When managers have truly outstanding records and are hailed by their peers and the football world in general, it’s always a bit weird that what seems obvious to the rest us, becomes something of a blind spot to these footballing hall of famers.
Post-Schmeichal, Fergie went through any number of dodgy ‘keepers before settling on the, at least competent, Edwin van der Saar. Does anybody remember Massimo Taibi trying to blame mud in his studs as he let a tame shot from Matt le Tissier squirm through his arms and legs at Old Trafford? The Portuguese ‘keeper Ricardo fared little better, and whilst Fabian Bartez flattered to deceive for a while, he was never the answer. It’s a litany of failures that probably makes United fans squirm still. Even today, the current incumbent David de Gea is not totally convincing. A bit like Fergie did, Arsene Wenger seems to have a similar problem at the moment.
In the years of Arsenal’s pomp, whilst the glory boys were the ebullient Henry, Bergkamp, Overmars and Pires et al, behind them, watching the back door, they had the comfort of the solid frames of Patrick Vieira and Manu Petit. Even after these two had moved on, the Brazilian Gilberto came in to do the job in a splendidly unspectacular but dauntingly effective way. Now however, that back door resembles more of an open gateway, and even the in many ways unsatisfactory, Alex Song has moved on; although be it almost exclusively to keep the Barcelona bench warm. Wenger currently seems to have an inability to recognise this flaw in his team’s line up, and plug the gap.
Within his current squad, there doesn’t seem to be the ‘dogged destroyer’ required. For a Frenchman, an appreciation of a player to provide what has become termed as the ‘Makalele role’, should be a shoe in. Sadly this does not seem to be the case. The Arsenal midfield is full of quality players, Cazorla, Wilshere, Arteta, Ramsey amongst others. Perhaps only Abu Diaby and the currently out on loan Frimpong have the aptitude and equipment for the job. It’s not a very edifying prospect.
Talk is of Vieira returning to Arsenal in some form of coaching role. Even the prospect of this should send a message to Wenger. To allow his undoubtedly talented midfield to prosper, they need the solidity offered by that gatekeeper player patrolling in front of his defence. The great teams have this. Even the geometrically elegant Barcelona, supposedly the team that Arsenal think of as their blueprint have Busquets to do the ugly jobs.
At season end, if he hasn’t got it sorted by then, someone in the Arsenal coaching staff needs to have a word with the the manager. It’s a bit ironic, but securing the services of a less constructive, more combative midfielder could be the very catalyst to allow the Arsenal team to unleash it’s true creative ability. Instead of having to worry about needing to chase back to plug holes, a sense of security is just what the team needs. Even if Arsenal do nothing else this summer, buying a top quality defensive midfield player will massively enhance the team’s facility. If Wenger can see this and lose his blind spot, next season could be the one when the trophy drought in banished.