The Champions League is, for many, the epitome of European football. It is a competition that allows giants to clash, underdogs to flourish, and quality football to shine – and it is a trophy that Arsenal are yet to lift.
But could that change next season? Could Arsene Wenger’s men mount a serious Champions League challenge in their 2015/16 campaign? In my opinion, we are currently one midfielder short.
The exact position which that midfielder plays isn’t so clear cut, but his role is clear. Like the rest of Arsenal’s squad, he has to be technically brilliant; with an efficient passing style and the ability to maintain possession under pressure. However, he must also provide us with what the likes of Mikel Arteta has done over the past few seasons – he must be able to grab games by the neck and dictate their flow.
Arsenal’s current captain is the only player in the squad who I believe is able to do that job for the team, but he isn’t world-class, and when you play a passing style like Arsenal, you need to have a world-class player filling that role.
The Monaco game at the Emirates last season demonstrates this perfectly. Although Arsenal had, on paper, a much better team than the French visitors, The Gunners began to panic after they let in two goals. A panicked Arsenal is also an ineffective one. Any possession-based side needs to remain cool and calm while pinging the ball around as they search for an opening. Rushing attacking moves due to panic or nerves allows the opposition to easily pressure us, letting them break on the counter and punish us in the most brutal of ways.
Although it could be argued that Arteta would have been able to focus the team during the game against Monaco, he isn’t good enough to do so against the best of the best, and Coquelin just isn’t that kind of player. This is where Arsenal’s biggest problems start to arise. If Wenger’s side are to challenge for the Champions League, they need to do so by playing to their strengths, and that means having the majority of the possession and playing a brand of attractive, attacking football. Against sides like Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Arsenal are incapable of doing this.
And it isn’t necessarily down to quality. Take Mesut Özil, for example. The German playmaker is arguably the best no. 10 in world football, but he has still been involved in games where we have been dominated by the current German champions. That is because he isn’t the type of player who will shout for the ball, demand possession and rush towards the opposition as soon as his side misplaces a pass.
Players like Özil are only effective if you have someone playing behind them, pulling the strings – a player like Xabi Alonso or Sergio Busquets. These are the sort of stars that Wenger needs to sign in order to compete with the very best.
As I previously stated, the position of that player doesn’t really matter. He could be a world-class defensive midfielder who takes over from Coquelin and Arteta, or he could be a central midfielder who plays alongside them.
Finding that player is the real problem. There simply aren’t many available at this time. Whether or not that will change as the transfer window comes to a close is not clear, but – hopefully – if a world-class player capable of filling this role does become available, Arsene will be quick to snap him up for the coming campaign.