What the great Arsenal sides of the past have in common is a top-class centre-midfielder.
Whether it be the Invincibles anchored by Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva, the young side led by Cesc Fabregas that so nearly won the league or the squad that ended the trophy drought with Santi Cazorla as its chief maestro – throughout the last couple of decades, the club has been blessed with some supreme talents in the middle of the park.
The problem has been in recent years that no-one has stepped into that role and taken Arsenal to further glory. Mesut Ozil is slowly being phased out of the team as his effect on the club wanes, and with Aaron Ramsey departing at the end of the month, the club look set to repeat the mistakes of the past in not filling the Arsenal midfield with the creative hub that has previously bred success.
Poor recruitment means that despite the need for a new attacking midfielder in the Ramsey or Cazorla mould, shortcomings in other positions will result in this area of the pitch being neglected once again – but that shouldn’t mask the fact that Arsenal seem to be chronically incapable of sufficiently filling midfield positions.
And with the strikers firing while the defence continues to falter, it’s probably for the best. But all that means is that the opportunity to plug a serious gap among the Arsenal weaponry will have to be cast aside until next year at the earliest.
Looking at Gunners history, failure to replace star men has often led to Arsenal’s downfall over the years:
Patrick Vieira’s departure coincided with the start of a nine-year trophy dry spell. Fabregas took his place in the Arsenal side but the team missed his defensive solidity – and despite a run to the Champions League final, the team’s performances dropped as they squeezed into fourth, owing more to a dodgy lasagne than Cesc’s rise to fame.
Replacing Fabregas with Mikel Arteta meant that goals and assists dried up from midfield following his exit – and while Santi Cazorla sought to solve those issues with his arrival spawning consecutive FA Cups, Arsenal didn’t seek a similar outlet once injury had cut his Gunners career short.
And with Ramsey off for free and Ozil’s relationship with Unai Emery reportedly at an all-time low, the club are in short supply of a midfielder that has historically proven to be the engine room of a successful unit.
The reliance on their strikers last season is a testament to that, while attacking through wide areas was a common theme throughout the previous year – but the need for a quick-footed, competent passer within the final third is the component the Arsenal midfield requires in order to work – and will take the pressure of the front two, no end.
With the most high-profile links to new players so far this summer concerning wide players and centre-backs, it may be a while before we find out whether the club has learned from the mistakes of the past. But finding the next Cazorla will be the instrumental addition that breeds the next wave of Arsenal success – whenever that may be.