouts.
But, there is one thing that Nico has which we simply couldn’t bank on finding on the market: passion and love for the club. If you’ve read my articles before, you may know that I’m a big fan of passion and I believe that it brings out the best in players. Nico is a Gooner through and through and has been at the club since the age of 7 (now 19). He signed a professional contract in 2010, but has been unable to really breakthrough into the first team set up as yet. I believe that his combination of useful physical attributes, passion and his ability to lead and command are what makes him one for Mr. Wenger to take into consideration over the next couple of years.
So, there you have it… It seems everyone I speak to thinks we need a CDM and has an opinion on why we do and how we should incorporate them into our current side. That was my view; I sincerely hope you enjoyed it.
Thanks Billy. A great post and you’ve certainly got me thinking about Nico. I must admit that I always thought of him as a good player and dedicated Gooner but probably not someone who will make it at Arsenal. With your suggestion I could actually see him making the first-team and probably at the expense of Frimpong but that’s a whole other discussion. Thanks for reading guys and helping me support my fellow Gooner bloggers. Please do leave your comments and don’t forget to click that follow button!