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Why a creative signing should be Arsenal's priority

Arsenal have been linked with pure strikers, defenders and defensive midfielders, but a creative player is the signing that needs to be made first.

Andrew Redington

Few would argue that last season was typically un-Arsenal as we've come to know the club during Arsene Wenger's reign. Faced with the possibility of missing out on Champions League football, the club took a final 26 points from 30 to secure at least a playoff for next season. The unbeaten run, though, was achieved playing more defensive football than usual, which resulted in Arsenal conceding very few goals-4 in the final 10 matches-but also looking disjointed in attack. Part of that is the transition of defence to attack, and the reluctance to commit numbers forward. Both will be fixed, the first either by having Jack Wilshere play in a deeper role in the midfield, or by Aaron Ramsey continuing to improve his ball-carrying skills. But Arsenal also looked for large parts of the season that they were lacking creativity in attack, and that is why Arsenal had so many league games, 21 as opposed to 18 in 2011-12, an 8% increase, where they scored one goal at most.

Santi Cazorla is a wonderful player who had a wonderful season, but on multiple occasions he looked like he needed another creator to play with. This isn't surprising; even when he's been the main man before, as he has for Malaga and Villarreal, he's had others to share the creative burden with. At Malaga, Isco joined Cazorla, while at Villarreal, Borja Valero was a creative presence from deep. The reintroduction of Jack Wilshere could've lessened the creative burden on Cazorla, but the resultant midfield was too imbalanced, meaning Arsenal were often forced to drop deeper and cede possession, and were reactive, rather than proactive, effectively breaking the team into three units-defence, midfield and attack.

Putting Cazorla wide started to improve things, especially as Tomas Rosicky came into the side for his typical end of season run. Rosicky's importance cannot be overstated: despite a lack of goals, he is an extremely important player who does an exceptional job linking the midfield, allowing runners to get forward by dropping deep at right moments, and also sets the midfield structure by his pressing. If Rosicky were fit for the entire season, a creative signing wouldn't be a necessity, but therein lies the problem: Rosicky will likely never be fit for more than half a season.

As for other internal options, Jack Wilshere will eventually play higher up the pitch, but one must remember that it takes time to transition to such a position. Cesc Fabregas only moved higher up the pitch after 3 and a half seasons of playing almost every game for Arsenal in a deeper midfield role, and while Wilshere and Fabregas are different players with different styles and rates of growth, it seems unfair to expect Wilshere to be able to transition to playing behind the striker, especially when his style of creativity, with sharp bursts of dynamism from the midfield along with excellent passes that spread play, is better suited to a deeper midfield role.

While Wilshere played a few games in the #10 role, he wasn't at his best in any of them, and neither were Arsenal. While it seems attractive to put him there, he hasn't, as of yet, acquired the understanding needed for the role. Rosicky and Cazorla have both shown a better understanding of when to drop deep and when to stay higher up the pitch, with both comfortable receiving the ball with their back to goal. Wilshere, though, doesn't seem comfortable doing that yet, necessitating his dropping deep, so he can receive the ball with play in front of him.

That brings us to outside targets, the going over of which may make this article obsolete by next week. However, both of these targets show the two directions Arsenal can go in, so it is perhaps not a fools errand to proceed. The first target is Stefan Jovetic, of whom more is written of here.

Jovetic has the ability in multiple positions in the attacking third: on the left, as a striker or behind the striker. Jovetic likely wouldn't play behind the striker, as Cazorla is better suited to the role than Jovetic is, but he could play either on the left, where he'd have the freedom to roam and create, as well as make late runs into the penalty box to get into goal-scoring positions, and would perhaps be closer to the combination goal-scorer and creator that Arsene Wenger would like to have on the left, in the mould of Robert Pires.

Jovetic could also play upfront, though, as a false 9. Playing a false 9 would allow Arsenal to play two wide forwards in Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski, giving the side a greater goal-scoring threat and allowing for fluidity in the forward line. It wouldn't hurt Arsenal creatively, as Jovetic would drop deeper, and could create from there as Podolski and Walcott would take up the space he vacated. Dropping deep would allow Jovetic to combine with Cazorla and Wilshere, and would lessen the burden on those two, especially the former.

There is also the possibility of the return of Cesc Fabregas, an option that has been mooted over the past week. That would also enable Cazorla to play out wide, and Jack Wilshere to play deeper. Some of Wilshere's best play for Arsenal was in a deeper role with Fabregas ahead, because of the Spaniard's expert rotation and also Wilshere feeling a lesser need to influence the game. It'd also mean that one of Europe's best creator of chances would play behind Arsenal's striker, enabling Arsenal to play a striker who wouldn't contribute as much to build-up play, like Theo Walcott. This might be the most attractive option, but it's also the least likely. Whether Arsenal sign Fabregas or Jovetic remains to be seen, but, they must sign a creative midfielder this summer; otherwise, they will struggle in front of goal like last year.