By Richard Popple
With the likely sale of Gilberto Silva this week following hot on the heels of Mathieu Flamini’s exit, it would seem that Arsene Wenger is running short of defensive midfield options. Surely Wenger didn’t recruit Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey to sit beside Cesc Fabregas in the centre of midfield? Neither are renowned for their defensive qualities, with both preferring to attack with pace. So who will be playing along side the little Spaniard?
Here’s a look at the possible candidates from the current squad for this key position:
A player hyped as the ‘new’ Viera when he arrived. He’s a tall, powerful player but has so far looked more comfortable and competent attacking than defending. Due to having more options in past seasons he has never really been given the opportunity in the centre. He has instead been deployed more on the left where he has on occasion cut in with strength and pace to score some impressive goals. Although he shares a similar physique to Viera, he has a far less intimidating presence. If he could turn this weakness around and work on his tackling and distribution he could be perfect for the role but at the moment lacks the discipline of a Flamini.
Wenger is a huge fan of Song, who has struggled to win over the Arsenal faithful. However a loan spell at Charlton in the 2006/2007 season saw him gain confidence and more importantly, gave him regular playing opportunities. Last season he looked a different player. He reminds me of a young Kolo Toure, sharing the same desire and will to put his body on the line. Against Blackburn last season in the Carling Cup he was immense, throwing himself into tackles, hurling himself forward to join attacks and he defended every ball almost as if his life depended on it. He needs to improve his ball control and distribution to make the midfield slot his own. At the moment he is probably viewed as a back up defensive option, but Wenger is well know for developing players into other positions. I think he could provide Arsenal with an option there, but not this season.
Of all the young players who took Arsenal to the Carling Cup final in 2007, Denilson was the most impressive. I couldn’t quite believe how calm and balanced he was on the ball and his passing is both accurate and penetrating. However, he flattered to deceive a little last term and struggled with injuries. This is a big year for the Brazilian. He has been with the club for two years and will be desperate to play more and develop his game. Unfortunately his physique is not the best. He looks a little light weight and his tackling can be erratic and has cost him in the past. A very talented player though and if he could improve his tackling, he could well take up his hero Gilberto’s mantle.
I believe he will be deployed as a wideman or just behind the striker/s. From the little I have seen of him, I would be very surprised if he was brought to sit and protect the back four. A very exciting player who really suits Arsenal’s style of play and will hopefully be more of a goal threat than Alex Hleb.
A New Signing?
If you believe the newspapers then Arsenal are waiting for Hleb’s transfer to be completed before adding further to the squad. Judging by the experience that the above possibilities lack, it may not be surprising if the money was used on an out and out replacement for Gilberto and Flamini.
Of all the rumours that have been circling, my personal preference would be Xabi Alonso. I don’t think the cost would be too much for Arsenal and he would certainly be cheaper than Gareth Barry, who at a reported 18 million is out of Wenger’s price range. Alonso would be a superb foil for Fabregas and would enjoy linking up with his Spanish colleague. He has premiership experience and would be a calming influence in the middle of the park. More importantly, he seems to have become surplus to requirements at Anfield, with Liverpool looking to raise funds to compete for their own transfer targets. The question however remains; if Liverpool would sell a player like Xabi Alonso to one of their top four rivals?
Time will soon tell. Stay tuned.