Defensive Midfield Targets For Arsenal
I actually dislike the term ‘defensive midfielder’ or more specifically its common abbreviation of ‘DM’ as it has become synonymous with a type of player I don’t feel necessarily exists any more or at least is not required at top level football.
DM has become a term amongst Arsenal supporters to describe a “destroyer” type player who will sit in front of the back four like a Soviet tank blasting away all which dares approach it. There’s a reason it became known as the ‘Makelele role’ and that’s because he reinvented it, or at least performed best in that role, and it became defined as a role where an intelligent, strong and tactically aware player sat in front of a defence and shielded them from attack.
Makelele was incredible in the tackle but he was hardly a “destroyer”. Similarly, Patrick Vieira was never a ‘DM’ as he is so infuriatingly referred to as when people lament our lack of a ‘DM’. Vieira was your primordial box to box midfielder, Petit was the ‘DM’. What people miss most about Vieira is his physical presence and that is where the term ‘DM’ has become bastardised beyond recognition.
Some fans want a strapping 6 foot plus muscle-bound player to sit at the base of our midfield and kick lumps out of the opposition but tall and physically imposing players aren’t necessarily ‘DMs’, and ‘DMs’ aren’t all necessarily physically imposing. The man recognised as the best ‘DM’ of the past generation and whom the role is most often named after was 5’7″. It is no coincidence that Real Madrid fared worse without him and Chelsea’s ascendency was complete with him.
It’s clear that Arsenal need something extra in midfield, either a physical presence to add more strength to our midfield or an intelligent defensive midfielder true to the role. They aren’t mutually exclusive types of player but a combination of the both with the required tactical intelligence to play for Arsenal is hard to find as evidenced by the lack of movement of these players in general (rather than dithering penny pinching from the manager as often assumed).
With that in mind I’ve had a look at two players who aren’t Morgan Schneiderlin, Lars Bender or Sami Khedira who might be worth considering.
The Brazilian Job
When Arsenal signed Gilberto from Atlético Mineiro in 2002 it was off the back of a strong showing for World Cup winners Brazil in South Korea.
Upon signing him Wenger was quoted as saying:
What I like was the fact that he kept things simple. He can play all across the midfield but the holding role just in front of the defence is what he does best.
Like Makelele, Gilberto is a player most appreciated when you no longer have him and realise exactly what he did for the team. Unassuming and calm he was the perfect player to shield Arsenal’s defence.
Most South American players in the Premier League today and of the past 20 years have been purchased from other European clubs so Gilberto is a rarity in being one of the few South American players who joined a Premier Club straight from a South American team.
There is a defensive midfielder playing for Brazilian side Cruzeiro named Nílton Ferreira Júnior, or just Nílton, whom I believe could be a similar signing. Nílton is not quite at Gilberto’s level but there are a number of similarities between them both including physique, playing position and age at which they first left or might first leave their domestic league.
Gilberto was 26 when he joined Arsenal which is quite late to leave Brazil as many of their most talented players are poached by European clubs early on. Nílton is 27 which could go one of two ways for any European club that signs him – either his age allows him to settle quickly as an experienced and mature person not just a footballer or he completely flops having never been away from his homeland.
A good friend who follows a lot of Brazilian football turned me on to Nílton and from what I have seen he looks decent. His tackling looks good, he’s good at mopping up after his colleagues and doing the dirty work but then again… YouTube scouting….
The step up to the Premier League straight from Brazil is a hard one but I have it on good authority that Nílton is one of the better players in the Brazilian league who could make a career in Europe but whether he could immediately step up to Arsenal without going via another European club is another story.
With less than a year left on his contract he could be picked up on the cheap however his lack of Brazilian caps (he has only played at U20 level) would make getting a work permit incredibly difficult. At any rate, I’ve been told he is being courted by Internacionale so a move to Europe may never transpire.
From Brussels With Love
Belgium is a hot bed for young talent at the moment and so is Germany so when a young Belgian player is plying his trade in Germany ahead of young German players you have to assume he is good.
With Junior Malanda there is no assuming. He is a quality young player with an incredibly bright future.
Tall, imposing, strong, fast, good with the ball at his feet and in the air, Malanda is all you could want in a young ‘DM’ prospect. Many will prefer to buy a ready made solution but loathe as I am to compare a ‘DM’ to Vieira after expressing my distaste for people who refer to Vieira as a ‘DM’ it must be noted that at the same age as Malanda is now Vieira was a regular starter for Arsenal.
Malanda has a great leap and is an aerial threat a set-pieces which would benefit Arsenal if they can continue their good work from the Hull came and keep clearing the first man at corners but also Arsenal would benefit from his aerial ability when defending set-pieces which has been an area of weakness for a while.
In his short career so far Malanda has shown great ability in the tackle, intercepting the ball and making blocks. He is not afraid to put his body on the line nor is he afraid to talk. He has a touch of the Flaminis and commits quite a few fouls but that can be curbed through coaching, playing in a possession based team or just by playing in a more robust league.
Malanda’s name may be familiar to those who vaguely remember us being interested about 18 months ago or for the Vine of his horrific open goal miss for Wolfsburg. His ability in front of goal is largely irrelevant however as we are looking for a new Gilberto not a new Alex Song – although Gilberto did show some promise in front of goal when called upon.
Another added bonus is Malanda can drop back into defence and play as a centre-back. He’s not the finished article and he does have 3.5 years left on his contract so he may not be an ideal signing this window but he could be one for the near future.
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