Arsenal Team Review Part 3: The Midfield

A glance at the club's midfield ahead of the all important must-win season

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This is part 3 of the four-article series analyzing Arsenal’s squad by each position (Goalkeeper, Defense, Midfield, and Attack) ahead of the upcoming summer transfer window. Part 2 was about Arsenal team review: The defense and part 1 was about Arsenal team review: The goalkeepers.

Arsenal facts from the 2016/17 season:
Final position on the PL table: 5th (2nd in 2015/16)
Total points: 75 (71 points in 2015/16)
UEFA competition next season: Europa League (only team among top 6 to not play in the CL)
FA Cup: Champions (13th title – most successful team in history)
League Cup: Quarter-finals (lost 0-2 to Southampton)
Champions League: Round of 16 (lost 2-10 on aggregate to Bayern Munich)
Goal Difference: +56 (+32 in 2015/16)
Most yellow cards: Granit Xhaka – 13 (Mesut Ozil – 7 in 2015/16)
Most red cards: Granit Xhaka & Laurent Koscielny – 2 each (Francis Coquelin, Gabriel, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla & Per Mertesacker – 1 each)

When it comes to Arsenal’s midfield the major problem is not injuries or discipline or lack of intent but the most worrying factor right now is that up to 5 first team players[Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere] have only one year remaining on their contract. Meanwhile, all the 3 defensive midfielders in the squad namely Mohammad Elneny, Francis Coquelin and Granit Xhaka still have around 3 or 4 years left in their Arsenal contract.

Cazorla recently signed a 1-year extension with the Gunners and the club were immediately greeted with the bad news that the midfielder might not be available for the next 5 months after undergoing his 8th surgery to overcome a long-term Achilles problem.

Xhaka joined Arsenal in July 2016 for a reported fee of €40m from German club Borussia Monchengladbach. His specialties this season have been the precise long balls, brave sliding tackles, and timely blocks. But those sliding tackles and other such attempts to recover the ball have led to him receiving 13 yellow cards and 2 red cards.

The Swiss midfielder since returning from his 4 game suspension due to the red card versus Burnley at the Emirates started 19 straight games from the away leg of the UEFA Champions League tie against FC Bayern Munich up until the FA Cup final against Chelsea FC. The improvements in his game were evident towards the end of the season and according to club manager Arsene Wenger he will only improve even more in coming seasons.

Meanwhile Coquelin (2338 minutes) and Elneny (1043 minutes) combined together have played 172 minutes lesser than Granit Xhaka (3553 minutes). There are various reasons for this game time scenario. The 26-year old Frenchman Coquelin missed 5-6 games due to a Hamstring injury and card suspensions.

On the other hand, Elneny missed a month’s action due to national team duty with Egypt in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) that was held in Gabon this year. But the main reason for these two players not getting enough game time this term is that they are primarily regarded as a backup to the 2 main central midfielders in the team.

In the recently concluded season, Ramsey predominantly played the role of CM alongside Xhaka who played as CDM. However, Coquelin and Elneny will come in handy next season as the North London club has Thursday night UEFA Europa League matches to cope up with. Hence Wenger must rotate the squad cautiously the entire 2017/18 season.

Ramsey came off a successful UEFA Euro 2016 campaign with Wales where he guided the team to the semi-final losing to the eventual winners Portugal. But he had a mixed 2016/17 season marred by Hamstring & Calf injuries. However, towards the end of the season, he seemed to have reminiscences of the 2013/14 season (his most successful season at the club) when he won the AFC player of the season and he somehow looked to have rediscovered his golden touch from the Euros. He eventually went on to start 10 of the last 12 games and even scored the winner in the FA Cup final.

However, towards the end of the season, he seemed to have reminiscences of the 2013/14 season (his most successful season at the club) when he won the AFC player of the season and he somehow looked to have rediscovered his golden touch from the Euros. He eventually went on to start 10 of the last 12 games and even scored the winner in the FA Cup final.

Ozil and Oxlade-Chamberlain have been crucial for the club this season and it is a no-brainer that Wenger and the board must at all costs work hard to keep hold of them. Ozil has made 57 assists and created more than 200 chances in his 4 seasons at Arsenal. In 3 seasons at Real Madrid, he managed 81 assists which point out to the fact that with a better finisher up front his assist tally at Arsenal would have crossed 100 by now.

And on the contrary, Chamberlain was deployed in both central and wide roles and found enormous success in both roles this season. He is still very young and has enormous potential to keep improving season by season and could turn out to be one of best English talents.

Last but not the least we have our very own youth academy product Jack Wilshere. This 25-year old English midfielder was touted to become the next England & Arsenal captain after his man of the match performance against FC Barcelona in the CL round of 16 1st leg in February 2011. He justified all the hype by winning POTM awards in 6 out of 7 games for his national side in 2015. However, injuries had the final say in his football career. He hasn’t played over 30 games in a single season since the 2013/14 season.

This season, however, he had a successful loan spell at AFC Bournemouth starting 22 out of 29 games (2 for Arsenal & 27 for Bournemouth). But again his season came to an end early in mid-April due to a hairline crack in his calf bone and the return date is still unknown. Wilshere is a promising player with a lot of talent who spends way too much time on the sidelines due to various injuries over the years. Only if he avoids getting injured so easily will he have a smooth football career. But that is not in his hands alone. Hence it would be right to give one more year time to prove himself at the top level.

Arsenal’s midfield is the most balanced of all 4 departments (Goalkeeper, Defense, Midfield & Attack) and it would need no further additions or clearances. The same lot available can do a great job next season if used in the right way. Gooners should hope that Wenger utilizes them well. COYG!!!

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