Amidst speculation Arsenal are set to sign Yohan Cabaye, I can’t help but feel somewhat underwhelmed. There is no doubting the Frenchman’s quality, but his acquisition will not resolve Arsenal’s main problem in midfield. The signing of Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, however, would go some way in doing so. The Belgian embodies everything the side lacks and so desperately needs.
What Arsenal have arguably missed most in the last eight years is a presence in midfield: the likes of Alex Song and Abou Diaby, while good players in their own right, were not able to fill the void left by Patrick Vieira. And now, with both these players out of the picture (barring a miraculous recovery from injury by Diaby), Arsenal have no strength, power or bite in the centre of the field, and this is a problem that urgently needs addressing, or else we’ll continue to get overpowered.
Cast your mind back to the first game of the new season. Gabriel Agbonlahor receives the ball for Aston Villa, and dribbles from the left wing position right through the heart of Arsenal’s defence, bypassing the midfield with devastating ease. Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky – the Gunners’ midfield trio – are left in his wake, helpless. Laurent Koscielny dives in. Wojciech Szczesny rushes out. Penalty. 2-1 to Aston Villa, and Arsenal are on their way to a dismal 3-1 opening day defeat.
Now, I’m not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting Fellaini would have prevented defeat had he been in Arsenal’s midfield that day. What I will say, however, is Agbonlahor would never have penetrated the midfield in such a fashion had the Belgian been in red and white. Whether he makes a perfectly timed sliding tackle, pulls him down or kicks him into row Z, Fellaini would have stopped the situation from developing as it did. I am highlighting this one example to make a wider, more significant point; Arsenal have glaringly missed a player who would have been proactive or ‘no nonsense’ in this situation for some time.
Now, watch the two videos below and tell me he’s not exactly what we need.
Make no mistake, I’m not the type to hype up a player based solely on a YouTube video – I’ve watched him for two years now and know a good player when I see one.
For £20 million or so, we could have him - and he’d be worth every penny. A simple yet pertinent reason is that Arsenal are a very small side. Of our midfielders, no one is over 5’11. While I am fully aware height is not the be all and end all at the top level of professional football, one cannot hide from the fact the Gunners lack physical presence in midfield. And with Fellaini’s height, comes his aerial prowess. The benefits of this, for a player operating in the middle of the pitch especially, is huge. Realistically, when defending goal kicks or set pieces, the only Arsenal players that can challenge in the air are the back four; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker and Gibbs. The same goes for attacking situations, with Olivier Giroud the sole exception. Considering the amount of goals we concede from opposition set pieces, combined with how few goals we score of our own in this area, Fellaini would be a significant asset.
Besides, he is more than the mere midfield brute that many fans paint him out to be. With a very respectable 79% pass completion rate last season – not bad for a “lump” considering Jack Wilshere’s was just 9% higher – he would be able to slot in to our style of play. Furthermore, goals from midfield have been scarce in comparison to the years of Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires and Cesc Fabregas. Fellaini scored 11 goals in 31 appearances last season – an impressive return for a midfielder. Not only that, the Belgian created 40 chances. To put this into perspective, Mikel Arteta managed 25 from more appearances.
While he has his faults – indiscipline in particular – I think we should focus on Fellaini’s strengths and what he would add to the side. With everything I’ve already said in mind; physical presence, aerial ability, goals and creativity, not to mention his proven quality in the Premier League, I struggle to understand those who do not see him as the answer – he’s what our midfield is crying out for.
See more from Reuben Lewis at @rlewisafc