Arsenal in The Middle of a Defensive Dilemma

Let’s look at the best DM’s around and figure out who we’d take if we had our choice. Then let’s see who we have and what they’re capable of. Then come to a conclusion on how we should best set up.

For me, past best was Busquets. Best now is Kante in my opinion.

A good DM needs the following attributes in this order

1) Positional discipline
2) Ability to win the ball including anticipation and agility
3) Reading the game and opponents in possession
4) Pressure in our defensive third to stop easy balls though and behind the last line
5) Ball distribution
6) Offensive threat and creativity including goals

I think Busquets had 1-4 in spades and 5 was just a Barca thing. Kante has 1-4. Strangely enough Sarri didn’t think that was enough and brought in Georginho who has #1 and 5 but lacks the rest from what I see.

If I could pick a DM for us it would be Kante. His extreme engine makes him better than the rest just because if he is out of position his recovery speed is incredible. Leicester and Chelsea will attest to that.

So what do we have?  No Kante. That’s certain.

Torreira is the closest in my opinion. Probably a little better distribution but definitely the best at winning possession and breaking up play.

Guendouzi has the engine but lacks a little positional discipline and probably not as good a ball winner.

You all probably know how I feel about Xhaka but if not, let me clarify. He has 5 and 6. No clue about 1-4. Probably our least effective DM as far as I can see.

Luiz would be proficient at 2 and 5 and Chambers at 1 and 4.

So for me,Torreira is way ahead and Guendouzi next best. For those of you that think Willock, I’d agree 100% on one contingency. Emery.

And that’s where I see the solution lies. UE needs to act like a manager in control of his team and instruct – no DEMAND that his DM plays the role. I think Joe Willock would happily do the job if he’s given the task and he checks all the boxes. So come on Unai, sort it out and make us solid. Pep, Klopp and Pochettino would. Will you?

Mike M


29 Responses to Arsenal in The Middle of a Defensive Dilemma

  1. James J Keswick says:

    Torreira struggles with 1 & 4.Plays too far forward and tries to nick ball instead of blocking tackle..PV4 and Petit is all 1-6.

  2. RockyLives says:

    Well Mike M that’s an excellent read.

    Are you a scientist by any chance, as I see you have employed ‘the scientific method’ (laid out clearly in your opening paragraph) to addressing this difficult conundrum which has produced such great discussion on here over the last few days?

    I think we have to discount Willock to some degree because no matter how talented he is, this is his debut season and it would be unfair to pin too many expectations on him.

    Of the others I think the closest we have might well be Chambers. You credit him with 1 and 4 on your list of necessary qualities but he has at least half of 2 (“ability to win the ball”) even if there might be question marks about the other half (“anticipation and agility”). I think his anticipation is fine but he may not be the fastest of players. He is also not a bad passer so could be considered a 5 as well.

    Gwen, at this stage of his career, is not mature enough to be an out-and-out DM although he may grow in to it.

    And then there’s Torreira. I thought at times last season he looked like the answer to our problems in the DM position. At other times he looked so lightweight that I was left thinking he could never be a top DM.

    There have been small chaps who have been very effective DM enforcers (Bremner, Batty, DesChamps, Wise) but they seemed tougher then our Torreira. There were many games (particularly in the second half of last season) where he was brushed off the ball far too easily. He may be the closest to Kante in terms of the way he plays, but he seems much frailer than Kante.

    I also think Luiz can check off 1, 3 and 6 on your list, which gives him 1,2,3, 5 and 6. Not a bad option?

    Your final point, that really it’s up to UE to ensure whichever DM he goes for follows his instructions, is unarguable.

  3. RockyLives says:

    PV4 and Petit… now I’ve gone all misty eyed….

  4. RC78 says:

    Good morning and great post! Kante is great indeed but I think that players like Gueye, Herrera, Ndidi and even D. Pereira or W. Carvaalho could have helped us at the DM position. I agree that our most dynamic and effective CM in getting the ball back is Torreira but I d like to keep him at CM and I d like him to mould his game maybe on players like Rakitic, Pjanic or even Verratti. If you are to replicate a midfield like Napoli or Barcelona, you still need one DM and one player that can play B2B. So for me the choice within our squad is either Chambers or Luiz at DM and either Willock, AMN or Guendouzi for the B2B.

    Willock, Chambers, Torreira – it s OK for me

  5. LBG says:

    Morning Mike
    See now that with my comment yesterday following your “worry” about Xhaka, how we are in total agreement.
    James K – I believe the “too far forward” last season came about firstly because all too often, Xhaka got in the way and confused Terrier as to the role he should be taking. Dick is not blameless in this, as he noticeably pushed Terrier further forward and on the right after Christmas. I believe the role Xhaka played complicated Terrier’s role and, as Mike says, teach/demand a positional discipline from both Terrier and Ouzi. (and Daviiid can help with this).
    I personally believe Willock has significantly more forward/attacking ability than the pair above, and will eventually be competing with A M-N and Smith-Rowe for the head of the diamond, No10, Mesut/Aaron role.
    Good post, Mike. 100% in agreement. (110 seems too much).

  6. RockyLives says:

    “Dick is not blameless in this, as he noticeably pushed Terrier further forward and on the right after Christmas.”

    Interesting. It was very much in the second half of the season that Torreira’s form seemed to fall away somewhat.

    This could explain it.

  7. GoonerB says:

    Thanks Mike

    Can’t remember how far back it was but I did a post on here about the defensive midfielder and my opinion that there are 2 types and that both are required. The 2 are firstly a holding midfielder and then a BTB defensive midfielder.

    The holding midfielders most important requirements are 1-4 on your list and if they have a bit of 5 and 6 that is a bonus. This is what Gilberto was for us but also why a ball playing centre back can take up that role. This player is more of a positionally disciplined screen, or invisible wall.

    If we don’t consider Luiz or Chambers for a moment then who in our squad fits that criteria? No one.

    The BTB defensive midfielder plays slightly further forward than the holding midfielder but not as far forward as the attacking central midfielder and operates between the two.

    The holding midfielder literally frees them up to operate more freely across the heart of the midfield. This is what Jorghinho is doing for Kante.

    The BTB DM (or free roaming DM if you like) needs a bit of everything on your list Mike. While being good in the tackle and able to win the ball in a variety of positions it is important that they can drive us forward and spring us into attack. Good ball carrying skills are a must but also reasonable distribution is needed.

    This player needs to be an athlete and Vieira was the ultimate BTB DM. Kante is a current top version of this. In our squad both Torreira and Willock fit this description mostly. Douzi, Xhaka and Elneny are not quite as dynamic as those 2.

    My strongest line up involves one or both of them. A more attacking side would have one of them in front of the holding midfielder with one of Ozil, Ceballos or Micki. But maybe away from home at the toughest places you would maybe play them both to win the midfield battle but still give us forward momentum when we regain possession.

    Liverpool away coming up and I would line up as follows:

    AMN, Chambers, Socratis, Monreal
    Willock, Torreira
    Pepe, Lacazette Aubameyang

  8. GoonerB says:

    Totally agree LBG about Torreira. We need to have that 1 player that let’s the rest of them play and I think we will see some special performances from the likes of Torreira and Willock then.

    Luiz is the obvious answer now but at 32 has a limited time in the role, so we need to find a longer term solution in the next two transfer windows.

    RC is the man to tell us who are the best options but I reiterate it has to be a position ally disciplined holding midfielder and not another all action BTB defensive midfielder which would see us with the same problem with Torreira and Willock again.

  9. VCC says:

    GoonerB. 10:49

    Liverpool awat, thats the line up to go for. Spot on Sir.

  10. Sue says:

    Nice one, Mike! Torreira… and I really hope we see him tomorrow! I’ve missed him…
    Charlie Nicholas thinks we’ll win 4-1 & even Michael Owen thinks we’ll win 😯 woah!!!
    Sean Dyche (in that sexy voice of his 😂 joking!!) has said we appear to have adopted a more defensive style! Going to be a belter tomorrow, so excited!
    Have a great day, Gooners…. and TGIF!!!

  11. JM says:

    Our “invisible wall”, Gilberto Silva first started out as as CB, learning the traits like man-marking, shadowing the selected target man (screening) and defensive organisation before transitioning to DM.

    (Current) David Luiz and (near future) Calum Chambers are my picks for our team’s shield wall distributor role.

    Casemiro (Real Madrid), Axel Witsel (Borussia Dortmund) and this underrated gem in the EPL, Rúben Neves (Wolves), are some of the current group of DMs in Europe that I look at.

  12. Mike M says:

    Morning all. Thanks for the positive comments. Just a couple of things. I tried to list the attributes in order of importance because I do think some of our players, Xhaka in particular has some of those skills but not the ones we need for a DM. Also I think my main point is the manager needs to pick his player for the position and make sure they do it. It’s interesting how many people think CC or DL are the best choice. That poses the question, should we play 3-4-3? Especially since most of us want us to play 3 up front. Last, is it possible Dick thinks we dont’ need to play a Kante type DM. If so, it would be strange since the last 3 PL champions all had a specialty DM.

  13. Mike M says:

    Or HM as Gooner B points out !!

  14. GoonerB says:

    Mike, I think Kante maybe came onto the scene as a deeper DM initially but as it became apparent that he had more to his game he is now really an all action DM. As RC said a bit like Veratti.

    To let him be more influential across the heart of the midfield they play another DM to cover just behind. Everything I just said is what I feel about Torreira and Willock. They have more to their game but when paired with Xhaka they don’t get that DM cover behind them so their freedom to play across the heart of the midfield is stifled.

    The next specialist midfielder we recruit needs to be that positionally disciplined holding midfielder. With Willock, ESR and Burton coming through we have exciting prospects to look at for BTB CM and ACM.

    Xhaka and Elneny make 2 too many options for me with better options than both of them in any CM role.

    I will also state a bold but controversial opinion that I think it will become recognised that Douzi becomes an excellent player but is more suited to another league with his style of play, and will be surpassed by the likes of Willock, Burton, ESR, possibly AMN and any new recruits over the next 2 seasons.

  15. GoonerB says:

    Mike I think a 3 man central midfield behind a front 3 remains our best option, and most top teams play this. The 3-4-3 plays with 2 in the centre who I feel would need to be very specific types of players and compliment each other or we get overrun and lose the middle battle.

  16. Mike M says:

    Gooner B and JM. I agree the “New Kante” or Neves are definitely becoming more prevalent as the old #10 play maker dies out. It’s as if everyone in the team now is expected to create. However it’s interesting that the last 5 PL champions have lined up with a dedicated DM (if you count Obi Mikel).

  17. LB says:

    I think the first difficulty that needs to be addressed is that recent posts and certainly today (good read by the way, thanks) talk about the role of a DM in the singular Kante and Busquets although Makelele is a better example but in our case and with the current players that we have it should be plural.

    The second thing that needs to be stated although I accept that is has probably been implied is making sure we are all on the same page and talking about setting the team up against the bigger hitters, the teams that are likely to come onto us.

    We don’t just need one player who can sit in front of the defence and shield (Makalele) we need two. But these two players can’t just be DMs they have to be able to work in vertical parallel and at least one of them has to able to operate in the opponents box with the ability to score.

    When playing City, Liverpool, Barcelona etc we have tried Xhaka and Torreira sitting in front of the back four, Torreira can defend so when Xhaka moves forward Torreira covers, the problem, as we know, is that it doesn’t work the other way round and Torreira gets the blame for being too far forward which is wrong; Xhaka is usually making a pigs ear of covering at this time.

    Torreira has to go forward to augment the attack because the other flaw in Xhaka’s game is that he cannot operate in the opponents box, have you ever seen him in there? I can think of one goal that proves the rule, now think of the goal that Torreira scored against spuds at the Emirates and I think you see why Emery encourages him to move forward when opportunities arise.

    Solution: and this is what the last three day’s posts have been talking about; the intriguing possibility of Luiz and Torreira or Chambers and Torreira playing as shields in front of the back four, now after 22 years of AW my brain is saying that that will never happen but this is an organisation that has just sold Iwobi and upgraded to Pepe and that is decisive in anyone’s book. So who knows and that unknown is what is making this coming season so exciting for me.

    Just to add, Willock would be my choice at the moment to play just ahead of those two in a 433, again I am talking about games against the bigger hitters.

    Yay, I have got my lap top back but sorry Peaches I won’t be writing the match report tomorrow.

  18. RA says:

    Interesting Post, Mike M, thank you,

    I was, about to dive in and give my considered view on the matters raised, but reading the earlier comments as I worked my way down to leave my own, I realised that there were so many others far better than me at analysis, strategic thinking, and armed with a clear understanding of the attributes of our defensive players, it was obvious I could not add anything worthwhile.

    It is beyond the ken of a simple observer, such as I, to make heads or tails of the options discussed — I would need to scry to foretell which of them would be the most likely to succeed.

    Of course, if the same Arsenal management team who chose to let a jewel like The Jeff go for peanuts, and who also declined to pay £30m, or so, for Kante when that seemed possible, had made wiser decisions, we would not need to come up with alternatives for our midfield conundrum, based on subjective assessments of the merits, or otherwise, of the lesser players available to us for such a key role.

    Alas that is football, I guess.

  19. RockyLives says:

    Good points. It’s quite amazing when you think of it that we have not had a single player clearly playing a DM role for the Arsenal for many years now.

    Even Coquelin when he came back into the team for his second spell was more of a BTB man.

    Two protective players sitting in front of a back four sounds good to me and we may now have the personnel to do it.

    So as Mike says in the Post, all that might be missing is the manager’s willingness to set up his team this way and instruct his players accordingly.

    As you imply, it feels like change is in the air at THOF this season, so here’s hoping…

  20. Mike M says:

    As a somewhat negative and it will be my last in that vein because we should look forward to solutions, as RA point out and LB intimates (intentionally or otherwise) the question is why did we sign Xhaka? Has the game just passed him by? We had Ozil, Sanchez, Wilshere, Ramsey but to name a few when he signed. That’s my underlying point to most of what this discussion is about. At a time when Obi Mikel, Matic, Fernandinho and later Kante have been central to their teams winning the PL, we bought Xhaka and we had no one who could compare to those above. I think that’s why I’m so stuck on why Xhaka plays. And if he’s not our DM or HM, I don’t believe there’s a chance in hell he should play. We haven’t even talked about Ceballos and for me, Willock looks far ahead of Xhaka in any role that involves transition from back to front.

  21. Mike M says:

    @ Rocky – you must have read my mind !!!!!!

  22. fred1266 says:

  23. LB says:

    If I intimated, why on earth did we sign Xhaka then I am afraid it was unintentional but having read it the suggestion really does scream itself out.

    The most encouraging thing for me is that the big questions are starting to be addressed, no Mustafi what so ever last Sunday that is clear intent that he is for sale, whether they find a buyer is another thing.

    Ozil and Kolasinac are clearly for sale, they may be back in training but I believe they both would be sold if a buyer came in.

    Mkhitaryan’s days are clearly numbered.

    Luiz could play instead of Xhaka, amazing if it happens.

    And then there is the clearest evidence of all — Pepe for Iwobi, I am sorry Fred but I would have lost the will to live had we continued to try and turn our Alex into a goal scoring machine. I am elated about this upgrade, there is no clearer evidence that UE is on the same page as the rest of us.

    Looking forward to tomorrow.

  24. LBG says:

    A concise assessment that I would never have dared to put into a comment!!
    I agree with much of it and especially the positive forward looking view for those of us who care.
    Dont wish really to contemplate one question from the past. What was AW’s plan, or was it his?

  25. Sue says:

    ESR scored for the U23’s!! 2-1 was the score, well done, Emile 👏

  26. LB says:


    I think that it is fairly easy to make the case that AW’s decision made sense at the time, just one of those things that no one gets every guess right every time, on the other hand we will thank him for ever for his decision to bring Vieira in and he really was a rough diamond at the beginning, so, I suppose, hey ho onwards and upwards.

  27. GoonerB says:

    Great comment from LB and follow ups from LBG, R and the repatriated Rocky. Emery really has the options to redress the imbalances in the side this season and have an 11 that fully compliments each other.

    As much as the new introductions to the 1st team squad (both new players and academy promotions) will improve us on an individual basis, I think the ability to have a balanced side will make us collectively a far different proposition.

    LBG, in reality I hate to address it as well but I do feel that AW had lost the ability to develop a balanced 1st 11 at the highest level in recent years. Something seemed to have changed in his outlook over recent years to a more utopian, but ultimately non achievable, quest and some of his pragmatism had been replaced by this.

    I feel some of the recruitments that we all debate now from his tenure reflect this but left us not coherent enough as a 1st 11 to challenge. That is not to malign our greatest manager but more just a practical observation. I don’t expect everyone to agree with this.

  28. Rasp says:

    Morning all …
    … New post …

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