Last season Arsenal narrowly missed out on Champions League football after finishing 5th with 69 points. They were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur (otherwise known as Harry Min Son FC) who piped the final Champions League spot finishing ahead of us with two more points.
The demise of Arsenals final few games were all too familiar with the 2018/19 campaign which was also concluded with the same outcome. With Arsenal finishing 5th and Tottenham finishing in 4th with, yes that’s right, 71 points.
However unlike Unai Emery’s Arsenal who missed out on Champions League football by a measley 1 point. Arteta’s men suffered an embarrassing end to the season with defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle which settled the seasons long lasting 4th spot debate.
With a variant of explanations for how Arsenal managed to “bottle it”, many argue that it was the absence of the highly influential Thomas Partey which proved too much for the gunners to continue producing positive performances and in turn positive results.
Since losing him to injury against Crystal Palace on April 4th, Arsenal went on to lose 5 out of their final 10 games including the Palace fixture. Upon further analyses on the 5 defeats, there were clearly massive holes in the middle of the pitch which was identified and exploited by Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle, with the Spurs fixture being decided by questionable officiating.
Since signing for the club, Partey has suffered a number of injuries which has hindered the teams performances on the pitch. Particularly his midfield partner Granit Xhaka, who despite striking up a positive partnership, couldn’t replicate the level of performances that put him in the good books of most Arsenals fans. With the absence of Partey and his reassuring presence, Xhaka instead received 10 yellow cards, 4 of which were given in the last 10 games of the season.
Filling in the gaps with the premature Sambi Lokonga didn’t help the situation either as Xhaka found himself trying to execute both his and Partey’s role at the same time. With Sambi often finding himself either overwhelmed by the occasion or simply not experienced enough to make the right in-game decisions, this inadequacy in midfield cost Arsenal 3 crucial games against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton which should have secured Champions League football.
However, this lack of experience in midfield was soon to be fixed with the re-introduction of the invisible man, also known as Mohamed Elneny. He surprisingly turned up with some influential performances, giving Arsenal 3 memorable victories against Chelsea, Man Utd and West Ham. However, this good run of form was bound to end as it did against Tottenham in the North London Derby where exhaustion had caught up with the Egyptian.
Overall, the injuries coupled with a lack of adequate cover in central midfield has created a demand for another starting central midfielder to play alongside either Partey or Xhaka. If we’ve learnt one thing from the “failures” of last season it’s finding out what makes the perfect central midfielder. It only cost us Champions League football after all.
With a host of highly influential players being linked to Arsenal, it will be pivotal for Arteta and Edu to recruit the right individual. This individual will need to be versatile enough to play alongside both Partey and Xhaka. The new central midfielder clearly needs to be of the right age as consistency will be key if we are to replicate positive performances throughout the course of the season. The player needs to be able to read the game well, knowing when to press and when to sure up the defence. The range of passing as well rate of accuracy needs to be a strong characteristic. But most importantly, this individual needs to have a strong presence in midfield, making the opposition aware of who they are up against. And this will inevitably lead to the execution of other important aspects to a central midfielders game such as linking up well with creative midfielders and attackers, making powerful advancing runs into the final third, exploiting empty spaces across the centre of the pitch and more.
Should Arsenal get THIS appointment right, we should have no problem finishing in the top 4, right?