After a delayed start, summer has finally started. Perhaps it was the lateness of the final game of the season, the FA Cup Final, that prevented summer beginning sooner. Perhaps it was Petr Cech's transfer being completed before the beginning of July. But now, finally, in the third week of July, with Manchester United signing Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, the summer's favoured pastime, Arsenal fans going beserk over transfers, has well and truly begun. The complaint is a simple one: Morgan Schneiderlin was the favoured name to fill that long-vaunted defensive midfield position, but Arsenal allowed him to sign for Manchester United for an affordable cost of £25m.
Transfers are an odd thing. When a name gets linked so often, there are two schools of thought that usually develop. The first is that because the player has been linked and named so frequently, that player is obviously the answer, especially as pundits, who are often as informed as the rest of us when it comes to transfers, jump on the frequency of the rumour, and often start vaunting the player's qualities as one that solves whatever apparent need Arsenal have. The second school of thought takes a different approach, commenting that if the player has been linked for several windows or years and yet still hasn't been signed, there is obviously something, either in terms of wages, transfer price or the quality or fit of the player that causes the club to have second thoughts about buying, if they were indeed interested in all. There is only so long a player can be obviously available before it becomes apparent that sometimes, clubs just aren't interested.
The second school of thought appears to be the case with Morgan Schneiderlin. Schneiderlin joined Southampton in 2008, apparently on the recommendation and/or request of Arsène Wenger, who was aware of his fellow Alsatian. Schneiderlin made his way through the league system at Southampton, as they went down to League One, returned to the Championship and were then promoted to the Premier League for the 2012-13 season. Arsenal were linked to him every summer following Southampton's first in the Premier League, and it is not hard to see why: the French international was an energetic, combative midfielder, with a decent eye for goal and was a good passer. Yet it is easy to see why Arsenal didn't move for the player: that description almost matches that of summer 2013 Aaron Ramsey. Two summers later, when Schneiderlin finally got the move he wanted, Arsenal were not interested, despite the growing need for a defensive midfielder. And while Schneiderlin was excellent in breaking up play, Arsenal have Francis Coquelin, who too excels at energetic defensive midfield play. The bigger question is whether Schneiderlin could replace Mikel Arteta, and be a controller.
There is already enough evidence to suggest that Coquelin cannot replace Arteta's qualities as a controller. While Arsenal had an excellent record towards the end of last season, they struggled to control games, relying on Santi Cazorla, while shunting Aaron Ramsey out wide. But if Arsenal are to reach newer heights, Ramsey, one of Arsenal's three or four genuinely world class players, will have to play from the middle, which suggests that Arsenal need a controller. Was Schneiderlin that player? Based on the fact that Arsenal were unwilling to bid for him at an affordable price, and on this assessment from a Southampton fan, he was not. Being a controller does not simply mean having good short passing numbers, as even Mathieu Flamini has good short passing numbers. It means being good under pressure, offering an outlet to the centre backs and contribute to building up play, and being able to control the tempo; knowing that sometimes it is better to pass square and backwards to slow play down and draw teams out, as well as quickly passing forward. Simply put, it requires a high amount of in-game intelligence.
With time, Schneiderlin could've possibly become that player. There's enough to suggest that he could be remolded, but with that comes a gamble that it doesn't work, and that Arsenal have a player that doesn't allow them to progress that little bit further. That Manchester United bought him in conjunction with Bastian Schweinsteiger is telling: Schweinsteiger will play at the base of Manchester United's midfield, as a controller, with Daley Blind and Michael Carrick backing up the injury-prone German. Schneiderlin will play in an energetic box to box role, with Ander Herrera, and Arsenal, of course, already have three players, Ramsey, Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, for that role.
The same is true for other midfield players who have moved this season, such as Sami Khedira and Arturo Vidal. Arsène Wenger will likely assess the fitness of Mikel Arteta over the next three weeks, and the play of Coquelin. If Arteta is unfit, he may take a gamble on a more Coquelin-esque player, simply so that Arsenal are not stretched thin. But Arsenal will need a passer in midfield, and the likelihood is that Wenger is waiting for the market to develop, for someone of top quality to become available. Arsenal are now in a place where they do not need to buy for the sake of buying. If Arteta is fit, defensive midfield is less of an issue, as Arteta and Ramsey is a partnership with a proven track record. It'd be far more disruptive to introduce a new player simply for the sake of buying, and for that reason, Arsenal fans should feel comfortable with how the transfer window is progressing.