Arsenal sit in a far better position than when Mikel Arteta took over. It’s the mark of the transformation that has occurred since the Spaniard took the reins. Brick by brick, day by day, changes made behind the scenes with training staff and on the pitch with player recruitment has seen us slowly clamber back to contention for Europe.
There’s still plenty of room for improvement though.
And one area of the pitch that is currently underwhelming, is central midfield. The last article on this site focused on Thomas Partey and this blog again pours scrutiny on our midfield – and a possible solution waiting in the wings…
Thomas Partey was meant to be a watershed moment for us in the centre of the park. But even in his own words – Partey has delivered mere 4-10 performances. The titan who bossed games for Atletico and broke up attacks life wafer? He has been seen in fits and bursts and at times has been a liability for us.
The best examples of this are in the consecutive defeats to Manchester United and Everton.
In both games we were leading. In both games, we didn’t just let the opposition force their way into contention – we opened the door and laid down a welcome mat. We sat back and failed to control the pitch and possession – gifting the initiative to United and Everton. Both duly obliged.
Partey has since showed up, putting in a MOTM performance in our unlucky 2-1 loss to City. So we do know he can run the show.
And it is up to the likes of Partey and Xhaka to dictate the rhythm, to ensure possession is kept, to offer guarantees should we come under threat. We are all painfully aware of Xhaka being at times errant with his positioning – but the fact remains…
…we are far better when he is in the side.
But it does mean with the failings of both Partey and Xhaka, that our midfield is acting like a car that is running on ribena. We struggle to see out games and it means there’s a glimmer of opportunity for every side no matter the scoreline. Just look at our recent 4-1 win over an injury-ravaged Leeds Utd. Even at 3-0 up, when they scored a penalty to make it 3-1 in around the 70th minute, there was a resounding feeling that Leeds could nick something.
And the misfiring of our midfield pair means that both Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ainsley Maitland-Niles have their fate in their own hands.
Lokonga has generally impressed since joining this summer. The young Belgian has received his first senior cap and whenever on the pitch, his high-intensity displays have been warmly received. His close control under pressure is a particular asset we could do with more of and if he can tighten his defensive awareness, we have a mighty player on our hands.
And we have all seen what AMN can do. Every time he starts in this role of late, he shows composure beyond his years and tidies up with an effectiveness that we currently don’t have. His recent loan move to Serie A will finally tell us though, if he can do it week in, week out. Jose Mourinho will want someone to leave everything out on the pitch – and this is the opportunity to show Arteta that when he returns, he is ready to take the responsibility.
And the key for both? They would be a perfect fit as a pair.
Central midfield is a warzone, but successful pairings can really make the difference. With Lokonga carrying the ball out of midfield and with also the ability to win it from deep – and allied with the defensive merits of AMN that saw him capped as a right-back and his calmness on the ball – we have a dynamic duo that could set us up for a solid foundation for years.
It is obvious that Partey has several more levels to climb and we haven’t seen the best of him, not by a long shot.
But how refreshing is it for us Gooners to know that we have two midfielders waiting on the sidelines to shore up our present and future teams?
What do you think about our future midfield?