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.

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543 comments on “Arsenal’s Giant Hole In Midfield

  1. Birdkamp. IMO Santi is a better CM than Fabregas was, and he was the best in the league when with us. So I’d say he is more than just a good CM.

    Liked by 5 people

  2. afcstuff‏ @afcstuff 27m27 minutes ago

    Mesut Özil for Germany:

    86 games
    22 goals
    37 assists
    Goal/assist every 1.45 games
    5-time national team POTY

    but he looked lazy and disinterested doing it and that is all that matters

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Fins at 5:21pm: Veratti couldn’t lay a finger on the Spanish front 6. He might have been subbed. Can’t remember. The Italians went from 3 at the back to 4-4-2 in the 2nd half and made a few chances but Spain finished stronger when they brought on Morata.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Very last thing before I skulk off. I don’t think we’re getting close this year. But I’ll take pleasure from wherever I can get it: New players coming through, fleeting or extended (who knows?) glimpses of good football.

    Mertesacker joining the backroom. We seem to be a good cup team these days so Europa League could be fun, and I’m sure our young players will get a lot from it. That could be Iwobi’s way back into the team.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s fair enough, George. And while we’re all putting it out there, I’ll tell you what really hurts me: that we’ve been running the blog with a headline “Arsenal’s Giant Hole in Midfield” for a week now. I cringe every time, I open the page, I think it makes us look reactionary on its face. Of course, if people read they’d know we aren’t, but so many people don’t read. I have this fantasy that we might stand out to the club because we go against the whiny mob. But right now, I’m afraid it would be “sorry, Rambo, Granit, Mo, Coq, Jack, even those radically positive folks over at PA have given up on you.”

    I have rightly opened myself up to accusations that if I think I can do better, then stop bitching and write something. That’s completely fair. I do so appreciate the time you put into your blogs, Shotta, they must take hours to do. I know from the few times I’ve tried, it takes me forever. No one wants to read my Pollyanna rah rah shit anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. There comes a point when the talking has to end and the supporting has to begin

    Liked by 5 people

  7. George, i don’t know if he’s better than, say 2006-07 or 2009-10 Fabregas *spits*. I did say very good, but we’re talking about isolated patches. Many players can shine in that sort of window, but we’ve never seen him across a full season in deep midfield. I love him of course, but he can’t be considered great if he’s playing like a 1/3 of available matches over the last two years.


  8. Declan 🥗‏ @ZinedineZelaIem 2h2 hours ago

    Mesut Özil vs Norway

    99% pass accuracy
    14 chances created
    6 successful take ons
    1 goal
    1 assist

    Wizard of Öz

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Well Birdkamp. I can only base it on all the games he’s played there, And in most of them he was excellent. What if with a prolonged stint, he had gotten better? I can see no reason why he would have gotten worse.


  10. George, it becomes another “what if” and an extrapolation.

    And we’re already drowning in those at Arsenal. Personally there’s something melancholic about it. What if…Eduardo, Ramsey, Diaby hadn’t got injured? What if Hleb hadn’t left? etc That stuff goes nowhere for me.

    And “very good” vs “great” is really just semantics because I agree we’d probably done it in 15-16 with him in the team. But he wasn’t and we didn’t.

    The very thing that inspires that affection in me for AW is what makes me anxious. What does Wenger represent now? What is his identity?

    Giving youngsters a chance? Playing technical, swashbuckling football? *scratches head*

    And you know I’m never going to campaign to get rid. I’d have him stay on as long as he wants. Anyway, I’ll leave that there and shut up now. There will be a lot of good stuff.


  11. Well I for one am very happy the club is willing to spend big to acquire Lemar. I wrote a piece earlier in the summer arguing that Arsenal would never spend £100 million on one player (Kylian Mbappe). How wrong was I? Now we know from Wenger himself the club is willing to spend that kind of money to fill the giant hole left by Santi. I agree with Birdy. It is all going to be “ifs” and “maybes” about our magical little Spaniard but lets be clear unlike Fabregas he brought trophies back to this club. Arguable that postage stamp style free-kick vs Hull in the 2014 FA cup final at the end of the 1st half brought us back from the brink into that game. The very fact the boss told him before the game to go for that corner and he had the balls and the technique to pull it off tells you how much of a special player he is. But at 34 years of age and recovering from a season-long injury and several operations I sincerely doubt we will ever see him at his best again. With the boss saying he will persist in the pursuit for Lemar, hopefully we can one day say:
    The king is dead. Long live the king.

    PS: I fear this hole in midfield, if not filled, could well consume Arsene Wenger. Just imagine if we have a campaign as bad, and, god forbids worse than last year. All our so-called legends are already circling trying to figure how the wind will blow. It won’t be pretty.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Yes, SG, that’s true. He won us that cup really.

    And on the post. I’ve always thought that as long as it’s done constructively and with humility there’s no harm in gabbing about football’s finer points. I’m interested in football because of AW so I want to talk about it. .

    Liked by 3 people

  13. shotta talking about legends Tony “giz a job, I can do dat” Adams has given another interview, this time I think its to the Islington Gazette, where he give his views on “the state of Arsenal”, I’m sure he will tell the world what Wenger is doing wrong, and how these foreign guys are letting the club down, etc etc not forgetting how he would crawl over broken glass and work for nothing if Arsenal offered him a job – AGAIN

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Fabregas also known as the F Word only got on the pitch for Spain in the 2010 WC because Cazorla was injured. Great as he was himself before his “bruised bone”, Cazorla was that Spain team’s next midfielder after Xavi & Iniesta. If either were out or had to come off it was Santi the Marquis would most often turn to. To the best of my knowledge!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Shotta, you articulate my fear as well. I can almost see what Wenger is trying to do, mentions of Spain fluent play with only one holding MF come to mind, (though more difficult in the shit kicking Riley reffed premier league than for Spain) but he doesn’t have all the parts to do it as yet. If the players lose or have lost faith , he is in trouble no matter what backing he has from the top.
    Sorry for bringing a downer, but I care for this club, team and manager, and there are things that worry me, MF is one of them, defence without Kos or Per is another. Not saying that Wenger cannot turn it around, I believe he can, but he has something of a challenge in the next year or two .
    But results are everything, or most things when it comes to Arsenal, a few decent wins and things might just start moving along

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I accept the “what ifs” are pointless. But we have strayed from the point, or at least my point.That is that unless we have a player with Santi’s qualities, we won’t play Wengerball with much regularity.Of course Arsene might find another way, with the other good players we have, but we need a Santi/Arteta to run the game. A technical leader,

    Liked by 2 people

  17. > creative midfielder

    Conversely how the Marquis did not choose Arteta for his squad in 2014 when Busquet’s was struggling on the bounce back from injury I’ll never understand.

    Most players who aren’t magical throughout their careers (like Cazrola) would be happy to the heights for a season or two, like Arteta. He never got a cap for Spain.

    Fabregas as 4th choice CM/AM was the best in the PL. Which is why the better English players yep that includes Chambo, why they have value to a club like AFC. Why the manager wanted to keep him (started the FA cup final etc.).


  18. George:
    We may be coming from different perspectives but this discussion about Santi is essentially one about how we get to once again play Wengerball or how we adapt if we don’t have the technicians to reach that level. Some are a little more fearful/pessimistic vs those more cheery/optimistic. I think at some point we all move from one side to the other. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be thinking human beings.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. The fact we can argue over two such sweet footballing midfielders both at our club at such a short space of time is testament to Arsene his scouts and all those associated with bringing them to the club.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. Missed plenty of comments (up to 500+ now!) but there are loads of good points in the last 20 or so.

    Must admit, I like it when there can be differing opinions, without rancour; though naturally we all have different ideas about what it means to be a positive supporter, and all else.

    I like to think the one thing that is guaranteed here, and what makes it so welcome a spot, is that we all agree any abuse of or hatred towards Wenger is, to put it lightly, ridiculous and unwarranted; and, almost as big for me, we all readily and regularly admit how much there is we don’t know about crucial behind-the-scenes events at the club and within football.

    On virtually every point we make, there are unknowns with the potential to change or void any of our opinions or conclusions. To the extent where the only way to guarantee not erring is to keep it zipped.

    Personally, I’m glad we don’t as there has to be a response- if not, unfortunately, an antidote- to the endless negative arseholery; plus it’s good, or at least alright, to talk.

    Liked by 9 people

  21. We are respectful Rich, to those we come in contact on here, and those who are engaged within the club in trying, as I see it and I am sure most others do, to do their best.

    Talking of doing their best – Northern Ireland – what a set of results!

    Liked by 5 people

  22. PG, Shootta, come on, next blog… Alabama has given the hint, w need a new blog


  23. It is receiving a final polish I believed Team – launch is tomorrow

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Ivan Gazidis appointed to Uefa’s executive committee

    Liked by 1 person

  25. I’m writing a blog on how shit we are without Santi and how piss poor the alternatives are.
    It’ll go down a treat? No?

    Liked by 6 people

  26. Rich
    I understand that those are the reasons for this blog having been established. Hunter was only lost to us when he forgot we have women on this blog!

    Anyone reading would see that there are lots of things we haven’t been agreeing upon. Some people love Sanchez, some don’t, some enjoy his football warts and all. Same as it always was/is. Only weirdos who need to invent acronyms in order to attack people who support their football club could insist otherwise.

    Whilst others were biting their arses off to spite their revealed ugly faces, celebrating the end of their own era, complaining about a self-imposed Groundhog Day, those of us here & elswhere (a large percentage)were enjoying a period when:

    Great players like Germany’s best CB of the modern era came to play alongside the aforementioned Great Cazorla, the hero of Villarreal who turned down a Madrid, who by the record (not an opinion) was rated just behind the two of Xavi & Iniesta.

    that’s what we have been doing: enjoying the football as AFC became the leading Cup team in English football and AW the leading Cup manager.

    Those great players deserved a league title with AFC and in spite of popular misrepresentations they actually came closer then everyone’s favourite “contender”, Riley’s diving cloggers from up the road (if £50M clogger Walker who got lucky had been sent off as deserved England would’ve lost last night!).

    These players were just too old to stick around and survive/recover from the targeted hacks (in the case of Arteta, Ba’s stomp was no accident – let’s be real please!), to be a part of the next cycle in the squad. That these players were not signed for £50M each is one reason the agents’ buisiness partners are so upset with AFC. This explains the bleating noise that you can all hear in the background. There at tens and tens of millions of reasons for such whining.
    We can easily understand and appreciate people whose primary employers are sporting agents and betting companies don’t approve of AFCs policies which predate AWs arrival st the club…if any arse Expert ever cares to write about the handover story which they all choose to ignore, we can only guess why, then that would be mildly interesting (I prefer the Footy tbh).

    Ozil and Sanchez are also Great footballers. Very different to each other, but we’ve seen them complementing each other in exciting spells.

    Some say you need three musketeers (creatives not including strikers or mavericks like Sanchez). Always seemed like a nice round number to me. Ramsey when fit is one, one more spot is up for grabs.

    The era of transfers being too expensive for almost all clubs has begun. Contrary to popular misrepresentation and the shambles meme invented by PR “Experts” AFC were ahead of the curve here with their strategies in signing up players like the BFG when in the final year of his contract. AFC even threw in a friendly to add a couple of mill to his old club’s coffers to ease their pain. But of course this inverted record does not match the requirements of their propaganda. So they ignore it.

    What kind of Experts has to ignore how AFC have been doing buisiness for the past several seasons in order to roll out the click bait? You all know the answer as well as I.

    Liked by 6 people

  27. PG!
    Don’t you dare write a blog on Santi… great player that he is. LOL.
    Camman. PG… be a pal…

    sure u re pulling our collective legs.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Fear not my friends. As one or two are aware I was on injured reserve last week but I am back in training and about to play a real game tomorrow. Hoping and praying I have a full and complete recovery and not do a Santi.

    Lol. Sorry I couldn’t let the opportunity pass without dragging his name into this post.

    Liked by 3 people

  29. Arteta won’t meet many people’s criteria of greatness but for a few seasons there he wasn’t too shabby! Definitely had a better season in 2014 then everyone’s least favourite diver until Alli staring floppping all over Riley’s place: Busquets, who’s not bad!

    Bama & everyone else:
    The big hole in midfield was created by the loss of not one but two key players, and importantly key characters too (no leaders eh? That’s how you win 3 fa cups in 4 seasons. Makes perfect sense, if you are a sado-masochist). Santi has been a Star of European football for most of his career, that’s why he hogs the limelight over Arteta.

    Shame there was no crossover between Xhaka and Arteta. If a less and less mobile Arteta could find his groove…


  30. Rep of Ireland 0-1 Serbia

    that fuck for that, martin o’neill has ireland playing like tony pulis’s Stoke, long balls, longer throws, get in your face, rough them up etc. Pathetic.

    Wales now up to 2nd in the group, Robson-Kanu and Ramsey with their goals tonight


  31. Arsenal Fixture News‏ @AFCFixtureNews 1h1 hour ago

    Arsenal have received an invitation to play the 2018/19 Pre-Season in America taking part in the International Champions Cup.


  32. SHOTTA!!!!

    Wags my finger sagely… hmmn.

    Happy for Ramsey… hope our players come back generally happier… think most were on the winning sides all round and quite a few scored

    Liked by 2 people

  33. best headline I’ve seen in a while

    Shameless Ian Wright joins the Get Ozil bandwagon

    Liked by 2 people

  34. Arsenal Europa League squad:

    2. Mathieu Debuchy, 4. Per Mertesacker, 6. Laurent Koscielny, 7. Alexis Sánchez, 8. Aaron Ramsey, 9. Alexandre Lacazette, 10. Jack Wilshere, 11. Mesut Özil, 12. Olivier Giroud, 13. David Ospina, 14. Theo Walcott, 16. Rob Holding, 17. Alex Iwobi*, 18. Nacho Monreal, 20. Shkodran Mustafi, 21. Calum Chambers, 22. Jeff Reine-Adélaïde*, 23. Danny Welbeck, 24. Héctor Bellerín, 29. Granit Xhaka, 30. Ainsley Maitland-Niles*, 31. Sead Kolašinac, 32. Chuba Akpom, 33. Petr Čech, 34. Francis Coquelin, 35. Mohamed Elneny, 37. Krystian Bielik*, 39. Tolaji Bola*, 43. Josh Dasilva*, 45. Aaron Eyoma*, 47. Charlie Gilmour*, 49. Ryan Huddart*, 50. Deyan Iliev, 51. Chiori Johnson*, 53. Hugo Keto*, 54. Matt Macey, 58. Marcus McGuane*, 59. Tafari Moore*, 61. Reiss Nelson*, 62. Eddie Nketiah*, 65. Ben Sheaf*, 69. Joe Willock*.

    *= B-List


  35. Bolivia 1 – 0 Chile – Alexis played

    Colombia 1 – 1 Brazil – Ospina played

    Liked by 1 person

  36. where is our no 5


  37. oh. no 5 was Gabriel. saw d list, no no 5 on it


  38. I made a joke about being disabled, trolling myself about being Santi-like and you guys are taking it too seriously. Tomorrow you are in for a data-rich treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Heavens! I guess we all take ourselves too seriously including yours truly.


  40. For the record I was disabled but I have recovered a teeny-weeny bit faster than Santi or Jack Wilshere. Lol. So you will have me to kick around tomorrow. (No smileys allowed).

    Liked by 1 person

  41. New Post up


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