Arsenal’s Giant Hole In Midfield

giant hole

Yesterday’s horror show at Anfield has brought out all the usual media clichés, memes and tropes about Arsenal Football Club. No fight, no leadership, no spirit, no heart, etc.

As readers are familiar, conventional ideas based on feelings and opinions have no appeal to me. There is need to identify the real objective reasons for this sub-standard performance and support real solutions rather than engage in hyperbole and vitriol. That is if we truly care for the club, rather than our own egos.

Arsene Wenger in the post game presser expressed his dissatisfaction with the performance:

“I think from the first to the last minute we were not at the level requested for such a game and not physically, not technically, not mentally were we at the level and we were punished and that’s basically it. You can of course analyse the chances we gave away, but I just think overall that the performance was not at the requested level.”

But he was careful not to offer his opinion as to why it was substandard:

“That’s a question that is very difficult to answer straight away after the game and there are some reasons, but I don’t think I have too much to come out on that now.”


We as fans are entitled to our own opinion. Many have been quick to suggest there was lack of commitment by want-away players prior to the close of the transfer window. Those of us who witnessed a very lackadaisical performance by Samir Nasri in his final game for the club prior to his Manchester City transfer have good reason to believe it is déjà vu all over again.

Outplayed in midfield

While there may be truth about lack of commitment by some team members, I am more concerned about how easily we were outplayed in midfield. Possession statistics are very misleading having Liverpool and Arsenal at 49% and 51% respectively. While Arsenal apparently had superiority, most telling was AFC’s inability to turn possession into goal-scoring opportunities. The data makes horrible reading. Liverpool had 18 shots on goal with 8 on target. In comparison Arsenal had 10 shots on goal, nearly 50% less, but zero on target. Watching the game it was obvious Arsenal’s midfielders were easily pressured and did not have the ability to retain possession or make forward passes into dangerous areas where the forwards could make good shots thus forcing the clearly skittish Kaius to make saves.

Whoscored.com summarized Liverpool’s strengths as the following:

  • Created a high number of chances relative to their possession
  • Stole the ball often from the opposition
  • Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from the flanks
  • Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from counter attacks
  • Were strong at finishing

In contrast they concluded Arsenal had “no strengths.”   (Brutal.)

Compare this to the similar fixture last year, Sunday, August 14th, at the Emirates when Arsenal lost 3:4 and the same analytics indicated Arsenal’s strengths as:

  • Were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities through individual skill
  • Were strong at finishing

Those with vibrant memories will recall Arsenal was playing poorly that day. The club was down 1:3 at the 61st minute mark when a certain little Spanish magician entered the fray and from his deep-lying midfield position helped retrieve some honor from a bleak position. It even worsened to 1:4 but Santi helped to stem the tide and bring it to a respectable 3:4 final score.

With Santi starting every game from then onward to October, when he finally succumbed to his current long term injury, Arsenal was an unbeatable force. I have kept banging the point since then. Arsenal’s midfield has a big giant hole, and needs a deep-lying playmaker to make the system work. This is a technically based team that needs technically accomplished players, especially in midfield, to play according to its DNA.

Arsenal’s midfielders are collectively inferior to main rivals

 Based on EPL data, the brutal fact is, collectively Arsenal’s current crop of midfielders are arguably of inferior standard when compared to its main EPL rivals. I used data from Whoscored to compare like with like. For midfielders returning to their current teams I compared their 2016-17 data for Goals, Assists and overall Average Rating. By the way Whoscored classifies players like Alexis and Walcott as midfielders when in my opinion they are primarily wide forwards. In these cases and for similar players from other clubs they are excluded from the analysis. Similarly players classified as defenders but who played primarily as defensive midfielders, e.g. Emre Can, I include them in the analysis.

Club Goals Assists Avg Rating
Liverpool 43 30 7.27
Manchester City 24 35 7.22
Chelsea 26 26 7.10
Manchester United 18 16 7.09
Tottenham 34 27 7.00
Arsenal 16 25 6.92

The data makes somber reading for all gooners. Among the top-6, of the returning midfielders from 2016-17 Arsenal is dead last in goals-scored  and second from last in assists. Top of the list is Liverpool and hopefully the data should shut up the screaming imbeciles who think they are chopped liver.

What most concerns me is that although Wenger has bought quality players in Lacazette and Kolosinac to improve the forward-line and defense repectively, unlike his main rivals he has been unable to sign a top-top midfielder. Liverpool has brought Salah as an AM and he was rated 7.48 in the Scudetto, United has bought Matic who had a 7.01 overall rating at Chelsea last year, City has bought Silva who had a 7.29 rating in Ligue Une and Chelsea bought Bakayoko who brings a 7.27 overall rating from Monaco.

I am not arguing that any of these new players will suddenly become world class at their new clubs but they are clearly making an effort to strengthen with at least 7/10 players. Apart from Ozil, all other midfielders at Arsenal were less than 7/10 last year. This I would suggest is the root of Arsenal’s current midfield woes.

In my last blog I argued Arsenal will challenge based on the consistency of the club and its manager over the past 21 years and the evident efforts to strengthen the squad this season. The emotional outpouring of wailing and gnashing of teeth after the Liverpool defeat strengthens my contrarian conviction. There was a similar outpouring last year and the margin of defeat was far less. The data leads me to the conclusion that the manager knows where the weakness lie and will use the last days of the transfer window to try find a fix.

PS: I must take a temporary leave of absence from blogging to take care of some pressing issues. Hoping to return after the international break.

543 comments on “Arsenal’s Giant Hole In Midfield

  1. Shotts, you and I have been around this block before. You’ll continue to do your thing and think it’s the best way, and I’ll do the same. I just do mine a little more quietly is all. It’s all good.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. True for the older generation, not for the under thirties who’ve never seen Liverpool lift a PL title.

    And as everyone knows: “marketing” is aimed at the kids primarily. For a reason.

    Not about marketing, but the convenience (and size of the cut!).
    Its buisiness! Innit?



  3. You won’t find Morata moving to Liverpool!

    Courinho’s been on strike which is something we’ve not quite seen at AFC even during the darkest days (a trip to see a race is different to sulking and not playing for three/four matches). But what about the damage to the brand “Coutinho” huh?

    His girlfriend may have ambitions, but she only has two hands whilst Ward’s many tentacles have been wrapped around Chambo for a long time. And Ward already had the old man’s ear. Nah.

    The Chambo move is most definitely not about the “marketing”, you should trust the person who told you the marketing strategy regarding this particular transfer a year in advance on this one IBSF *blows trumpet* *sings from the rafters*

    I dunno. You make all this effort and it’s not appreciated! Haha!

    Keep well everyone busy with work for a bit but I’ll still be here.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I did kept of log here as it happened of PR gems (marketing) his agent was pumping out all season long for your benefit, modelled upon the RVP “marketing” template. The old drip drip overflow technique:

    “Doesn’t have a set position”
    “Wants to play in CM”
    “Doesn’t have a set position”
    “I am a not a frustrated football agent but am an expert arse blagger”
    “Blah blah blah”
    “No end product” (a better record in CL and tournament football when compared to overhyped diving cloggers…)
    “Yadda yadda yadda”
    “doesn’t have a set position”
    “Gollum gollum”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Did I mention that he doesn’t have a set position?

    Fuck me do you all remember when Ramsey was playing RM?

    Mental innit!!
    I blame that shambles Vengarrrrrrgggghgghjjj playing British players wide to hone their technique the crazy bastard what do French coaches know about football? Eh?

    Mmmmmmmmbappe anyone?
    With fries!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sterling dropped.
    Chamberlian starting.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t care that AOC left in fact I hope this international agent conspiracy nets us millions for a few more disappointing players. He had two good spells in his whole AFC career, and two memorable matches of any import: ManU away in the cup (went off injured) and the semi last year. Had he been better he’d have been offered a contract earlier. If it’s true that he wants to play CM I can’t wait to see him get an extended spell, because we know how that goes.

    RWB worked for him because all it required was to run alot and normally with the ball at his feet. That’s all he could do with any consistency. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t useful, but only when he was in form. Another dip or injury was overdue.

    I’m tired of being teased by players! It was always, “He’d be great if he looked up earlier/had a bit more composure/stopped running the ball off the pitch/concentrated/stopped kicking the ball into defenders only for it to ricochet off him and out of touch”.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “a lot” – fucking hell


  9. Don’t think the role of agents in modern football is some kind of conspiracy.

    It’s all fairly obvious! People write books, make movies, the Damned Utd (“the money men…”), lampoon them, study them, etc.


  10. Chambo only made some kind of full recovery from his big knee knack last season.
    We can’t ignore that in order to make the loss of a top young English player, which is what he is, any easier to handle. Well, you can, but I won’t!


  11. I’m with Alabama. Shotta’s constant “I told you so’s’ about the loss of Santi are not helpful. Your point has been made ad nauseum. We are where we are and the manager is trying to find a way to play that makes the best use of the personnel available to him. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Xhaka/Ramsey works when the rest of the team play their part, but when you have disgruntled 5th columnists strolling about the pitch because they don’t want to be there, plus the toxic atmosphere that surrounds the club most of the time, it’s difficult to get the best out of them. I just hope the players are not of the same mindset that they might as well not bother without Santi or a direct replacement to come in on his white horse to save the day. Santi is not going to be able to do much for us this season and unfortunately the club could not get one of their key targets over the line, so we have to stop crying over spilt milk and just get on with it.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. bk
    This is for me similar to the Adebayor loss. Not a top top top level footballer, but not an easy player to replace. Unless some of these younger kids are ready to play as many minutes as AOC last year? I doubt it.

    It does open the door for more minutes for Iwobi. And given that Iwobi very much looks the part for any AM type role then he will definitely benefit. A strong pre-season, positively Diabyesque at times, he’s exciting!

    I hope they extend that contract for Iwobi to a very very long one soon

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Be intersting to see how Chambo gets on in his best (at AFC) role tonight, though he’s also been good for club and country as the left forward too.

    Can’t believe they’re not starting dat guy da drunk Bambi on ice, but when goals are needed he’ll be thrown on.


  14. Finsbury,

    I think we invested too much time in him as it was. OK, injuries are sad, but once again for a long time we had a player in an attacking position knowing how unlikely it would be that he would be decisive in a given game.

    I like that AW has schedules for young players and doesn’t/didn’t make snap decisions on single performances. But this apprenticeship went on way too long. The flaws that were there at 18 are still there now, only they were masked by finding a position that forgave his limitations

    He’ll probably make a difference for Eng because he’s riding wave. We’ll see what he’s about when he gets back into the grind of PL matches and dealing with minor injuries.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Telegraph | #AFC plan contract talks with Ramsey, Cech, Welbeck, Nacho and Theo before Xmas.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. FP,

    See this is where it might come down to personal preference. Iwobi was such a breath of fresh air when he broke through because he was a throwback to the midfielders we had before AOC, and made good decisions deep in the opponent’s half. I don’t know if anything happened behind the scenes but I’d have stuck with him through iffy form just because of where I think he could get to,

    Players like AOC were afforded a lot more patience. Well that’s how it feels.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Its not been the same without Santi.
    What? WHAT?

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Finsbury, come on
    The Ox isa much easier player to replace than Adebayor
    Most Marketing pennies is aimed at people with more disposable income

    Liked by 1 person

  19. the over 30’s

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Stephen Lawless‏ @gergergerger49 3m3 minutes ago

    ⚽️ BOOOM!!! MesutOzil1088 unleashes a beauty into the top corner. What a hit! (10′) #DieMannschaft #GERNOR 1-0

    Liked by 3 people

  21. It’s not been the same without Bergkamp, George. What’s your point?

    Liked by 2 people

  22. a goal and an assist so far for Ozil against Norway, about twenty minutes gone

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Alabama we never replaced Richie Powling

    Liked by 2 people

  24. the Ozil goal should have been disallowed as team mate who was offside and in line of sight of the keeper had to duck it


  25. That is my point Kelly, Santi is THAT important.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Chambo’s mixed bag still one of the better performances on the pitch for England

    Walker what?
    Alli eh?
    Missed the Liverpool match, Henderson how?

    They’ll all probably score second half.


  27. Germany have found their new Klose, Timo Werner with 6 goals in 8 games so far

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Just scrolling through the comments, people let down by the club, taking things to a bit of a strange level these people, they can always walk away if they dislike it so much, might be good if they did
    As for people hating Stan, correct Eduardo, he hasn’t really done anything wrong,especially in the context of what I would imagine the deal he was given. The Stan Haters are probably upset at who he keeps at the club, and equally , who he keeps away. but, I am related to Stan haters, won’t even repeat on here what they say about him, but they are from the St Louis area, guess it’s easy come, easy go with the Rams.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. Santi is important on a Universal scale

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Arsenal Football Club AGM will be held on Thursday 26th October 2017 at 11-30am


  31. And he’s not going to magically reappear. So why keep going on about it, and by extension implying that the players we have aren’t good enough, even if that’s not directly the intent? I’ve said it before, I sure hope our players don’t think all is lost without Santi. And they REALLY rate him, they’ve said so many times. Most of them readily name him as the best they’ve ever played with. But they haven’t had him for quite a while now.

    Liked by 2 people

  32. On the subject of Stan, one interpretation of this article suggests former board member really doesn’t like our owner,and may have regrets selling to him, and is suing ,though the article is not unequivocal on this matter



  33. Simple football
    Let Škrtel have the ball
    Mark Hamšík


  34. I think you are missing the point Kelly, or perhaps I’m not making it clear enough. We are missing Santi because we need a player with his skill set. A player we don’t have, so yes, in that respect I am indeed saying the players we have are not good enough. Not to replace him anyway. That’s not to say the others are not good players, but none of them,with the possible exception of Ozil, are as good at playing football ,as Santi. He runs the team.


  35. So what is the point of saying that George? Other teams manage to win things without a player as good as Santi in their team, so why can’t AFC? It starts with appreciating what we do have and getting behind them rather than focussing on what we haven’t got. Without Santi, it just means finding another way of playing and winning.

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Update
    Hamšík off
    Simple football
    Let Škrtel have the ball


  37. Right, Passenal. “He runs the team”. Well, someone ran it without him when we won the FA Cup this year, yes? I mean, if it can’t be done without him, why in the hell do the other players even bother?

    Liked by 2 people

  38. When we finished 2nd in the League in 15-16 which was our best position for 7-8 seasons Santi did not kick a ball after October

    How does that work then ?

    Liked by 3 people

  39. bk @7.25
    I think it’s just that younger players are given breaks more often now. As happened with Sterling in his best season when younger and at Liverpool? Just an impression.


  40. Ani5
    If Santi had been fit they’d have finished first!
    *gets coat*

    Liked by 3 people

  41. Up until October we looked like winning it.
    I love being lectured though. Perhaps I’m imagining we play better with Santi in the team. Perhaps I don’t support the team without Santi Perhaps I need to not express my opinion on this blog.?
    Maybe it a coincidence the staggering win rate we have had with him in CM.
    Maybe I don’t understand the fucking game. Who knows?

    Liked by 4 people

  42. 29 November was when we lost Santi, after which time our form suffered (the with vs without stats are undeniable).

    Cazorla is my favourite AFC player of the last five years, but isn’t a great deal more than a very good central midfielder. Arsenal used to have a surplus of midfielders that could move the ball like him. We no longer have more than one or two, and none to his standard.


  43. Which might lead into all that Stat DNA stuff if I knew more about it. AW seduced me with a style that we don’t see very often any more. Which isn’t to be a bummer.

    We picked it up at the end of last season, but how or why is anyone’s guess. Mix of pressure being, off tired opposition and turning over a page with the formation change?

    I’d love it to be a sign of things to come.


  44. No one is lecturing, George, and I think everyone agrees with you about Santi when he was playing. Do you think the team can do it without him?


  45. Actually the fact we went for Lemar who resembles some of our former mfs kind of suggests what AW thinks this team lacks. Sorry, just thinking aloud.


  46. Have a read of the stats – we had taken two points out of nine in November

    Not title winning form, as I expect statistics will highlight

    Liked by 1 person

  47. I think the team can do it without him(or someone similar) but not often enough to contend. And that is what it is, I’m not asking for a huge signing, I just see us as a far better team with him. Lemar might have been the answer, but that was not to be,


  48. TBF that Ozil he’s not too bad…and there’s still Sanchez* the maniac!

    Fire & Ice!
    *opens trapdoor*

    *niggled shouldn’t be playing for Chile, hopefully he’s not put in the starting XI on the weekend…hoping the jet lag swings it (still a favourite!).


  49. Andrew, you made me go to Metro, damn you:
    “Since the start of the 2014/15 season, the Gunners have won 65.5% of the Premier League matches in which he has started (36 out of 55).
    When he’s not, that win percentage drops to 38.9% (14 out of 36).”

    Guessing this info is as of December 2016. We finished 5th. Though I will say our points tally was sort of meritable in the end.

    On a subjective level our football is much less inspired when he’s out of the team.


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