What Is Arsenal’s Best Midfield Combination?

By Manas Saraswat
In Arsenal
Feb 25th, 2014
3 Comments

If Mrs. Wenger asked Arsène Wenger to buy her something nice he’d probably get her a midfielder. Such is the bulging bag of midfielders Arsène possesses that if he tried to slide down the chimney with them he’d probably get stuck. Now, this has got nothing to do with the actual blog, it just popped into my head and I thought why not. Or maybe it does.

I hear a lot debates on social forums. Who is better, Arteta or Flamini? Should Wilshere be starting games when fit? Who should play with whom in midfield? Most of us throw our toys out of our proverbial prams (I always imagine a fully grown man actually throwing things out of his window) when teams are announced and they don’t see their preferred players starting. The 2 man midfield in our preferred 4-2-3-1 formation tends to divide a lot of opinions.  So here I have a look at some of the combinations we’ve played in the double-pivot during this season and what they bring to the table respectively.

Arteta – Ramsey:  This is the combination that most prefer, including Arsène Wenger, because it gives balance to our side with the way we operate. Ramsey acts essentially as the engine room, covering the highest distance and contributing both defensively and in attack. Arteta just sits in front of the defence, his anticipation of second balls and knock-downs in midfield makes up for what he lacks in pure defensive skills, this means he is almost always one step ahead of the opposition. One of his most underrated qualities is winning headers in midfield. He averages more tackles and wins more aerial duels per game than his team-mate and positional rival, Flamini.

In attack Ramsey is the runner from midfield. The 4th in a  4-1-4-1 when we attack. His awareness of space and to manipulate it, is second to none in our team. Arteta on the other hand provides composure when on the ball. Ramsey’s ability to distribute and link defence with attack is exactly what we need from him as our “number 8”. These two, apart from being extremely intelligent footballers, are great at reading the game as well, which makes them a formidable partnership. They aren’t physically the strongest like the Yaya Toure – Fernandinho duo but equally effective. 

Double Pivot

Double Pivot

Arteta – Wilshere:  This combination makes me clench my butt-cheeks in anticipation of something going horribly wrong. Most teams know what to expect from Arsenal. Press us in midfield  and we’re bound to turn over possession. It was a brilliant counter-attacking display from Liverpool in the 5-1 loss, but what was more impressive was the way they pressed us. Arteta and Wilshere are both superb footballers, but together playing at the heart of midfield just don’t work in my opinion. Wilshere is a naturally attacking player, his instinct is to get the ball and drive with it through the opposition midfield and defence. Arteta also, is a natural attacking CM converted into a DM, or rather a deep lying playmaker. So when teams decide to press Arteta, Wilshere being tactically inept at playing a B2B role leaves him isolated and with no passing options in midfield.

Arteta plays slightly higher in midfield for a defensive mid. If runners from midfield are not tracked during turnovers it gets nigh impossible for him to catch up with them. This is where Ramsey does such a great job. He’s superior in a tactical sense and knows when to go forward and when to drop deep. Even when bypassed or during turnovers his ability to recover quickly is a great asset.

Arteta – Flamini: Old school protect the back four midfield screen. This is a fall back option, a go back to basics if you will. And that is exactly what Arsène Wenger did after we were mauled by Liverpool, against them in the FA Cup. Although we were bypassed by chipped balls over the top of defence it was down to overall tactics rather than the duo itself. They played a little deeper, understandably, to keep distance between defence and midfield tight, to absorb pressure. But the sort of pressure they put us into never came. After early chances they settled shirtsleeves, tracked runners and stayed solid.

From an attacking point of view this combination doesn’t provide much, so it’s up to the front four to create and provide the attacking impetuous needed. This is certainly not the first choice pick nor the desirable one as it just takes out one man or one dimension from our game. But when the situation calls for it is a viable go to option.

Arteta is much better player, “footballisticaly”, than Flamini. The latter is more of a pure destroyer, and a better defender than Arteta. He’s a footballer in an age where football has moved past his type of player. You simply cannot afford to have one man just shield your defence and not contribute as much in attack. Arteta is an intelligent footballer, an all-rounder who links attack with defence with great precision. But sometimes you need a little bite in midfield, tenacity, someone who would get stuck in and get in the players faces and Flamini brings that to the table.

A little less defensive?

A little less defensive?

Ramsey – Wilshere: This is the only combination which for me fits the definition of a double-pivot perfectly. And yet it seems to break down more often than not. I’ve always had this urge to see these two playing together in midfield, and still maintain that this is the future of our team in midfield. Call it a prototype of the perfect 2 man midfield in modern day football considering the ability these two possess.

However, it simply isn’t ready yet for more than one reason. We know that Ramsey is a great box-to-box midfielder. He can attack, defend and has the intelligence required to play the engine room in midfield. Wilshere however, being naturally attacking as mentioned above, often comes across as indisciplined when played alongside Ramsey. His eagerness to bomb forward with the ball, often when Ramsey is high up the pitch leaves our centre-backs vulnerable to counter-attacks. When in possession his reluctance to release a pass early doesn’t help either.

This is not to say something is wrong with Wilshere though. It’s not his fault he’s an attacking mid, so being asked to play a more disciplined role with Ramsey as the main man in midfield isn’t something he’s used to. We’ve seen glimpses of what they are capable of when playing together but it’s not the finished product, by any stretch.

If Jack Wilshere is better technically and if he can work on his discipline just enough, and be more tactically aware like Aaron I’m sure both of them can co-exist on the same pitch. Just being aware of where the other is and covering the hole in midfield should be something they could work on in training. Both of them have time on their side and an understanding can only be built by playing games with each other. The ‘Percielny’ seems like an apt example here.

There are no tags like DLP or B2B in this combination either. Both of them are capable of playing either role and essentially that’s what a pivot should do. Rotating with one another while the others rotate around them.

Conclusion: To be honest there isn’t one. It’s about having options and that is something that we have in abundance.  For me, as things are we have a total of 6 players who can play in the two man midfield. Arteta and Flamini as the defensive mids. Jack, Aaron, Ox and Rosicky as the dynamic B2B mids.

Everyone of those players has their own pros and cons. How we use them and against what opposition is the real question. Everyone has their favourites but I’m content that we have enough options do deal with any kind of situation.

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Arsenal lover from India. Occasional blogger.

3 Responses to “What Is Arsenal’s Best Midfield Combination?”

  1. Twivil says:

    Flamini, Ramsey, Rosicky and Ozil with Jak for Ros after 60 (Ram pushed forward) and either Art, Caz or Gnabry for Oz -after 70. And I am looking forward to Wally and Yaya playing together up front.

  2. The Mask of Zorro says:

    Really great analysis, I know what you mean about wanting to see wilshere and ramsey, they just lack that little bit more defensiveness that would make the team more solid. I think a potential alternative you didn’t look at is possibly the ox and ramsey, while wilshere learns to adapt. The ox is also maybe not as defensively aware, but his strength, stamina and discipline could really complement aaron in the double pivot. Just a thought anyway.

  3. Manas says:

    The Ox and Ramsey bit is interesting. Both have similar attributes when playing CM. I’ve made a case for OX playing CAM someday on this very blog, would love to see how he progresses over the next few seasons.

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