Arsenal’s midfield muddle comes back to bite Wenger

It’s not the first time Arsene Wenger has been accused of being myopic and it won’t be the last. Following Arsenal’s defeat against Swansea City on Sunday – leaving the Gunners 12 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea – pundits are again asking why the manager can’t see the team’s immediate need for someone to do the dirty work in midfield.

In the past questions about Wenger’s selective eyesight have been focused on fouls committed by his players but as Arsenal have become a less physical team, so too have they become less successful. The Arsenal of old, when they and Wenger were at their pomp, would never have let a lead slip as they did at the Liberty Stadium.

The days of Patrick Vieira or Emmanuel Petit bundling opponents off the ball by fair means or foul are long gone. Instead, Arsenal have an admirable collection of aesthetes, footballing connoisseurs who, if you let them, will pass their way to victory. It’s death by a thousand cuts but Swansea were surgical with their incision as they came from behind. There are no Arsenal midfielders in the Premier League’s top 20 midfielders in EuroFantasyLeague and that in itself is telling.

Aaron Ramsey eventually checks in at No.21 but you have to go a long way back to find the two supposed holding players in Wenger’s squad, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini. Arteta is 81st and Flamini 120th. Ahead of them are combative and skilful ball-players such as Southampton pair Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork, Crystal Palace’s inspirational skipper Mile Jedinak and Chelsea powerhouse Nemanja Matic.

Each of the quartet have at one time or another been available for transfer or would likely have jumped to the Emirates Stadium if an offer came. Arsenal didn’t even try to tempt Schneiderlin or Cork away during the Saints’ summer exodus and they missed out on Matic’s return to England in January. Jedinak, meanwhile, is vital to Palace but may have found it hard to turn down the chance to play Champions League football.

A midfield anchor man, to protect a vulnerable and makeshift defence, balance the midfield and organise the team as a whole would make a world of difference to Arsenal. Then, perhaps Wenger would be competing with Jose Mourinho, rather than waving his Chelsea side off as they saunter to the title. It’s not even an unwillingness to spend, as the lavish fees paid for Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez prove. It’s spending in the right areas that’s the problem.

The transfer window opens in about a month-and-a-half and Wenger has his latest chance to correct one of the biggest issues in his squad. It’s one that has existed for season after season, transfer window after transfer window, and Wenger has baulked at doing what is needed. Arsenal fans could be forgiven for having little faith in anything changing this January, even though the problem – and solution – is staring the manager in the face.

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