Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva were the midfield pair that pushed Arsenal to the Invincibles season of 2003-04. The pair were like Beauty and The Beast for the Gunners as they went a whole season unbeaten, a feat never matched in English football since Preston North End did it in 1888-89. It is therefore a sad sight to see the Arsenal midfield overrun in matches they should be imposing themselves on.
Ever since Vieira left the North London outfit back in 2005, Arsenal have failed to sign that kind of midfielder that will offer solidity and stability in the middle of the park, break opposition plays and help launch forward passes to the more advanced players.
Jack Wilshere will always tug at the heartstrings for sentimental reasons but realistically, injuries have significantly restricted his development, even if he showed flashes of his teenage self earlier in the season. Aaron Ramsey has scored some important goals for Arsenal but he perhaps has too many bad performances to merit building a team around.
Granit Xhaka, when given time to take an extra touch and assess his options in possession, can be a very able passer of a ball. Whenever the Swiss comes up against a team that presses with any ferocity though, he is too easily bullied off the ball.
Mohamed Elneny has looked more composed under pressure this season and while he used to be criticized for his sideways passing, he is now more imaginative. The Egyptian can still go sideways, but he can also switch play or find a quick through ball between the lines, which is especially beneficial at the Emirates, where Arsenal have won 11 in 15 Premier League contests. Equally though, Elneny is yet to show his brilliance against truly elite opposition.
It is surprising to see that Arsene Wenger has failed to realise that he needs a player similar to N’Golo Kante in midfield. The Chelsea man has changed the definition of the anchor-man position: he can run, press, tackle as well as pass, meaning that he doesn’t wilt when playing against aggressive opposition.
Many Arsenal fans watched with wide eyes in midweek when Steven N’Zonzi dominated the Manchester United midfield. The former Stoke man has become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world ever since moving to Spain, and would offer a lot of solidity.
Arsenal badly need defensive balance away from home, where they have won just three times and conceded 24 goals – more than bottom side West Brom. Signing a specialist defensive midfielder will go a long way to solving that problem.