Arsenal Don't Need To Sign A Superstar For Defensive Midfield, They Need Another Gabriel

Defensive midfield has been a problematic position for Arsene Wenger for some time now.

For several years he sought fruitlessly for a successor for ‘The Invisible Wall’, Gilberto Silva. However, the same part of the pitch will currently be causing him to scratch his head — not because of the lack of a credible holding player, but because of the emergence of one. The surprising success of Francis Coquelin has left Wenger with a conundrum over whether to recruit another midfield spoiler.

As Arsenal entered the back end of 2014, their need for an accomplished anchoring midfielder was particularly pronounced.

Aston Villa v Arsenal - FA Cup Final : News Photo

Mikel Arteta’s body was caving in under the weight of responsibility — specifically a continually troublesome calf muscle. When Mathieu Flamini was called upon, he looked like as likely to bring chaos as calm to the defensive set-up. As a desperate measure, Wenger recalled Francis Coquelin from a loan spell with championship Charlton.

If this was a last throw of the dice, Wenger rolled a double-six. Coquelin became a key player for the remainder of the season and played a crucial role in Arsenal’s FA Cup triumph.

His performances will have had a dramatic impact on Wenger’s transfer plans for the summer. Six months ago, a defensive midfielder would have been top of the Arsenal boss’ shopping list. However, it’s now possible that he may not even buy one.

Reports indicate that Arteta has agreed a new deal that will see him extend his stay in London by another year. Would Wenger really ask his captain to stick around if he didn’t have a set role for him in the squad? If the Spaniard is intended to be Coquelin’s immediate understudy, then it becomes difficult to see where a new signing could fit in.

Perhaps that explains why Manchester United appear to be allowed a relatively clear run at Morgan Schneiderlin.

The Southampton midfielder has appeared for some years to be an Arsenal player-in-waiting, but now seems more likely to end up at Old Trafford. It appears Wenger is unwilling to pay in the region of £25 million for a player who would not be a guaranteed first choice.

Arsenal v Reading - FA Cup Semi-Final : News Photo

Wenger faced a similiar situation in January when looking to recruit a new centre-back. With an established partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker settled in the team, Wenger had to identify a player who could add depth without disrupting an effective alchemy.

In the end, he plumped for Villarreal’s Gabriel Paulista: a player without a huge continental reputation, signed for a reasonable fee of a little over £10 million, with an age that meant he was content to bide his time on the bench but had the potential to improve and compete for a regular place before too long.

A player with a similar profile could be the ideal solution to the midfield problem.

There is no point bringing in a huge star that will curtail Coquelin’s development. Instead, Arsenal need a player who will be prepared to fight for their place. It’s about acquiring quality but it’s also about maintaining equilibrium.

Arsenal waited so long for a player with Coquelin’s attributes that they would be foolish to do anything that might halt his progress. However, Arteta is not a like-for-like replacement — the skipper is still more a playmaker than a destroyer.

A signing in the Gabriel mould would undoubtedly improve their squad.


Read more from James McNicholas, AKA @gunnerblog